Denny Hamlin was the victor of a rain-shortened Toyota 500 when NASCAR’s Cup Series reconvened at Darlington on Wednesday night, three days after ending a two-month COVID-19 lockdown at the same venue.
NASCAR called the race with the field sitting on pit road under the red flag when the rain started to fall under the final caution after 208 of the scheduled 228 laps. That caution came when Kyle Busch spun Chase Elliott down the frontstretch as the two battled for the second position.
Hamlin and the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing team had taken the lead by staying out under yellows with 34 laps to go. On slightly older tires, Hamlin cleared the field as Elliott and Busch charged to the second and third positions. The contact between Busch and Elliott occurred down the frontstretch near Turn 1.
For Hamlin, it is his second win of the season and third at Darlington. It is the 39th win of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“The pit crew did a great job today,” Hamlin said. “Everybody (did) really. I was pretty happy with how it all turned out. It’s a driver’s racetrack. You can move around, you can do different things to make your car handle, and we got it right today.”
Busch finished second for a Joe Gibbs Racing 1-2 finish. Harvick, who won Sunday’s race, finished third. Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones completed the top five. Jones led 27 laps, taking the lead with a robust three-wide move down the frontstretch early in the second stage.
After the accident, Elliott climbed from his car and gave Busch the middle finger as he drove by under caution. Elliott was cleared and released from the infield care center, and Busch took the blame for the accident and explained to Alan Gustafson, Elliott’s crew chief, that he misjudged trying to get back in line and tagged the left rear of Elliott’s car.
“I made a mistake and just misjudged the gap,” said Busch. “We were racing there with the 11 [Hamlin], and the 9 [Elliott] had a run on him, I knew he was there, and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could. In doing so, I watched him and his momentum that was going by me, and I tried to look up in the mirror and see where Harvick was to get in, and I just misjudged. I made a mistake, and clipped the 9 there and spun him into the wall.
“I hate it for him and his guys. I’ve got too many friends over there on that team to do anything like that on purpose. I’ve raced Chase since he was a kid, and never had any issues with him whatsoever. It was just a bad mistake on my part.”
Rounding out the top 10 were Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto, and Martin Truex Jr.
Logano led laps early in the night. Truex came on strong toward the end of Stage 1 and spent much of the second part of the race running inside the top five. He also led laps during the event.
Clint Bowyer had the race’s dominant car, winning both stages. Bowyer led a race-high 71 laps but finished 22nd after spinning off Turn 4 with 34 laps to go. He’d also damaged the right side of his car a few laps before by hitting the wall off Turn 2.
Pole-sitter Ryan Preece finished last after the engine expired in his JTG Daugherty Chevrolet at the start of the second stage.