Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Denny Hamlin passed Martin Truex Jr. with three laps left to win the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The No. 11 car overcame a late mistake and charged strong into first place, while a Truex flat tire ruined any chance he had of earning the win. It was the second victory of the season for Hamlin with just one race to go before the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Truex finished eighth but clinched the regular-season title for the Monster Energy Series Sunday thanks to two stage wins.
Here are the top results from South Carolina:
1. Denny Hamlin (11)
2. Kyle Busch (18)
3. Kurt Busch (41)
4. Austin Dillon (3)
5. Erik Jones (77)
6. Matt Kenseth (20)
7. Ryan Newman (31)
8. Martin Truex Jr. (78)
9. Kevin Harvick (4)
10. Jamie McMurray (1)
Full results available at NASCAR.com.
Hamlin led for 124 laps in the race, tying Kyle Larson for the most of the day in the 367-lap event. However, he found himself chasing Truex in the final few laps trying to earn the win.
He continued to make up ground each lap with fresher tires, but it took Truex going into the wall for him to move into first place:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
What a weekend! @CocaColaRacing Family driver @DennyHamlin wins the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in a thrilling finish! https://t.co/VVE2Kr6Vut
Although he had lost a significant amount of time after missing pit road with 54 laps remaining, he made up for it with excellent driving down the stretch for the win.
Driver Regan Smith provided his thoughts on the result:
Regan Smith @ReganSmith
That drive by @dennyhamlin to win this race may have been one of the best I’ve ever seen. He made the mistake and he fixed it. Wow
In a long race without many crashes, Hamlin was simply the best driver throughout the night.
Kevin Harvick began the day on the pole, although Larson quickly took over and controlled the first portion of the race. He appeared ready to take the Stage 1 win, but Truex narrowly edged him for the victory and the extra playoff point:
That’s worth another look!
The second stage featured a similar story, with Larson leading most laps before Truex moved to the front for his 17th stage win of the year. It was the fifth time he swept both stages in a race.
Jeff Gluck added what this meant for the standings:
Jeff Gluck @jeff_gluck
Martin Truex Jr. wins Stage 2 at the #Southern500. 17th stage win, clinches regular season title (+15 playoff points on the 37 he has now).
Truex is completing a dominant regular season and is now extremely well positioned for the playoffs.
On the other end of the spectrum is Clint Bowyer, who is in big trouble after his early exit Sunday after just 18 laps. Dustin Long of NBC Sports described the situation:
Dustin Long @dustinlong
#NASCAR … Clint Bowyer out of the race. Will have to win Richmond to make playoffs. He will finish 40th (last) tonight.
The race continued with several cautions for minor issues and debris, with Hamlin eventually taking over to lead lap after lap. Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Landon Cassill all worked their way to the front for a time, but Hamlin in the No. 11 car controlled the action.
Hamlin built up more than an eight-second lead on Kyle Busch and far ahead of the rest of the field, but he lost it all when he missed pit road:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
THIS. CHANGES. EVERYTHING.
Denny Hamlin misses pit road, surrendering the lead in the process. https://t.co/0llpttNsxH
With Kyle Busch also pitting, it provided an opportunity for Kurt Busch to move in front for the first time with about 50 laps to go. Hamlin left pit road in just 14th place with Kyle Busch in 15th.
It didn’t take long for Truex to move back into the lead, but the story became whether Hamlin and Busch in fresher tires could catch up to first place. The duo flew past the rest of the field to move into second and third, respectively, setting up a showdown with about 15 laps to go.
When the No. 78 went into the wall, the race was effectively over with Hamlin and Busch finishing in first and second.
There is now just one race remaining in the regular season with drivers likely ready to do whatever it takes to get into the playoffs. The Federated Auto Parts 400 is scheduled for Saturday at Richmond Raceway, and it should feature plenty of drama from start to finish.