NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Fortune Brings Victory for Denny Hamlin at Darlington

When Martin Truex Jr. built more than four seconds over Denny Hamlin in the closing laps of Sunday’s Southern 500, it looked like a done deal.

However, once Hamlin closed to the rear bumper of Truex with two laps to go, Hamlin quickly found himself leading when Truex blew a right-front tire and hit the wall, limping around to the finish.

Hamlin, who led 124 laps, scored his second career victory at Darlington Raceway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, sweeping the weekend, also coming up triumphant in the XFINITY Series on Saturday.

“It means so much,” Hamlin said of the victory. “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.”

It was almost in doubt, as Hamlin missed pit road entry with 54 laps to go, costing the No. 11 car valuable time in a fairly clean 500-mile race.

For Truex, it was heavy disappointment after closing in on his second straight Darlington win.

“We ran longer runs than that earlier and had no trouble… I don’t know,” said Truex, who fell to an eighth-place finish. “It’s just one of them deals.”

Kurt Busch had arguably his best race of 2017, chasing down the leaders before leading seven laps, more than doubling his total for the season. Falling behind Hamlin and Kyle Busch, the No. 41 Chevrolet came home third, his second straight top-five finish and his best result since his Daytona 500 win in February.

“We’ve been finding better balance,” Busch said. “The team’s confidence now… I’m just a mule busting out laps. We were on the same strategy as the No. 78 and he bounced off the fence. I feel real proud about being the top-finishing Ford.”

The remainder of the top five came down to strategy, as Austin Dillon and Erik Jones sneaked into the position through the late tire game.

For Dillon, he feels his first top five since his victory at the Coca-Cola 600 in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It comes at a great time, building momentum into the playoffs.

“You want to hit your stride at the right time,” Dillon said. “We are hitting it perfectly. Hopefully, we can bring this momentum into the playoffs.”

Matt Kenseth finished sixth with Ryan Newman, Truex, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top 10.

Kyle Larson tied Hamlin for the most laps led, 124, however, fell to finish 14th.

Ty Dillon tied his career-best Cup finish in 13th.

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