Denny Hamlin had to drive hard and fast to recover from missing pit road and win Sunday’s Southern 500.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to make up 23.7 seconds to challenge Martin Truex Jr. for the win. Hamlin missed his entry to pit road on Lap 314.
“Twenty-three seconds is nearly 3/4 of a lap,” NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte said. “He got a big chunk early using those fresh tires. But around Lap 344 he’s still 10 seconds behind.”
Because of how much ground he covered, Letarte called Hamlin’s run “absolutely magical.”
The win was Hamlin’s second in the Southern 500 and his second this year. Hamlin wound up leading 124 laps, including the final three after Truex lost a tire and got into the outside wall.
“I’m not sure this gets enough credit,” Letarte said. “Years from now we’ll be looking back on this drive that Denny Hamlin put on and this will be a celebrated Southern 500.”
Jeff Burton called Hamlin’s pit-road mistake a 12-14 second mistake.
“Many times we see drivers when they make a mistake, the second mistake isn’t far after that because they try so hard, they try to make something happen,” Burton said. “He did a great job of getting there, managing the problem and then pushing extremely hard on a difficult race track to push on.”
Letarte said he was sad that Truex lost his tire because it deprived those watching the race of a “heavyweight fight” over the last two laps.
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