Denny Hamlin led the NASCAR Cup Series points standings for a good bit of the season, but could never park his Toyota in “Victory Lane”. That changed Sunday night as the Joe Gibbs driver claimed his 4th career victory at Darlington Raceway, by winning the Southern 500 on a nearly perfect night in the Pee Dee.
It wasn’t without some anxious moments however, as Hamlin had to hold off Kyle Larson in the final quarter of a lap to secure the win. Larson, who led 156 laps, used a “video game move” to try and beat Hamlin back to the start/finish line. Afterwards he explained to NBCSN that Hamlin left him no choice. “We got to the white and I was like, well, I haven’t been able to gain on him, now I’m going to try something. I was having to push really hard in second to try and just stay with him.”
Meantime, Hamlin had somewhat of an “it’s about time” reaction to the victory. “We can’t just keep leading with ten laps to go and not get a win,” Hamlin told NBCSN moments after grasping the checkered flag. “I couldn’t be happier for this win.”
Hamlin led the second most laps, pacing the field for 146 circuits. In the process, he punched his ticket into the next round of the playoffs, clinching an automatic berth into the Round of 12. “Southern 500, that’s a big one,” blushed Hamlin. “I love this racetrack, it’s my favorite track.”
Defending Cup Series champ Chase Elliott was among the early retirees. His #9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy scraped alongside Christopher Bell after a late restart, then slapped the wall in turn one, sustaining race-ending damage 40 laps from the finish.
All told, there were eighteen lead changes among ten different drivers. The caution flag waived eleven different times during the race. The Cup Series now heads off to Richmond Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400 “Salute to First Responders” on Saturday night at 7:30pm.
Denny Hamlin, Chris Gabehart, & Joe Gibbs Postrace Comments
Sheldon Creed is on some kind of a streak. After winning the spring race at Darlington, the reigning truck series champion led 105 laps from the pole on Sunday to take the checkered flag during the “In It to Win It 200” at the “Lady in Black”. His third win of the season was also a second straight playoff victory following his performance at Gateway two weeks ago.
Stage 1 winner and series points leader John Hunter Nemechek placed second, 0.531 seconds behind Creed. The #4 Kyle Busch Motorsports driver was followed by Stewart Friesen, Todd Gilliland and Parker Kligerman to round out the top five.