Denny Hamlin wins Southern 500, sweeps weekend at Darlington

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin overcame a seemingly critical mistake to win the 68th annual Bojangles’ Southern 500 on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, completing a weekend sweep of racing at the famed Track Too Tough To Tame.

Tame it he did, however. On Saturday, Hamlin won the weekend’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race after starting on the poll. Sunday marked his second victory in the Bojangles’ Southern 500, following his 2010 triumph. Hamlin also swept the weekend’s events that year.

On Lap 314 of the 367-mile event on the famed 1.366-mile oval, Hamlin missed pit road during a round of green flag pit stops while leading the race. After pitting the next time around, he returned his No. 11 Sports Clips Toyota to the track trailing the race leaders by 20 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats’ 40th Anniversary Toyota) appeared headed toward Gatorade Victory Lane to defend his Bojangles’ Southern 500 championship, as he led laps 326-364, but right-front tire problems caused him to slam into the wall twice, giving Hamlin the lead with three laps to go. Hamlin brought it home, beating Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&M’s Caramel Toyota) by 2.599 seconds. Truex ended up eighth.

“I drove my butt off,” Hamlin said, explaining his late charge to the front. “That’s as hard as I can drive.” Truex, meanwhile, was denied a sweep of his own.

Kyle Larson (No. 42 Credit One Bank Chevrolet) led 78 laps of the race’s first 100 laps, the length of the first of the race’s three designated “stages.” Truex led only one lap in the stage – the final one, as he got by Larson to get the stage victory and earn 10 extra points in the battle to make NASCAR’s 10-race/16-driver playoffs that start in two weeks. The second stage, also 100 laps, also was won by Truex, with the last several laps completed under caution. The race’s final 167 laps made up the final stage.

Most importantly, the first two stage victories and the 20 extra points clinched the Monster Energy Series’ “regular season” title for Truex. A victory in one of NASCAR’s major events would’ve truly capped the evening in style.

“It was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there,” Truex said.

The Bojangles’ Southern 500 is NASCAR’s oldest superspeedway race, held for the first time in 1950. Darlington Raceway is the second-oldest facility on the Monster Energy Series schedule, behind only Martinsville Speedway, which was part of NASCAR’s inaugural season in 1948.

Sunday’s race capped the track’s “Official Throwback Weekend of NASCAR” with many cars using classic paint schemes from the years 1985-89. This was the third consecutive throwback weekend, focusing on historic moments and drivers that have had significant historical impact on the famed track. In line with that focus, 17 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame were recognized during pre-race ceremonies, including honorary pace car driver Bill Elliott, one of the most successful drivers in Darlington Raceway history. Also, 2018 hall of fame inductees Ray Evernham, Ron Hornaday Jr., Ken Squier and Robert Yates were Grand Marshals.