Darlington Sweep for Hamlin
By: Jeff Wackerlin
DARLINGTON, S.C. - Denny Hamlin followed his Nationwide Series win Friday night with his third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season in Saturday's Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Hamlin led 104 laps en route to his first Sprint Cup victory at the 1.366-mile track and the 11th of his career.
"To pull off the sweep on Mother's Day Weekend - I gotta say Happy Mother's Day to my mom, Mary Lou," Hamlin said. "Just a great weekend for us. We had a top-two car all day. The pit crew got me out first and that was key."
The weekend sweep was the first at Darlington since Mark Martin accomplished the feat in 1993.
Hamlin continued his move toward the top of the Sprint Cup point standings and took over the sixth position with his victory.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about us winning right now because I know what our team is capable of when we get to Chase time,” Hamlin said. “We are running last year’s cars for the most part, and we’re just kind of easing our way into it. We didn’t expect this success, but we felt like we could contend for race wins and maybe get one here or there in the first 12."
Pole-sitter Jamie McMurray, who finished third in the Nationwide race, led 71 laps and finished second for his fourth top 10 with Ganassi at Darlington.
“We had a good car, but Bono (crew chief Kevin Manion) called a good race,” said McMurray, who raced in his first Darlington race with Ganassi since 2005. Qualifying first, getting to have that pit stall, it made a huge difference.
“Darlington has just always been a really good track for me. I always liked this place.”
Kurt Busch recorded his first top 10 in five Darlington races with Penske Racing with a third-place finish.
“We really fought hard,” Busch said. “It was a good run for us here at Darlington. I haven’t had a solid run like tonight since Ricky Craven and I battled it out for that win (2003). It feels good to get our Miller Lite Dodge back up front. It came down to a strategy where I though two tires would be the way to go at the end.”
Jeff Gordon led the most laps, with 110, but lost track position when he missed pit road on his last stop. He came down pit road on the following lap, but the caution flew and he was forced to wave around to the 13th position for the restart. He rallied back to finish fourth.
“That is what happens when you make a make a mistake,” Gordon said. “You have to make it up to your guys who worked so hard all weekend long to give you a race car like that.”
Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top five for his first finish inside the top 20 in four starts at Darlington.
"This Target Chevy has been pretty damn good,” Montoya said. “It was hard work. I hit the wall a couple of times, but nothing major. I was pretty happy. I'm just relieved we got to the end to tell you the truth.”
Like Gordon, Jeff Burton was also dealt with misfortune after contending with Hamlin for the win. On lap 344, Burton was handed a stop and go penalty for running over the air hose on his pit stop. Burton was able to make his way back to eighth in the final rundown.
Defending series champion Jimmie Johnson endured a tough night that ended in a violent crash with AJ Allmendinger on lap 181.
Allmendinger lost his brakes as he raced through turn three and slide down on the track apron before spinning back on track in directly in the path of Johnson. They made hard contact with severe damage both cars although neither driver was injured.
“The brake rotor exploded,” Allmendinger said. “I was just trying to aim for the bottom and try to miss everybody. I’m sorry to Jimmie. It wasn’t his fault, but I had no brakes and couldn’t do anything about it.”
Johnson was handed a 36th place finish and now trails leader Kevin Harvick in the standings by 110 points.
“All I know is last minute I saw a green bumper and it was a hard hit,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, we had all kinds of issues tonight. Got caught up in all kinds of little small things.”
The Sprint Cup Series now heads to Dover International Speedway for next Sunday's running of the Autism Speaks 400.
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