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Keeping Pace

Hamlin Sweeps Darlington Weekend With Win On NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton battle for the lead in the closing laps of the SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Courtesy of  John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR) (John Harrelson / Getty Images North America)
Denny Hamlin and Jeff Burton battle for the lead in the closing laps of the SHOWTIME Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. (Courtesy of John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR) (John Harrelson / Getty Images North America)

Denny Hamlin is serving notice that the pre-season pick for the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship may have been a good bet. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota took his second NASCAR win in as a many nights on the track labeled "tough to tame."

Courtesy: NASCAR Media Relations

DARLINGTON, S. C. -- Denny Hamlin is beginning to like NASCAR's toughest track.
            He has a perfect batting average after winning both ends of a doubleheader at the track "Too Tough To Tame."
            The young Virginia driver won Friday night's Nationwide Series race and came back Saturday night to win the SHOWTIME Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at the 3.66-mile, egg-shaped oval.
            It was Hamlin's third win of the season and his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Darlington. He credited his team for getting him out first on his final pit stop, but Hamlin battled Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton throughout the 367-lap race for the top spot.

            Both Gordon and Burton ran into some tough luck at the end of the race to thwart whatever winning effort they might have managed. Gordon was coming to pit road but was accidentally blocked at the pit road entrance by Tony Stewart and had to make an extra lap which cost him valuable track position.
            Burton was in great shape to give Hamlin a run for his money before running over an air hose on his final pit stop, prompting a pass-through penalty that cost him numerous spots on the restart.
            It was a typical Darlington race, full of twists and turns that eliminated at least one of the pre-race favorites, Jimmie Johnson was involved in several scrapes before one with AJ Allmendinger sent him to the garage for good shortly after the halfway point of the race.
            Trailing Hamlin across the finish line was pole winner Jamie McMurray, who ran with the leaders most of the night. Another strong contender, Kurt Busch, finished third, and Gordon charged back through the field to finish fourth, just ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
            Kevin Harvick was sixth ahead of Kyle Busch, Burton, Ryan Newman and Brian Vickers.
            Eleven cautions slowed the field from time to time as drivers slid against the wall, earning the famous Darlington Stripe.
            Popular Dale Earnhardt, Jr., never challenged for the lead although he ran as high as the top 10 at times before winding up 18th. 
Gordon, one of the few drivers who enjoy the challenges of Darlington, jumped out front on the opening lap and put some distance between himself and Red Bull's Vickers.
            Vickers, however, took the lead on Lap 39 with Gordon and Kasey Kahne behind him. Meanwhile, Johnson, the four-time champion, was struggling back in 14th spot after getting sideways between Turns 1 and 2, tapping the wall with his right rear quarter panel.
            The first caution fell on Lap 45 when Michael McDowell hit the wall in Turn 2.
            When the race restarted on Lap 51, McMurray led after beating Vickers and Gordon out of the pits, but it was only a few laps before both Bobby Labonte and Joey Logano scraped the wall and spun, bringing the caution out again on Lap 53.
            This time, McMurray again took the lead when racing resumed at Lap 60. It didn't last long because Paul Menard was tapped in the rear by Stewart when cars stacked up out of Turn 2. Menard spun but fortunately failed to hit anything.
            Once again, the race restarted with McMurray out front on Lap 66. He was trailed by Gordon, Hamlin, Vickers, Burton, Kahne, Kurt Busch, Newman, Montoya and Kenseth. Johnson was running 29th after his team worked to repair the damage sustained when he scraped the wall.
            Another caution came out on lap 84 after Greg Biffle triggered a three-car accident that also involved Martin Truex and Jimmie Johnson. Biffle's car broke loose and slid sideways in front of Truex, who turned his car sideways to avoid Biffle. Johnson did the same thing but slid into Truex's Toyota.
            Stewart was leading on the Lap 89 restart after not pitting. He was trailed by Gordon and Hamlin but Gordon took the lead again on Lap 92. Hamlin moved into second and McMurray held down the third spot. Rounding out the top 10 were Kurt Busch, Kahne, Burton, Stewart, Montoya, Kyle Busch and Harvick.
            A round of green flag pit stops took place between Laps 141 and 145 and Hamlin came out in the lead with Gordon right behind him. Kyle Busch was third. McMurray was next followed by Kurt Busch, Montoya, Kahne, Harvick, Vickers and Earnhardt. Stewart was 11th at the time. Another caution fell on Lap 171 when Sam Hornish, Jr., slammed the outside wall.
            On the restart, the field barely made a lap before the caution came out again when Kevin Conway hit the wall. Another accident under the caution knocked Johnson and Allmendinger out of the race. Allmendinger was trying to catch up to the field under caution and lost his brakes. He dove low on the track trying to miss everyone and lost control. His car spun backwards up the track and crashed hard into the driver's door of Johnson's car. The impact trashed both cars.
            The race was restarted at Lap 190 with McMurray, Kyle Busch and Gordon out front.

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Keeping Pace

Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.