Denny Hamlin won Wednesday night’s rain-shortened Cup race at Darlington after a pit gamble put him in the lead late.
Hamlin took the lead for the first time when he and Matt DiBenedetto stayed out of the pits during a caution with 34 laps to go. Hamlin kept the lead on the ensuing restart with 29 laps to go. A caution came out for a wreck on the next lap.
The rain began under the caution and after the field was brought to pit road, the race was made official. Hamlin emerged from his car wearing a mask with a big smile on it.
“I’ve got my happy face on,” Hamlin told FS1. “I made sure I brought it with me today. … The pit crew did a great job today. Everybody really. I was pretty happy with how it all turned out.”
Hamlin, who won the Daytona 500, joins Joey Logano as the second driver to win two races this year.
“We decided to stay out because we had just taken tires and we didn’t have enough tires left,” Hamlin said. “So we were trying to re-glue those tires that had two laps on them and weren’t able to get them glued up in time for us to pit. So we decided to stay out and it was the right call.”
#NASCAR … Before Denny Hamlin stayed out, crew chief Chris Gabehart told him on the radio: "You ain't going to like it, but we’re going to have to eat our vegetables here."
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) May 21, 2020
On the last restart, Hamlin kept the lead as Busch moved to second. The next time by, Chase Elliott surged into second as the field exited Turn 4. Right after the top three crossed the start-finish line, Busch made contact with Elliott, who was sent sliding into the inside wall on the frontstretch.
After exiting his car, an angry Elliott displayed his middle finger at Busch as Busch drove by the incident scene.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Clint Bowyer
STAGE 2 WINNER: Clint Bowyer
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Clint Bowyer led a race-high 71 laps and won both stages, but finished 22nd after he cut a tire and spun with 34 laps to go. Before tonight he had only led 17 laps in 15 career starts at Darlington … Erik Jones has earned a top-10 finish in all five of his Cup Series starts at Darlington … Brad Keselowski earned his best finish of 2020. He has led in the last eight races at Darlington, the longest streak there since Jeff Gordon led 10 straight races between 1998-2003 … Aric Almirola finished seventh for his best Darlington finish in his 10th start … Jimmie Johnson placed eighth for his third top 10 of the year. He ended a six-race stretch without a top 10 at Darlington.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After finishing ninth on Sunday, rookie John Hunter Nemechek wrecked twice in the first 12 laps and finished 35th … Ryan Preece, who started on the pole, finished last after his engine expired on Lap 70 … Chris Buescher finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Michael McDowell on Lap 72 … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finished 25th after he spun to bring out the caution on Lap 83.
NOTABLE: With his win, Hamlin has 39 Cup Series victories, which ties him with Tim Flock and Matt Kenseth. The win is Hamlin’s third at Darlington. It ties him with Jimmie Johnson for most among active drivers.
WHAT’S NEXT: The Cup Series holds it third race in seven days with the Coca-Cola 600 at 6 p.m. ET Sunday on Fox.