NASCAR Darlington 500: Hamlin wins rain-shortened midweek race – NASCAR

Denny Hamlin employed a clever strategy to win his second NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Darlington in a race cut short by rain on Wednesday night.

In the second race of NASCAR’s return following the coronavirus pandemic-induced hiatus – the first Wednesday NASCAR race since Richard Petty’s 200th victory at Daytona on 4th July 1982 – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Hamlin did not pit with the rest of the leading gaggle on lap 195 of the scheduled 228 following a Matt Kenseth-inspired caution.

Hamlin instead opted to stay out on the scrubbed Goodyear tyres his JGR crew had installed onto his Toyota Camry 14 laps earlier and formed a breakaway gaggle from the pack with team-mate Kyle Busch and Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott when racing resumed on lap 199.

Entering the pit-straight on lap 201, with Hamlin in front, Busch tried to tuck under the rear-wing of Elliott’s Chevrolet Camaro, but the reigning champion misjudged the move and fired Elliott into the pit-wall.

As the caution flags flew whilst Elliott’s car was cleared, and him giving Busch the one-finger salute, rain began to fall over the circuit, prompting NASCAR officials to curtail the race on lap 208.

This handed Hamlin his first victory since the season-opening Daytona 500 and the third of his career win at Darlington, having previously won at the tricky 1.3-mile oval in 2010 and 2017.

Kevin Harvick, who was victorious in the first Darlington race on Sunday, struggled in the early stages of the race mired in the midfield as the top 20 finishers were inverted from Sunday’s race.

Running long allowed Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang to eventually rise to the head of the field, although he fell back in the third stage of green-flag running, complaining of no grip from his worn tyres.

He pitted under the Kenseth caution on lap 181 and brought home a third-place finish for SHR, ahead of fellow Mustang driver Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), who started sixth on the final restart.

Erik Jones, who was sent to the back of the field after scrutineering, drove an excellent race to fifth for JGR, despite a wall strike that left him nursing the Camry to the end.

Joey Logano and Aric Almirola had sensible races for Penske and SHR, respectively, finishing in sixth and seventh, ahead of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, in eighth for Hendrick Motorsports and the highest placed Camaro finisher.

Clint Bowyer won both stages one and two, although a spin on lap 195 ruined his chances of securing victory and contributed to a lowly 22nd place finish, whilst pole-sitter Ryan Preece retired with an engine failure early on.

Result – 208 laps

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 2h42m23.s
2 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota s
3 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford s
4 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford s
5 Erik Jones Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota s
6 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford s
7 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford s
8 Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet s
9 Matt DiBenedetto Wood Brothers Racing Ford s
10 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota s
11 Christopher Bell Leavine Family Racing Toyota s
12 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet s
13 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet s
14 Ryan Newman Roush Fenway Racing Ford s
15 Kurt Busch Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet s
16 Darrell Wallace Jr. Richard Petty Motorsports Chevrolet s
17 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford s
18 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet s
19 Ty Dillon Germain Racing Chevrolet s
20 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet s
21 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford s
22 Clint Bowyer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford s
23 Chris Buescher Roush Fenway Racing Ford s
24 Corey LaJoie Go FAS Racing Ford 1 Lap
25 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 1 Lap
26 Quin Houff StarCom Racing Chevrolet 1 Lap
27 Daniel Suarez Gaunt Brothers Racing Toyota 1 Lap
28 J.J. Yeley Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 1 Lap
29 Joey Gase Petty Ware Racing Chevrolet 1 Lap
30 Matt Kenseth Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet 2 Laps
31 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 2 Laps
32 Gray Gaulding Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet 2 Laps
33 Timmy Hill MBM Motorsports Toyota 4 Laps
34 Garrett Smithley Rick Ware Racing Ford 4 Laps
35 John Hunter Nemechek Front Row Motorsports Ford 6 Laps
36 B.J. McLeod BJ McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet 6 Laps
37 Brennan Poole Premium Motorsports Chevrolet Transmission
38 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Accident
39 Ryan Preece JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Engine