DARLINGTON, S.C. — Denny Hamlin claimed his second win of 2017 and his second career Darlington Raceway victory Sunday night in the Bojangles’ Southern 500.
“It means so much,” Hamlin said. “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, mean a lot to me.”
Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch finished second to give Joe Gibbs Racing a one-two finish.
Hamlin and Busch stayed out 20 laps longer than the rest of the race field when the final cycle of green-flag pit stops began around lap 300. As a result, they lost significant track position, especially Hamlin, since he overshot the entrance to pit road on his first attempt to pit and had to make another lap and another attempt to stop.
“Well, I got beat on the last green-flag sequence. (Martin) Truex came from a straightaway back and beat us out of the pits,” Hamlin said. “A little bit of that was pit road, and I think a little bit of that was my entry, and I tried to get all I could and just flat-out overshot it, and so I knew by — I looked at my dash, and I gave up about 10 to 12 seconds, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can,’ you know?
“Were we going to win this race by 10 or 12 seconds? I doubt it, and so, we just had to put on a heck of a drive. My crew chief Wheels (Mike Wheeler) was motivating me every lap to push, push, push, and that’s all I had.”
With newer tires, Hamlin and Busch quickly raced up through the field.
With just under 20 laps remaining, they took second and third in the running order, but Hamlin was more than six seconds behind Truex.
Hamlin closed to within a car length of Truex and the lead in the closing laps and was in position to take the lead when Truex got into the wall with just over two laps remaining.
Kurt Busch finished third, Austin Dillon was fourth, and Erik Jones rounded out the top five.
“I was hoping for one more yellow,” Kurt Busch said. “If there was a yellow with 30 to go, we were a really good car on short-run speed. That was the longest run at the end, and those guys caught us on their fresher tires, but just to be in position to win the Southern 500 is great. I didn’t quite get the job done, but third is really nice for a big, marquee race.”
Hamlin was up front at the beginning of the third stage for the final 167 laps of the race after getting off pit road first, and he led most of the laps until his final green-flag stop.
Kyle Larson, who led 124 laps in the first 200 of the race, had to make two stops during the yellow as the result of a tire rub. After running at or near the front throughout most of the race to that point, Larson wound up in the back of the top 20, and he finished in 14th place.
Truex won the first two stages in the 367-lap race. They were his series-leading 16th and 17th stage wins of the season.
With the stage victories, Truex tallied 20 regular-season points, the exact number he needed to clinch the regular-season bonus of 15 playoff points with one race remaining in the regular season.
Hamlin and Kevin Harvick ran second and third to Truex at lap 200 as the field made laps under yellow. The second stage ended under caution as the result of a Gray Gaulding incident on lap 197.
Truex took the win in stage one by inches over Larson, although Larson dominated the opening stage by leading 78 of the first 100 laps.
After starting on the pole, Harvick lost several positions on pit road during the first caution that came out on lap 16. As a result, he restarted 10th.
Harvick wasn’t the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver to have problems during the first pit stops. Clint Bowyer’s car stalled on pit road before heading to the garage with a blown engine.
“It just blew up,” Bowyer said. “It’s a pretty inopportune time to have it happen, but it’s never a good time. Doug Yates and all the guys over at his shop do such a good job of bringing us reliable, good horsepower, and it was just my time. It was my turn, and there isn’t much you can do about it.”
Kyle Busch took the restart as the race leader, with Larson alongside in second. Truex pushed Larson out front to the lead and he continued to be in front until the final feet of the first stage.
Harvick got back inside the top five by the time the yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 41, and he eventually got back up to as high as second in the running order. A tire problem in the final 10 laps of the first stage, though, resulted in the loss of several positions. He was fourth by the end of the stage.
After pit stops to start stage two, Larson was back in the lead with Truex in second. Truex reclaimed the lead several laps later after Larson had run his laps-led tally up to 124 laps.
Truex lost his second lead to Hamlin on pit road, but he returned to the front on lap 179.
NOTES: Truex won the 2016 Southern 500. … Jimmie Johnson is the only active driver with multiple wins at Darlington Raceway with three. Jeff Gordon is the all-time Southern 500 wins leader with six. … Hendrick Motorsports has 11 Southern 500 wins, including Johnson’s three and Gordon’s six. … Hamlin, Joey Logano, Harvick and Jones finished first through fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington on Saturday. Hamlin, Logano and Harvick combined to lead all 148 laps of the Xfinity race. … The 2017 Southern 500 was the third with a “throwback” theme in which cars carry retro paint schemes honoring cars/drivers of the past. … Toyota has won four of the past five Southern 500s, including the past three.