Denny Hamlin Scores Timely Darlington Win

Of course, Denny Hamlin celebrates a Darlington win like a gamer finishing Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Of course, Denny Hamlin celebrates a Darlington win like a gamer finishing Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

By all means, winning at Darlington Raceway continually proves impressive since its opening in 1950. In the case of Denny Hamlin, Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 likely stands out as a clutch race in his storied NASCAR Cup Series career.

Ahead of the 367 lap, 501.322 mile race, Hamlin and his No. 11 FedEx/Offerpad Toyota team entered the NASCAR Playoffs kickoff race without a victory. Sure, the 40-year-old Chesterfield, Va. native possessed remarkable consistency with a series leading average finish of 9.1.

If there was a place where Hamlin could snap his dry spell, Darlington seemed like a potent venue. After all, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver won on three previous occasions (2010, ’17 and ’20).

Yes, the 2010 NASCAR Cup Series points leader had a familiar foe in regular season champion Kyle Larson. While Hamlin won stage 1, Larson nabbed a convincing stage 2 victory while the Virginian placed fourth.

Moreover, once the field prepared for the third and final stage, it was a methodical, heavyweight battle between two convincing title contenders. Although Larson seemingly looked in command for the final 131 laps, Hamlin stepped up for the remaining 69 laps.

When it mattered, Hamlin, taking the lead on lap 299, held onto the top spot in relentless fashion. However, Larson made things interesting in the final five laps as he closed the gap slowly but surely.

On the final lap, Larson drove deep into the turn 3, attempting an outside, wide open pass on Hamlin for the win. All for naught, Hamlin staved off Larson as he won his first Cup race of the year.

No doubt about it, Denny Hamlin was a man on a mission. (Photo: Michael Guarilgia | The Podium Finish)

No doubt about it, Denny Hamlin was a man on a mission. (Photo: Michael Guarilgia | The Podium Finish)

“I knew from that point he was going to have to rassle me for the race win,” Hamlin observed. “I was not going to let him go. And it was going to probably going to get physical like it was in the last lap, if it didn’t happen any sooner.”

Despite the attempted “yeet” move by Larson, Hamlin celebrated his defensive driving while appreciating his rival’s unique passing attempt.

“Coming to the white, he got a great run off the 4,” Hamlin recalled. “I didn’t get that good of a run close to four car lengths. And I’m like, still manageable. As long as I don’t mess up, this thing is all manageable, I should be fine. And then they said he got all the way to me. I felt him bump me getting into Turn 3. I’m like, Where did he come from? He must have done something crazy to drive in that deep.

“But it was cool that we were able to hold him off. But I’m sure it was very exciting from everyone else’s standpoint. He said he had run out of options he wanted to try it. And it nearly worked.”

Indeed, Hamlin savored his 45th career Cup win especially against a friendly, on track opponent.

“I mean, it means a lot,” Hamlin said. “I mean, certainly you don’t like just — being the next best every single week. You know, you got to give credit to them. They performed the last 12 races of the regular season like we did the first 12, only they got the wins. They finished it off and got the wins when they were dominant. And so you got to give them their due.

“Kyle is obviously a tremendous talent, and certainly I take pride in it. We’re very close friends off the racetrack and we talk a lot. It’s great to be in a battle with one of your good friends.”

Following a remarkable, well earned Darlington victory, Hamlin observed a championship duel with Larson while acknowledging the unique format of the Playoffs.

Cue Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight." (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Cue Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

“I would love to race Larson in the last race the same as I would — I loved to race Harvick last year in the final race,” he opined. “But you just never know. This is the format, right. And you just never know because it’s a three-race season, and what you did for the first 30-something when you get down to the end just doesn’t matter.”

Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Top 10 Finishers

Hamlin-Larson-Chastain-Truex-Harvick/Kurt Busch-Keselowski-Logano-Buescher-Austin Dillon

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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