Hamlin claims second win at Bojangles' Southern 500
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Denny Hamlin claimed his second win of 2017 and his second career Darlington Raceway victory Sunday night in the Bojangles' Southern 500.
Hamlin's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch finished second to give JGR a one-two finish.
Hamlin and Busch stayed out 20 laps longer than the rest of the race field when the final cycle of green-flag pit stops began around lap 300. As a result of staying out longer, they lost significant track position, especially Hamlin, since he overshot the entrance to pit road on his first attempt to pit and had to make another lap and another attempt to stop.
With newer tires, Hamlin and Busch quickly raced up through the field. With just under 20 laps remaining they took second to third in the running order, but Hamlin was over six seconds behind Martin Truex Jr.
Hamlin closed to within a car length of Truex and the lead in the closing laps and was in position to take the lead when Truex got into the wall with just over two laps remaining.
Kurt Busch finished third, Austin Dillon was fourth, and Erik Jones rounded out the top five.
Hamlin was up front at the beginning of the third stage for the final 167 laps of the race after getting off pit road first and led most of the laps until his final green-flag stop.
Kyle Larson, who led 124 laps in the first 200 of the race, had to make two stops during the yellow as the result of a tire rub. After running at or near the front throughout most of the race to that point, Larson wound up in the back of the top 20.
Truex won the first two stages in the initial 200 laps of the 367-lap race. They were his series-leading 16th and 17th stage wins of the season.
By running up front at the end of each of the first two stages, Truex tallied 20 regular-season points, the exact number he needed to clinch the regular-season bonus of 15 playoff points, one race shy of the end of the regular season.
Hamlin and Kevin Harvick ran second and third to Truex at lap 200 as the field made laps under yellow. The second stage ended under caution as the result of a Gray Gaulding incident on lap 197.
Truex took the win in stage one by inches over Kyle Larson, although Larson dominated the opening stage by leading 78 of the first 100 laps.
After starting on the pole, Harvick lost several positions on pit road during the first caution that came out on lap 16. As a result, he restarted 10th. Harvick wasn't the only Stewart-Haas Racing driver to have problems during the first pit stops. Clint Bowyer's car stalled on pit road before heading to the garage with a blown engine.
Kyle Busch took the restart as the race leader, with Larson alongside in second. Truex pushed Larson out front to the lead and he continued to be in front until the final feet of the first stage.
Harvick got back inside the top five by the time the yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 41, and he eventually got back up to as high as second in the running order. A tire problem in the final 10 laps of the first stage, though, resulted in the loss of several positions. He was fourth by the end of the stage.
After pit stops to start stage two, Larson was back in the lead with Truex in second. Truex reclaimed the lead several laps later after Larson had run his laps-led tally up to 124 laps.
Truex lost his second lead to Hamlin on pit road, but he returned to the front on lap 179.
NOTES: Martin Truex Jr. won the 2016 Southern 500. ... Jimmie Johnson is the only active driver with multiple wins at Darlington Raceway with three. Jeff Gordon is the all-time Southern 500 wins leader with six. ... Hendrick Motorsports has 11 Southern 500 wins, including Johnson's three and Gordon's six. ... Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Erik Jones finished first through fourth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington on Saturday. Hamlin, Logano and Harvick combined to lead all 148 laps of the Xfinity race. ... The 2017 Southern 500 was the third with a "throwback" theme in which cars carry retro paint schemes honoring cars/drivers of the past. ... Toyota won three of the last four Southern 500's, heading into Sunday evening's race, including the last two.