By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
NASCAR’s Throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway brought a throwback-style race as Denny Hamlin and others fought to control their cars in the Goodyear 400.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver ran up front throughout the entire race at one of NASCAR’s oldest speedways. In the final caution-free Stage, Hamlin ran inside the top-five. As he battled his teammate, Christopher Bell, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, and Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron, the No. 11 Sports Clips Throwback Toyota Camry bounced off the outside wall. Despite the hard hit, Hamlin maintained pace.
Hamlin, as well as much of the field, had nothing for 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., who swept the first two Stages and won the race. The torrid pace left just nine cars on the lead lap when the checkered flag waved. Hamlin was fifth, as he held off Harvick for the position. However, the Chesterfield, VA native did lose fourth to Byron.
“It was slick,” admitted Hamlin. “This package was really slick and I knew before the day started that the cars were going to feel terrible, just feel absolutely terrible – even when you’re good. That was the case most of the time, even when I was catching (Martin) Truex Jr. there at the end of the first stage, the car was all over the place bad.
“That’s the high horsepower, low downforce. Just sliding all over the place. It was a lot of fun to drive. You had to work for all 400 miles at this racetrack. I thought from a statistics standpoint, they’re going to say it’s not a good race because Truex dominated, but it was a driver’s racetrack today.”
After starting seventh, Hamlin maneuvered his way forward. He finished the first stage in second.
Stage 2 saw Hamlin stay out on old tires. A late pit call under caution caused the 40-year-old to miss pit road. Despite being on old tires, Hamlin only slipped back to sixth. After a round of green flag pit stops, he was back inside the top-five. Hamlin finished Stage 2 in fourth.
As part of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend at Darlington, Hamlin and sponsor Sports Clips honored Florence, S.C. native Julius ‘Slick’ Johnson. Johnson made 68 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, earning seven top-10 finishes. He succumbed to injuries on Feb 14, 1990 that he received in the 1990 ARCA Menards Series opener at Daytona International Speedway three days earlier.
The fifth-place finish is the ninth top-five for Hamlin this season. It is the 188th top-five of his Cup Series career. The top-five is also the 257th for Hamlin across NASCAR’s three National Series.
Hamlin continues to lead the Cup Series points standings. He is 75-points ahead of Truex. Hamlin, without a win, is still not locked into the playoffs. He is 261-points above the Playoff cutoff held by Tyler Reddick.
Feature Photo Credit: Photo by NKP / NKP Photo