Denny Hamlin Sweeps Darlington Raceway’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 Weekend; Martin Truex Jr. Wins Regular Seasonby Hunter Thomas September 3, 2017
DARLINGTON, S.C. – As Martin Truex Jr.’s car faded on Sunday, Denny Hamlin made the race winning pass on him in the closing laps to sweep the Bojangles’ Southern 500 weekend at Darlington Raceway.
During green flag pit stops on lap 314, Hamlin’s hopes of winning his second race at the track Too Tough To Tame were in great jeopardy after he slid past the entrance to pit road. The laps continued to tick away, and Hamlin made an incredible comeback to catch race leader Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps. As the two drivers rounded Turns 3 and 4 on lap 164, Truex Jr. hit the wall, allowing Hamlin to soar by to lead the final three laps of the night.
“It means so much,” said Hamlin on sweeping the weekend. “I mean, this is the Southern 500. It doesn’t get much bigger than this. This is the granddaddy of them all. This has so much history. I’m so happy to be in victory lane at Darlington. This is where I got my very first start in Joe Gibbs Racing, so this track, these fans means a lot to me.”
Hamlin, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota tied Kyle Larson for leading a race high of 124 laps. Hamlin’s win marks the fourth time in history that a driver has swept the weekend at Darlington Raceway. The Virginia native did it once before back in 2010.
Unfortunately for Truex Jr., he finished a disappointing eighth, but on a positive note, he did clinch the regular season championship and will be awarded an extra 15 Playoff points following next weekend’s race at Richmond Raceway. Truex Jr. led 76 laps throughout the night, and he won Stages 1 and 2.
“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car,” Truex Jr. said. “I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night. I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on. It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far, and to lock up the regular season points is a huge accomplishment for us, for our team.”
Once Truex Jr. lost track position, Kyle Busch moved into the second position, where he finished. Busch now has 15 top-10 finishes so far this season. On Sunday, the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota started third and had a really fast car, but he only led six laps during the 367-lap race.
“But I thought actually that was going to be our saving grace to win the race was Denny missing pit road because we were ahead of him,” Busch said. “When he missed it, I passed him, and then we came down pit road, and we didn’t have one of the best stops of the day there on the final one. The 11 must have because they passed us back leaving pit road, and I just wasn’t able to get back in front of him. I felt like if I could have had track position over him that possibly I could have chased down the 78 and been able to win the race, but give it to the 11, they were fast.”
Finishing third on Sunday was Kurt Busch in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Ford. With around 40 laps to go in the Bojangles’ Southern 500, Busch had an intense battle with Truex Jr. for the race lead. Following the race, Busch was very pleased to be in contention to possibly win. The effort marks his third top-three finish at Darlington Raceway.
“To be in position to win the Southern 500, it throws chills down your spine,” Busch said. “With about 100 (laps) to go I knew we were close. I was hoping that we would find the right strategy to come out ahead. The 78 was fast and those other Toyotas came in there. I thought that I was going to do it for our Fords. We didn’t quite get the job done. To be in position to win the Southern 500, I just want to get a shout out all the fans. It’s a fun weekend to be here on Labor Day weekend.”
Austin Dillon had a strong fourth-place finish, and Erik Jones rounded out the top-five.
Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Martin Truex Jr., pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray completed the top-10.
During the race, there were 20 lead changes among eight drivers. Throughout the night, the race only saw eight cautions, and only one was for a multicar accident.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will visit Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 9 for the final race of the regular season. The Federated Auto Parts 400 will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Photo Credit: Wayne Thomas/TheFourthTurn.com