On a weekend when fans were reminded why they fell in love with the sport of NASCAR at a track that most consider too tough to tame, one driver reigned supreme.
Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200
Thanks to a move he termed “a throwback to Dale Earnhardt,” Joe Gibbs Racing driver Denny Hamlin picked up his first victory of throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway. After driving his way to the pole for Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 XFINITY Series race, Hamlin was forced back in the field by fellow Monster Energy Cup Series driver Kevin Harvick. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver took the wave of the green flag second to Hamlin, but was quick to take the lead in the opening laps of the 148-lap race.
Despite leading 54 laps and winning the first two stages of this weekend’s XFINITY Series race, Harvick’s stamina fell short after a faulty restart on Lap 142 pushed the dominant driver back to fifth place.
Harvick’s flagging pace would give the No. 22 of Joey Logano the opportunity to take the lead – that is until the final lap, where Logano decided to take the inside position and surged ahead into Turn 3. Race winner Denny Hamlin responded with a crossover move that gave him the chance to retake the lead in Turn 4 and turn this into a drag racing style win.
“I think that was a throwback to Dale Earnhardt in (Turns) 3 and 4,” said Hamlin. “I didn’t anticipate Logano having the power to catch up to me in the end, but that was one heck of a finish.”
Despite a crash ending the day early for Series point-leader Elliott Sadler, the veteran driver continues to hold a 91-point lead over second-place William Byron going into Richmond.
Bojangles Southern 500
Following his dominating performance in Saturday’s XFINITY Series race, Denny Hamlin made an even bigger comeback to win the most prestigious race of NASCAR’s throwback weekend. Like déjà vu, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver would have to prove that he could overcome Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick.
Harvick, who started on the pole for the 367-lap race, led the first 22 laps of this race, but saw his hopes dashed early on. Harvick’s misfortune would be point leader Martin Truex Jr’s golden ticket. Truex charged ahead of the pole sitter to take both the Stage 1 and 2 wins, then continued his domination until the No. 78 Bass Pro Shops sponsored driver grazed the wall on Lap 365, which resulted in a cut tire and gave the No. 11 of Denny Hamlin a chance to sweep throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway.
Before he had a chance to run down race leader Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin had to come back from a major setback. On tires that were 10 laps fresher than Truex’s, Hamlin exited pit road in 14th-place on Lap 315 after missing the entrance the first time. Despite his misstep, Hamlin was able to close in on Truex as the race leader fought to maintain control of his damaged race car.
Truex would eventually lose control and give Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch the chance to compete for this once-in-a-lifetime win. Despite a hard-fought battle, Hamlin took down his teammate after crossing the finish line 2.599 seconds ahead of Busch.
“That is the hardest I have ever driven,” said Hamlin, whose Camry sported a paint scheme paying tribute to renowned modified driver Ray Hendrick. “What can I say – it’s the flying 11. It means everything to me. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, this is a throwback to my history – this is for Ray Hendrick, Bugs Hairfield, Wayne Patterson, Eddie Johnson, the short track guys that I grew up watching. Back in 1985 and 1989, I was at Southside Speedway in the stands watching them race and learning everything I could from them, and this is a throwback to them and their history.”
Although Hamlin took home the weekend sweep, Truex would also come home victorious after clinching the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship following his double Stage wins at Darlington.
“It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but I’m really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far, and to lock up the regular-season points is a huge accomplishment for us, for our team. I feel like we’ve come a long way in just a few years together and continue to climb,” he said.
Chevy Silverado 250
While both the XFINITY and Monster Energy Cup Series regulars celebrated throwback weekend in Darlington, Camping World Truck Series drivers would head to Ontario Canada for the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.
Pole sitter Austin Cindric took the green flag wave to a Stage 1 win, but a mid-race penalty, which involved a costly mistake leaving pit road, left the No. 19 driver having to fight his way back through the field.
Although this gave the No. 16 of Ryan Truex the opportunity to take the Stage 2 win, Cindric would push his way back to the lead on the final lap of this race to take home his first Camping World Truck Series win.
“This is what NASCAR racing is all about,” said Cindric. “I am so excited to both win this race and earn a position in the upcoming playoffs.”
The Chevrolet Silverado 250 was the second-to-last race before the start of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs. The final chance for drivers to earn a berth comes in two weeks at the Chicagoland 225, which will run on Friday, September 15. Stay tuned to RacingJunk.com for all the latest in NASCAR news.