“It means so much [to win here],” 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 means a lot to me.”
The weekend at Darlington was filled with retro vibes as nearly 30 drivers sported throwback paint schemes to honor the 80’s themed weekend. Hamlin, drove a paint scheme called the flying 11 that honored his short track heroes at Southside Speedway.
Hamlin was followed by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in second, Kurt Busch third, Austin Dillon fourth and Erik Jones fifth. Sixth was Matt Kenseth, seventh Ryan Newman, eighth Truex, ninth Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-10.
The win didn’t come easily for Hamlin. With 54 laps to go, Hamlin, who was leading at the time, decided to hit pit road for the final time. He and teammate Busch stayed out longer than anyone else due to strategy. When Hamlin made the move, he missed pit road, forcing him to make another lap before pitting.
“A little bit of that was pit road, and I think a little bit of that was my entry,” Hamlin said. “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?”
Well, he did. Hamlin entered the track 13th and fought his way through the field thanks to the 10-lap fresher tires, which were ever important due to the low downforce and track conditions Darlington offers.
Hamlin and Kyle Larson, who finished 14th, both led a race-high 124 laps. Hamlin finished third and second in Stage 1 and Stage 2, respectively. Truex swept both stages and led five times for 76 laps before coming home eighth.
“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a bittersweet night for us to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car,” Truex, who clinched the No. 1 seed for the playoffs, said. “I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night. I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on.”
Next week marks the final race of the regular season as the series heads to Richmond International Raceway for a Saturday night showdown. Three drivers, Chase Elliott, Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray, comfortably in on points, meaning if anyone wants one of the final spots in the playoffs, they will have to win their way in.
Zach Horrall is a NASCAR reporter for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by NASCAR and has full media access. Follow @ZHorrallBU and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.
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