By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer
For the second time this season, it was a bump-filled run to the finish for the Xfinity Series at Darlington Raceway. This time, it was between Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin.
But unlike the May finish between Chase Briscoe and Kyle Busch, neither Chastain nor Hamlin scored the victory at the checkered flag.
With three laps to go in Saturday’s Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 from Darlington, leader Hamlin and Chastain made contact in Turn 3, opening the door for Brandon Jones to sneak in this third victory of 2020.
The contact occurred when Hamlin attempted and completed a slide job on Chastain’s No. 10 Chevrolet following a 20-lap chase. When Hamlin came up the track and brushed the wall, Chastain couldn’t avoid hitting Hamlin’s left-rear corner, causing himself to half-spin in Turn 4.
The two continued on without caution, with Hamlin cutting a tire one lap later to finish fifth and Chastain managing second place behind winner Jones.
“I just needed to make the crossover sooner into [Turn] 3 there,” Chastain said. “If I had just made that to get back to his left rear, I think we would have raced it out.
“Denny was faster, I knew that. Everybody watching on NBC knew that. I just kept ripping the top the best I could. I probably hit it 25 times. I was really struggling on exit. I had a weird sensation of speed where I felt I was overdriving the corner and Denny would drive two car lengths deeper every time.”
Still searching for his first win of 2020, Chastain was frustrated but still upbeat following a fun race with a Cup Series regular, and another near-win afternoon for Kaulig Racing.
“We’re all fighting a lot of things but to go up against a guy like Denny Hamlin, a future Cup champion. To go all the way to the end with him, I’m just proud of this group,” he said. “I’m really proud of my group to come back after the first race at Darlington earlier this year and bring the kind of car we did. It was night-and-day different.
“To come back two years after the heartbreak, yeah it’s another heartbreak but this one… we finished [laughs]. We finished second with a torn-up racecar.”
Hamlin had arguably the quickest car of the afternoon, leading 31 laps on the day after starting the race from the rear. Tracking down Chastain in the closing 21-lap stint, Hamlin just “misjudged” his maneuver in Turn 3.