DARLINGTON, S.C. – Denny Hamlin won the NASCAR Cup Series Toyota 500K (310.6 miles) on Wednesday night at Darlington Raceway as the race was called with 20 laps left because of rain, with no fans.
This counts as his third Cup win at the track Too Tough to Tame. The reigning Daytona 500 champion had previously won the Southern 500 in 2010 and 2017.
"I just love the race track," Hamlin said. "It's one of my favorites, certainly in my top two or three. I think it's a driver's racetrack. I think the driver can make up a little bit of maybe what his car doesn't have with moving around the race track, different lines, throttle and brake application. There's a lot of things that can a driver can do to make his performance better at this type of racetrack. That's why I like it so much."
Hamlin can thank his Joe Gibbs Racing team’s decision to keep his car on the track as the other lead-lap cars at the time pitted for four tires. After Hamlin was told JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. had success on Darlington with old tires, it appeared to be the thing to do at the time.
"We got that long green flag run where we made up a lot of track position. I don't know where we restarted but we certainly made up a lot of spots, got pretty close there to (Chase Elliott) before the caution came out. It was just going to be a few laps before we overtook him," Hamlin said. "At that point, (Brad Keselowski) stays out, four cars on the lead lap. I thought the right strategy, since the 15 was in the mix, I thought the strategy you wanted to be on the outside on restarts anyway, so I wanted to come out from pit road last, that way we had fresh tires over Chase, who stayed out there and had two lap tires.
"At that point, another caution comes. We decide to stay out because we had just taken tires. We didn't have enough tires left," he added. "We were trying to re-glue those tires that had two laps on them. Wasn't able to get them glued up in time for us to pit. We decided to stay out, and it was the right call."
2008 Southern 500 champion Kyle Busch was second, followed by Sunday's Real Heroes 400 winner Kevin Harvick, Keselowski and 2019 Southern 500 champion Erik Jones.
The first two stages, however, belonged to Clint Bowyer, who had two top-10 finishes in his previous 15 Darlington starts.
Bowyer, who started fourth, won the first stage off pit road at Lap 27 and then took the lead for good four laps later and cruised to win the stage.
In the second stage, Bowyer worked his way back into contention. With new tires at Lap 100, he moved into second place before winning another race off pit road nine laps later to set the tone for that stage’s win.
Bowyer became the first Cup driver this season to win the first two stages of a race.
But Bowyer’s hopes for the win ended late in the race when his car spinned out.
Right before the rain washed things out, Busch spun out Elliott, who had contended for much of the race. Afterward, Elliott projected his middle finger at Busch.
"I thought we had protocols where we're not supposed to do that," Busch answered after he was asked if he saw Elliott's gesture. "So, OK."
And if that weren’t enough, a red fox – the mascot for the Darlington County School District’s Hartsville High School – wondered onto the track.
It was that kind of night at Darlington -- for all the sports world to see on television.
"The competition is real. You see we're able to put on a great show. I think it's a good time for us right now," Hamlin said. "We're on a big stage. I think everyone is stepping up to the plate and really doing a good job to make sure we're giving a good product, a real product, not just putting things together just to get on TV."