DARLINGTON SC – Denny Hamlin staged an epic comeback Sunday, as Martin Truex Jr. could only wonder what had happened. Here’s how it all went down in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Sunday.
From his second career Darlington pole Kevin Harvick led the field the to the green. Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, and Jamie McMurray followed.
Harvick had a clear lead by turn 1 and was soon stretching it out; Truex was second followed by Busch, Larson and Brad Keselowski.
Ryan Blaney in 10th hit the wall on lap 5, and had to pit.
The first caution came out on lap 16 when Trevor Bayne lost a tire, spun coming out of turn 2; AJ Allmendinger was swept up.
The leaders pitted. Harvick had issues on his stop; Kyle Busch was out first followed by Larson, Truex, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano. Harvick came out ninth.
Green came back out to start lap 21.
Larson took the lead on the inside; Busch fell into second followed by Truex, Hamlin and Logano.
With aggressive moves for3ward, Harvick was fifth by lap 31.
Larson’s lead was 3 seconds by lap 35.
Caution 2 came out on lap 41 when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 19th spun exiting turn 4; the leaders pitted.
Larson was out first followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Harvick, and Kurt Busch.
Green came out to start lap 45. Larson shot to the lead, Truex took second, Kyle Busch third, Harvick fourth, Hamlin fifth.
Harvick took third on lap 47. He had soon had second, as Larson had pulled his lead out to three seconds.
Harvick was starting to chip away the lead about lap 72 as Matt Kenseth had slid into fifth, Kyle Busch had dropped to sixth. Busch retook the spot on lap 80.
Truex grabbed second on lap 88.
Harvick began to slow on lap 90 with a possible flat tire.
Up front in lapped traffic, Truex was looking for the lead.
As the stage was coming to a close, Hamlin joined the fray. Soo the battle was for second as Larson was able to move away.
Truex took a dive coming out of turn 4, took the lead and won the stage’
Top 10 Stage 1: Truex, Larson, Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Logano, Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon.
The leaders pitted.
Larson was our first, Truex was second followed Hamlin, Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Harvick again had issues on his stop and came out eighth.
Green came out to start lap 107. Larson again shot to the lead, Truex fell into second, Hamlin third, Keselowski fourth, Jones fifth.
Daniel Suarez hit the wall in turn 3 then again in turn 2 and brought out the fourth caution on lap 125.
The leaders pitted.
Larson was out first, followed by Truex, Hamlin, Jones and Keselowski.
Green came out to start lap 129; Larson took the lead, Truex second, Hamlin fourth; Harvick was looking for fifth from Jones. Harvick had the spot a lap later.
Truex was looking for the lead by lap 146; he had it exiting turn 4 on lap 148.
A crash on lap 155 was kicked off when Allmendinger spun in turn 1, sweeping up Cody Ware and Matt DiBenedetto and brought out caution five.
The leaders pitted; Hamlin was out first, followed by Truex, Larson, Harvick and Keselowski. Blaney spent extra time in the pits with a possible engine issue.
Green came out to start lap 160.
Hamlin had the lead out of turn 1, Truex followed, Larson was third, Harvick fourth, Kyle Busch fifth.
Truex was looking for the lead by lap 175.
He retook the lead on lap 179.
As stage 2 wound down, Truex began to stretch out his lead.
Gray Gaulding spun in turn 2 on lap 197 and the sixth caution came out.
The stage ended under caution, top 10: Truex, Hamlin, Harvick, Larson, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Kurt Busch, McMurray, Austin Dillon, and Mat Kenseth.
The leaders pitted on lap 200. The race off pit road: Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Larson, and Truex.
Green came out to start lap 204. Hamlin took the lead, Kyle Busch took second, Keselowski third; Larson, Truex followed.
David Ragan spun in turn 2 and caution six came out.
Only a few cars outside the top 15 pitted.
Green came out to start lap 210. There were 24 cars on the lead lap.
Hamlin rocketed to the lead, Kyle Busch slid into second, Keselowski, Larson and Truex were the top five.
Blaney pitted with a flat tire on lap 226. Ragan followed with a flat tire of his own.
Green flag stops stared on lap 252; Larson, Truex and the other leaders pitted. Hamlin had a lead of just over 2 second. Keselowski was the last among the leaders to pit he came on lap 254.
Hamlin had a slow stop; Truex had the lead when the stops cycled through. Hamlin was second, followed by Kyle Busch.
Caution (eight) came out on lap 260 for debris.
Despite just pitting the leaders all pitted again. Hamlin was out first followed by Truex, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch and Harvick.
Larson re-pitted with tire rub.
Green came out to start lap 265. Hamlin shot out to a sole lead; Truex took second, Kurt Busch slid into third, then moved passed Truex to second. Harvick and Kyle Busch were side by side for fourth. Harvick had the spot by lap 268.
Kurt Busch was soon reeling in Hamlin. Truex closed in for second by lap 290. He took the second spot on lap 293 a lap after Kurt Busch scraped the wall. Kyle Busch was soon looking for third from his brother. Harvick pitted with a possible loose wheel on lap 296. Keselowski also reported he had also scrapped the wall. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the pit road entrance and had to go around again.
Cars deeper in the field began to pit under green. Keselowski pitted on lap 295. Kurt Busch pitted on lap 303. Truex followed.
Hamlin and Kyle Busch stayed out, that made them the only two cars on the lead lap.
Just after Truex and Kurt Busch passed him, Hamlin tried to pit; he overshot the pit entrance and had to go back around; Kyle Busch was able to pit on lap 316.
Harvick assumed the lead; Kurt Busch was second followed by Truex, Kenseth and Austin Dillon.
Kurt Busch snagged the lead on lap 320; Truex followed; Harvick fell to third.
Truex was looking for the lead on lap 322. He got it on lap 326.
The lead for Truex was soon just over 2.5 seconds.
Hamlin was fifth, Kyle Busch right behind by lap 337.
Three laps later they were fourth and fifth. They were third and fourth by lap 342, but 9 seconds behind the leader.
Hamlin took second on lap 347; Truex was 6.7 seconds ahead. There were 9 cars on the lead lap.
The gap shrunk and with ten laps to go, it was under two seconds; with five to go it was under a second. Hamlin was on the bumper of Truex with two laps to go, when Truex slipped coming into turn 3, scraped the wall and slowed. Hamlin rocketed by and held on to win.
Kyle Busch was second followed by Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones in the top five.
Kenseth was sixth, Ryan Newman seventh, Truex held on for eighth; Harvick and McMurray rounded out the top 10. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond International Raceway for the final race of the regular season next Saturday night.