Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: Denny Hamlin Sweeps Darlington Weekend With Late-Race Charge

Who’s in the headlineDenny Hamlin was thrust into an alternate pit strategy when Martin Truex Jr. short pitted on his penultimate pit stop and then made his final stop with just over 50 laps to go. When the No. 11 driver attempted to hit pit road on lap 314, he missed the entrance and nearly threw his race away. He got up on the wheel and chased down Truex over the final 52 laps of the race and took the lead when Truex bounced off of the wall with a failed tire on lap 365. Hamlin’s win gave him a sweep of the weekend, the fourth time it has occurred at Darlington.

What happenedKyle Larson was the class of the field over the first 157 laps of the race, leading 124 of them. Unfortunately for Larson, he made contact with the wall, damaging his body and causing a tire rub that ended his shot at a victory. Truex was the dominant car for the remainder of the race, making three on-track passes for the lead and tying Larson for the race high of laps led with 124. Hamlin and Kyle Busch implemented their alternate pit strategy which eventually led to Hamlin charging to the front and taking advantage of Truex’s misstep. Kurt Busch made a strong run, especially over the final 100 laps, to claim third while Austin Dillon‘s prowess over long runs put him in the fourth spot.

Why you should care – While Truex failed to win the race, he managed to limp around the bottom of the track for the final two laps and came home with an eighth-place finish. That finish leaves him 107 points ahead of Kyle Busch, which means he has secured the regular season championship and the associated 15 additional playoff points. Truex will be hard to prevent from making the final four at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The rest of the final four will be wide open thanks to the strength that Larson and Kevin Harvick have displayed, along with several Toyotas.

What your friends are talking about – The rumors are flying rampantly around the garage about the decision by Subway to pull their sponsorship from Joe Gibbs Racing. While no one from the JGR stable would confirm the reasoning, the predominant story is that the franchise restaurant chain, who advocates a healthy lifestyle and is owned by a company known as Doctor’s Associates, was upset over the fluff piece with Daniel Suarez and Rutledge Wood handing out Dunkin’ Donuts in New Hampshire nearly two months ago. Apparently Subway, which offers a breakfast option, and has since 2010, felt this fun piece was a conflict of interest and therefore terminated their contract which included one more race in 2017. JGR was in negotiations to continue the relationship into the future and team owner Joe Gibbs hopes that the organizations can work through this issue.

The Monster Energy Cup trophy was unveiled at Darlington this weekend. The trophy is 37 inches tall, weighs 68 pounds and can hold 37 Monster Energy drinks or approximately 600 ounces of liquid. The outside of the vessel has the outline of all 23 racetracks where Cup Series events are contested in relief. It took over 300 hours to craft and is made of machined aluminum. The base has the Monster claw embedded in it and has the series seal hand formed into the band around the middle of it. The trophy was created by Josten’s.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. reported an extreme vibration at the end of the race Sunday night, which apparently was caused by two loose lug nuts. As a result, crew chief Greg Ives, along with the tire change and carrier responsible, will be suspended for the Richmond race and assessed a fine. With Earnhardt hoping to capitalize on his past successes at the track and garner a win to become eligible for the playoffs, this is going to make that task even harder.

Tommy Baldwin has a new title, competition director at Premium Motorsports. Baldwin has taken over that role along with the crew chief duties for the No. 15 Monster Energy Cup ride. Pat Tryson will move to the crew chief role on the No. 55 car. Premium has acquired the remaining assets of Tommy Baldwin Racing and will help fulfill the final obligations that the team has to sponsors for the No. 7 car. Baldwin hopes to help the Premium teams perform more consistently and better in the future.

The Most Popular Driver voting for the national touring series in NASCAR opened on September 3. Barring Earnhardt running a race in 2018, and therefore becoming eligible to win the award next season, this will be the last time he can take home the trophy. This will be the 15th consecutive year for Earnhardt to win the award unless the Elliott fan base steps up and votes Chase Elliott into the position a year early.

The Twitterverse exploded this week with word that Speedway Motorsports Incorporated, the company that owns Charlotte Motor Speedway and seven other race tracks wanted a 30-year lease which could have resulted in a national touring series event returning to the historic track for the first time since 1984. SMI wanted the city of Nashville to pay for all capital improvements to the facility, which would have included the million dollar investment in SAFER barriers. The city did not seem receptive to that idea so they are now negotiating with current operator Tony Formosa on a five year deal.

Cody Ware and Matt DiBenedetto had a post race Twitter exchange that led to some accusations by Ware of infidelity by DiBenedetto. Shortly after the tweet was posted Ware deleted his Twitter account completely. He posted the following to Facebook as an explanation:

“I deleted my twitter, I snapped and said some things that I stand by but have been told by tons of people to take down. I do nothing but give and take every weekend earning respect. I’m not gonna take crap from anyone when I have to run 130% to try and keep up with people with budgets exponentially higher than my own. I obviously don’t have the maturity or ability to handle stress well enough to deal with how tilted this sport his.”

Who is mad – Apparently, Ware is really ticked. The driver of the No. 51 car, which was four seconds off the pace of the leaders on Sunday night, was bent out of shape about the accident that ended his night. He apparently blame DiBenedetto for the incident and it led to an outburst that eventually resulted in the deletion of his Twitter account. Ware didn’t make too many friends with his rant and will be hard pressed to smooth this one over any time soon.

Clint Bowyer‘s night ended before it began with an engine failure on lap 18. Bowyer already had the chips stacked against him on making the playoffs on points, but the early exit and last place finish have sealed that fate. His only chance for a shot at the title now lie in a victory at Richmond Raceway. It wouldn’t be the first time we saw a Hail Mary to make a run at the title, although most fans are hoping that will be completed by Earnhardt.

Who is happyRyan Newman loves racing at Darlington and the tough track rewarded him with another good run. Newman started 17th on the day and consistently ran around the tenth position. The long run strength of his car resulted in a seventh-place run. He and his teammate Austin Dillon have to feel like they are picking up momentum at the right time with the playoffs beginning in two weeks.

Kurt Busch has taken a lot of flak for not running very well since winning the Daytona 500. For those people paying attention, the driver of the No. 41 has been quite solid over the last four races. Sunday night was his best finish since Daytona and is another upswing on the way to the playoffs for a driver locked in.

When the checkered flag flew:

Denny Hamlin scored his 31st victory of his career in his 423rd start on Sunday.

This is Hamlin’s second career triumph at Darlington Raceway.

Hamlin has two wins in 2017.

31 wins puts Hamlin 25th on the All-Time list.

Kyle Busch finished as the runner-up for the second top two finish in his career at Darlington.

Busch has five top two finishes in 2017.

This is the 39th second place finish of Busch’s career which puts him 17th on the All-Time list.

Kurt Busch rounded out the podium with his third career top three run at Darlington.

This is Busch’s second top three run of 2017.

Busch has 81 career podium finishes which ranks him 81st on the All-Time list.

Rookie of the Race was Erik Jones. That is his eleventh such win of the year. Daniel Suarez has won the Rookie of the Race eleven times this season as well. Ty Dillon has been bestowed the award three times.

Twenty five races into the season there have been fourteen different winners this year. With one race left before the playoff cutoff the possibility of a driver with an unencumbered win not making the playoffs as been eliminated. You have Martin Truex Jr. who has the most wins of the year with four. Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Larson with three wins, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have two wins, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, and Kasey Kahne each have one. In the fourteen winners Joey Logano is not eligible for the playoffs by virtue of his triumph being considered encumbered at Richmond. Logano will have to win again to make the playoffs based on a victory.

The remaining three drivers in points and their position:

  1. Chase Elliott
  2. Matt Kenseth
  3. Jamie McMurray

The drivers who have scored playoff points so far this season and their total:

Martin Truex Jr – 37

Kyle Busch – 20

Kyle Larson – 18

Jimmie Johnson – 16

Brad Keselowski -14

Denny Hamlin – 12

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 10

Kevin Harvick – 8

Ryan Blaney – 8

Ryan Newman – 5

Kurt Busch – 5

Austin Dillon – 5

Kasey Kahne – 5

Matt Kenseth – 3

Chase Elliott – 2

Joey Logano – 1

Clint Bowyer – 1

Daniel Suarez – 1

What is in the cooler (one to six beers where one is a stinker and six is an instant classic)

There are a lot of things that make a great race but tires that fall off 20 MPH and differing pit strategies absolutely make for compelling races. Throw in a late race brush with the wall by the leader and a pass for the win with two to go from a driver that ran down the leader from around 20 seconds behind and you have a hell of a race. It wasn’t Kurt Busch v. Ricky Craven, but it was still an instant classic. This one earns a full cold six pack of LeRoy Brown Ales from Southern Hops Brewing Company.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – The final race of the regular season takes place in Richmond Virginia next weekend. The race can be seen on NBCSN Saturday night, Sept. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate, www.themotorracingnetwork.com, SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90 and streamed on the NBC Sports app.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Subway had a pitch man for years who committed the most despicable acts but they terminate a sponsorship for a driver dishing out Dunkin Donuts? Got it.


Got that right

Bill B

Sounds like they were looking for a way out and found it.


Driver and his handlers didn’t show much respect for their sponsor did they?


What I saw of race, was another same song different day. So much hype for the southern 500 and it was same thing we’ve seen most of the season.

Realists know that baring the entire field blowing up and not being able to finish race that Jr’s career highlights won’t include a cup championship. Seeing him on on tv during pre-race ceremonies his body language said it all. He didn’t want to be there.

Shall we predict that a Gibbs car or satellite Gibbs will win at Richmond?


Ya know, back in the day when Junior got to the “Cup” level I thought he really wouldn’t last long, especially after Senior wasn’t around. I’m really surprised he made it this long. Only for a short time did he seem to have his heart in it and of course that was with the Hendricks signing. This is not a knock on the guy, just my observation. And I can appreciate his concerns about his head injuries. Yep there was a lot of people around with a lot of hope,but things just didn’t pan out. Kind of feel bad for the guy. ( Can’t believe I said that with all the money he’s made.)Way too much expectation over the years though from his fans.Just sayin’. Only he knows.

Bill B

I’m so tired of NBC not showing the time intervals and laps down on the ticker. It’s not right that someone can spend 3+ hours watching the race and feel like they have no idea what is happening. Intervals are shown 901% of the time (or more) for Indy and F1 which are both also carried by NBC. So is it NASCAR dictating that NBC not show intervals?

Kevin in SoCal

Twitter exploded about what? A 30 year lease for Charlotte? Why mention Nashville? I think something is missing in that paragraph. I don’t get it. What historic track?

Also, Ken Squier was totally off his game last night. I felt so bad listening to him, as much as I enjoy hearing him call a race.


It tore at my heart when I saw Robert Yates during the hof members intros. Cancer is such an evil disease.


It took Joe Gibbs Racing most of the season to discover the magic edge that The 78-77 teams had.
Now that the Toyota cup is a two team race can Nascar be far behind. History shows that they hate domination.Watch for rules changes

Share via