Hamlin takes advantage of mistakes at Darlington
AP Auto Racing Writer
DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin became the first driver in 17 years to sweep Darlington Raceway, winning the Sprint Cup race Saturday night after late mistakes took Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton out of contention.
Winner of the Nationwide Series race Friday night, Hamlin became the first driver since Mark Martin in 1993 to sweep the Darlington weekend. It was Hamlin’s first victory at NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway, and the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has never finished lower than 13th in his five career starts at the difficult track.
“We had a top-two car all day,” Hamlin said. “Us, Jeff and the other Jeff were really strong.”
Hamlin led 104 of the 367 laps, but knew he was going to have to contend with both Gordon and Burton over the closing laps. That changed during the final pit stops.
Gordon planned to pit early under green, but had to abort the effort at the last second to avoid a collision with the cars closing quickly behind him. When he finally entered pit road a lap later, a spin by David Reutimann brought out the last caution of the race and Gordon had to hustle back onto the track to avoid losing a lap.
“When we were ready to come in and pit a little early, I just didn’t signal the guys behind me in time and I was going to get run over. My fault,” Gordon said. “I don’t like making mistakes like that.”
All the leaders headed to pit road under yellow and Burton, who had traded the lead with Hamlin right before the caution, came out in third. Only NASCAR flagged him for running over his air hose, Burton had to return to the pits for a penalty, and lost a ton of track position.
Hamlin restarted in first with 20 laps to go, while Gordon was 12th and Burton 13th.
Hamlin got a terrific restart in his Toyota over teammate Kyle Busch, then sailed to his third win of this season to tie four-time defending NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson for most wins this season in the Cup series.
“You can’t put this in words,” Hamlin said. “Just an unbelievable night. Pit road did a phenomenal job getting me back on the track first, and that’s what led to this win. We went back and forth all night and fine-tuned it to perfection at the end. Right there at the end, it was the best it’s been all night. That’s all you can ask for.”
Jamie McMurray started from the pole and finished second in a Chevrolet, while Kurt Busch was third in a Dodge. Gordon came back from a late-race error to finish fourth, while Juan Pablo Montoya, McMurray’s teammate, rounded out the top five.
Kevin Harvick held on to his lead in the Sprint Cup standings by finishing sixth. Harvick was up by 10 points over Johnson heading into Darlington, and extended it to an impressive 110 points after Johnson’s miserable night ended in a crash – his third DNF of the season – and a 36th-place finish.
Kyle Busch was seventh, Burton rebounded to finish eighth, and Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers rounded out the top 10.