If it’s a race at Darlington, it’s bound to be one to remember.
Denny Hamlin was out front of Wednesday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Toyota 500 when the skies opened up over Darlington Raceway, soaking the track for the second time on the night.
But this time, it meant the victory for Hamlin, as the race was called 20 laps from the finish.
Wednesday night’s win is the third at the historic South Carolina speedway in Hamlin’s Cup Series career.
“It’s awesome to win here with the Toyota 500,” said Hamlin. “Ever since I came here for my very first Xfinity start and got a top-10, that essentially got my job in the Xfinity Series, there’s something about me and this track that works.”
But the action that set up the final caution prior to the rain was a moment that will have race fans buzzing for weeks.
Hamlin had the lead on the final restart with about 24 laps to go, with Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch battling for second behind him. As the two raced off turn four, Elliott moved past Busch’s Toyota to take the spot.
But Busch moved up the speedway, catching Elliott’s No. 9 Chevy in the left rear. That send Elliott’s car sliding into the inside wall, clobbering his car and ending his night.
As the field passed by under caution, Elliott walked to the apron of the track, and gave Busch a “one finger salute” as he passed by.
From there, the field would circle the track about three more times before being brought to pit road under the red flag as the rains fell. Moments later, NASCAR called it a night, giving Hamlin his second win of the season.
Hamlin opened the season with a victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February.
“This is a driver’s race track,” said Hamlin. “You can move around, you can do different things to make your car handle. We got it right today.”
With wet weather threatening in the area, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing team made the call to stay out on slightly older tires when a late caution came out for a spin by Clint Bowyer on lap 195. That put him and Brennan Poole, who had also stayed out, on the front row.
The call, Hamlin said afterwards, didn’t have much to do with the impending rain.
“The weather really didn’t play a factor in our call there. It was really, we were limited on tires,” said Hamlin. “We had just come to take tires, which was our last set, but we had a set of one-lap scuffs. They weren’t glued up in time. We didn’t have time to glue them. The only choice for us was to stay out. We were really the best car on that long run anyway. I think the right car won.”
Hamlin quickly asserted himself as the leader, while behind him, Elliott and Busch scrambled to get past Poole and began battling for the runner-up spot.
That set up the contact between the two as they came around to complete lap 200, resulting in the final caution of the night.
For his part, Busch took responsibility for the contact that ended Elliott’s night.
“There’s no question, I know I made a mistake and just misjudged the gap,” said Busch. “When we were racing there with the 11 (Hamlin) and the 9 (Elliott) had a run on him. I knew he was there and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could and in doing so, I watched him and his momentum as he was going by me. I tried to look up in my mirror and see where (Kevin) Harvick was to get in and I just misjudged and made a mistake and clipped the 9 there and spun him into the wall. I hate it for him and his guys. I have too many friends over there on that team to do anything like that on purpose.
“I’ve raced Chase since he was a kid and never had any issues with him whatsoever. It was just a bad mistake on my part and I’ll just have to deal with it later on.”
Busch finished in second. Elliott finished in 38th. No comments were available from him post-race.
Elliott’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson, spoke with Busch on pit road when the race was halted due to the rain.
“I mean ultimately he (Busch) made a mistake and I get it,” Gustafson said. “I don’t think he intentionally wrecked us, but you just get tired of coming out on the wrong end of those deals too often. I certainly feel like we were in position to win that race. Denny (Hamlin) was in trouble on old tires and we were going to clear Kyle. You get tired of getting ran over like that. His explanation I’m sure is accurate, but it doesn’t change it. All these guys work their tails off on this NAPA Chevy and they deserve to win a race.”
Sunday’s Darlington winner, Kevin Harvick, finished in third, with Brad Keselowski in fourth and Erik Jones in fifth.
Perhaps the only driver more disappointed on the night was Clint Bowyer, who appeared to have the fastest car throughout the race. After winning the first two segments of the race, Bowyer found himself battling with Busch and others inside the top five when he made contact with the outside wall. That led to a cut tire, sending him spinning on lap 195.
In the end, Bowyer was credited with a 22nd place finish.
“Very proud of the car the guys brought for me on a short turn around,” Bowyer said. “Fast hot rod. The thing just took off behind two cars racing for the lucky dog and smoked the wall and blew our night. The 14 was fast, so if we keep doing that our day will come.”
Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top ten.
Just as every race planned for NASCAR for the next several weeks, Wednesday night’s race was run with empty grandstands as the sports world continues to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
That will be policy will also in place on Thursday afternoon, as the NASCAR Xfinity Series runs the rain delayed Toyota 200 at Darlington Raceway, the final event at the South Carolina speedway before NASCAR moves on to a four-race stint at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That kick’s off with Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 for the NASCAR Cup Series.
NASCAR Cup Series
Darlington Raceway – Darlington, SC
Toyota 500 – May 20, 2020
1. (16) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 208.
2. (26) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 208.
3. (20) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 208.
4. (8) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 208.
5. (13) Erik Jones, Toyota, 208.
6. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 208.
7. (9) Aric Almirola, Ford, 208.
8. (37) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 208.
9. (7) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 208.
10. (15) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 208.
11. (24) Christopher Bell #, Toyota, 208.
12. (34) William Byron, Chevrolet, 208.
13. (14) Tyler Reddick #, Chevrolet, 208.
14. (6) Ryan Newman, Ford, 208.
15. (18) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 208.
16. (21) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 208.
17. (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 208.
18. (19) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 208.
19. (2) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 208.
20. (10) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 208.
21. (5) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 208.
22. (4) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 208.
23. (32) Chris Buescher, Ford, 208.
24. (31) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 207.
25. (39) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Chevrolet, 207.
26. (35) Quin Houff #, Chevrolet, 207.
27. (25) Daniel Suarez, Toyota, 207.
28. (29) J.J. Yeley(i), Chevrolet, 207.
29. (30) Joey Gase(i), Ford, 207.
30. (11) Matt Kenseth, Chevrolet, 206.
31. (22) Cole Custer #, Ford, 206.
32. (28) Gray Gaulding, Ford, 206.
33. (33) Timmy Hill(i), Toyota, 204.
34. (36) Garrett Smithley #, Chevrolet, 204.
35. (12) John Hunter Nemechek #, Ford, 202.
36. (38) B.J. McLeod(i), Chevrolet, 202.
37. (27) Brennan Poole #, Chevrolet, Transmission, 201.
38. (17) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 200.
39. (1) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, Engine, 69.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 104.984 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 42 Mins, 23 Secs. Margin of Victory: Under Caution.
Caution Flags: 11 for 54 laps.
Lead Changes: 17 among 13 drivers.
Lap Leaders: R. Preece 0;T. Dillon 1-8;J. Logano 9-27;B. Wallace 28-30;C. Bowyer 31-83;M. Truex Jr. 84-99;K. Harvick 100-109;*. Suarez 110;C. Bowyer 111-128;R. Newman 129-133;E. Jones 134-160;C. Elliott 161-175;B. Keselowski 176-181;B. Poole # 182;C. Elliott 183-190;B. Keselowski 191;C. Elliott 192-196;D. Hamlin 197-208.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Clint Bowyer 2 times for 71 laps; Chase Elliott 3 times for 28 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 27 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 19 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 16 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 12 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 10 laps; Ty Dillon 1 time for 8 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 7 laps; Ryan Newman 1 time for 5 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 3 laps; Brennan Poole # 1 time for 1 lap; * Daniel Suarez 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 14,19,12,88,22,10,9,11,42,37
Stage #2 Top Ten: 14,9,19,20,4,24,11,88,22,21
Top 10 in Points: 1. Kevin Harvick – 258 (1 Win); 2. Joey Logano – 224 (2 Wins); 3. Alex Bowman – 219 (1 Win); 4. Denny Hamlin – 201 (2 Wins); 5. Chase Elliott – 192; 6. Brad Keselowski – 191; 7. Aric Almirola – 186; 8. Martin Truex, Jr. – 179; 9. Matt DiBenedetto – 170; 10. Clint Bowyer – 170.
WDUN will carry live MRN Radio coverage of Thursday's rescheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series Toyota 200 from Darlington Raceway beginning at noon on 102.9 FM and streaming live on AccessWDUN.