Denny Hamlin has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. The driver of the #11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry came back from a major mistake in the final segment to catch and pass the former race-leader Martin Truex Jr with two laps remaining in a dramatic finish.
After having one of the most dominant cars of the night, having led 121 laps earlier in the race, Hamlin made a massive mistake in the third and final segment of the race. Whilst leading on lap 313 of 367, Hamlin was trying to come to pit-road for one last time to make a green flag pit-stop, but Darlington’s tricky pit-entrance caught him out. He couldn’t get his car slowed down in time to make it down pit-road and therefore had to not only get back up to speed but also make it back around to pit on the next lap.
Denny managed to get his car onto pit-road on the second attempt, but he emerged down in fourteenth place and twenty seconds off of the race leader with just over fifty laps remaining in the race. He had a lot of ground to make up, but thankfully his ‘Flying 11’ throwback Camry had a lot of pace in it.
Hamlin began to systematically scythe his way through the field. The gap between himself and race-leader Truex began to drop, with Truex’s tyres ten laps older than Hamlin’s. With just under twenty laps remaining, Hamlin had driven all the way back up to second place. With ten laps to go, Hamlin had taken Truex’s lead down to just two and a half seconds. The tyres on the #78 Furniture Row Racing car were getting more and more worn, with the car slipping and sliding underneath him with every input of the steering wheel.
Hamlin had some difficulty with lapped traffic, but with three laps to go he was right on the back of Truex and set to challenge for the lead. That was when Truex’s tyres finally cried enough. Entering turn three, the right-front Goodyear tyre went flat, pitching Truex up into the outside wall. Truex had to limp back to the pits for a new tyre, whilst Hamlin scampered away into the lead; a lead that he would hold for the final three laps.
Denny would cross the line at the end of lap 367 to take his second victory at Darlington Raceway, his second victory of the 2017 season and his second win of the weekend; having also taken part and taken victory in the NASCAR XFINITY Series race on Saturday. As a part of NASCAR’s throwback weekend at Darlington, Denny was running a tribute to “Mr. Modified”, Ray Hendrick’s ‘Flying 11’. Post-race, Denny dedicated his victory to Hendrick and other short-track racers that he witnessed as a child:
“What can I say — it’s the ‘Flying 11.’ It means everything to me,” said Hamlin in victory lane, “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.”
Following Hamlin home, also capitalizing on Truex’s late puncture, was the #18 of Kyle Busch; who finished just two and a half seconds off of his team-mate. Kyle’s brother Kurt Busch took third in the #41 Stewart-Haas Ford, with Austin Dillon‘s #3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Erik Jones‘ #77 Furniture Row Racing Toyota completing the top five.
Matt Kenseth was unable to challenge for the victory this weekend. He still finished a solid sixth in the #20 Joe Gibbs Racing car, but sixth still doesn’t guarantee him a spot in the championship playoffs. He still sits fifteenth out of sixteen on the provisional playoff grid, but he’ll have a nervous race next weekend at Richmond as he hopes to hold onto a top sixteen spot for one more weekend to qualify for championship contention. Ryan Newman, who is one of this year’s upset winners having won back at Phoenix in March, followed Kenseth home to take seventh place in the #31 Chevrolet.
After winning the first two segments of the race and having also run up front for so long in the closing moments, Martin Truex Jr would limp home after his late puncture to take eighth place. It was understandably disappointing for Truex to lose the race win so late, but nevertheless, he was able to clinch the regular season championship with one race remaining; such has been the speed of the #78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota in 2017. He will undoubtedly be a force to be reckoned with when the playoffs begin in Chicagoland in two weeks.
Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick only led twenty-two laps in the #4 Stewart-Haas Ford Fusion. His car may have been rapid throughout qualifying, but the race pace wasn’t there for Harvick; who fell to an eventual ninth place finish. Jamie McMurray would take tenth in the #1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, with Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson finishing just outside the top ten in positions eleven and twelve respectively for Hendrick Motorsports.
Further back, Kyle Larson had great pace in his #42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet early in the race, but his night slowly starting coming undone at the end of stage one. Larson had been looking likely to win the first segment of the race, but he was pipped right at the line by Truex Jr. From there, he continued to slip and slide down to the order, eventually finishing down in fourteenth place.
Next weekend will see the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers compete in what could be one of the most intense races of the season. It’s the final race before the championship playoffs begin, meaning there’s just one chance for any drivers without a win this season to steal a spot in the top sixteen. As it stands, only three drivers will make it through to the playoffs without a win, but all that could change if we get another new winner at Richmond Raceway.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Southern 500 Race Results:
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