Denny Hamlin sweeps throwback weekend at Darlington with dramatic winSeptember 4, 2017
By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin made a huge mistake on Sunday night.
Then the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota made an even bigger comeback to win one of NASCAR’s most prestigious races.
Running down race leader Martin Truex Jr. from 20 seconds back after missing the entrance to pit road on Lap 313 of 367, Hamlin won the Bojangles’ Southern 500 for the second time, finishing off a sweep of the throwback Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series/NASCAR XFINITY Series weekend at Darlington Raceway.
On tires that were 10 laps fresher than Truex’s, Hamlin exited pit road in 14th-place on Lap 315 after missing the entrance the first time and methodically began to chop into Truex’s lead. With just over two laps left, Hamlin was closing fast, as Truex was fighting to maintain control of his car on worn-out rubber.
Truex grazed the wall on Lap 365, then cut a tire and bounced off the wall again as Hamlin rushed past. Two laps later Hamlin had his second victory of the season and the 31st of his caree
Hamlin beat JGR teammate Kyle Busch to the finish line by 2.599 seconds as Truex faded to eighth after clinching the regular-season championship by winning the first two stages of the race.
“That’s as hard as I can drive,” said Hamlin, whose Camry sported a paint scheme paying tribute to renowned modified driver Ray Hendrick. “What can I say--it’s the flying 11. It means everything to me. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, this is a throwback to my history – this is for Ray Hendrick, Bugs Hairfield, Wayne Patterson, Eddie Johnson, the short track guys that I grew up watching.
“This was a throwback to them. Back in 1985 and 1989, I was at Southside Speedway in the stands watching them race and learning everything I could from them, and this is a throwback to them and their history.”
Hamlin last won the Bojangles’ Southern 500 in 2010, when he also achieved a two-race sweep. In the last seven runnings of the event, Hamlin has finished in the top six on six occasions.
But, under the circumstances, Sunday night’s win was one to savor.
“This one’s sweeter,” he acknowledged, “going through the adversity we did.”
Hamlin was pushing hard to get to pit road on Lap 313 when he came in too hot and had to steer his car back onto the track to avoid a commitment violation or contact with the barrels at the head of pit road. Hamlin termed it “kind of a rookie move,” but over the closing laps he more than atoned for the mistake.