On a wet and wild Wednesday evening at Darlington Raceway, the NASCAR Cup Series returned to action for the second time in a handful of days. It ended just short of the full distance due to the weather, and Denny Hamlin was able to secure the victory.
The race was halted just 20 laps short of the scheduled distance, after a slew of activities and happenings caused the race to first go under caution, and ultimately come to a halt early.
In the closing green flag laps, Hamlin stayed out on older tires after running out of his allotted amount, while many behind him still had a set or two to play with.
“The weather really didn’t play a factor in our call there,” Hamlin said post-race. “It was really, we were limited on tires. We had just come to take tires, which was our last set, but we had a set of one-lap scuffs. They weren’t glued up in time. We didn’t have time to glue them. The only choice for us was to stay out. We were really the best car on that long run anyway. I think the right car won.”
Chase Elliott was closing fast, and was almost able to clear Kyle Busch for the second position. Busch misjudged the distance between the cars, and made contact attempting to move back up into line, and that sent Elliott into the inside wall.
Elliott showed his displeasure with a one-finger salute as Busch drove by. As track workers worked to clean up the wrecked No. 9, Mother Nature decided to return to the track.
The race was originally scheduled for 7:30 pm ET, but was moved up to 6:00 pm ET due to the threat of weather. The weather was persistent through the earlier parts of the day, but cleared up in time for the race to start slightly after it’s originally scheduled starting time.
Unfortunately, the window closed a little too early, as the rains came as the field paced under yellow. It was enough to bring the cars down pit road, and eventually, the skies fully opened up and concluded the evening of racing.
Hamlin led only 12 laps on Wednesday night, this being the first Wednesday night NASCAR Cup Series appearance since July 4th, 1984. It’s Hamlin’s 39th career victory, and second on the 2020 season.
The field was set by an invert of the Top 20 finishing positions from Sunday’s race, due to qualifying and practice being cut from a majority of the upcoming races due to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kevin Harvick won on Sunday, but started in 20th. The provisional pole was given to Ryan Preece, who finished 20th on Sunday afternoon.
Preece was unable to lead the first lap, however, as Ty Dillon was able to make the pass and lead the first eight laps. Joey Logano soon took over the lead, but as the invert would prove, the faster cars were merely stuck in traffic in the early stages of the event.
Clint Bowyer looked to be the man to beat once the running order settled down. Bowyer was able to win both the first and second stage.
Ryan Newman, in his second race back, along with his teammate Chris Buescher, had their teams focused on the weather. After the race went halfway, which meant that the race would be official by the end of the night, and with rain threatening, Newman and Buescher led the field back to the restart to begin stage three.
Erik Jones took Newman and Bowyer three wide to take the lead, and from there, Bowyer struggled to hold pace back in traffic. Eventually, Bowyer ended up as one of the cautions towards the end after hitting the wall and cutting down a tire.
Up front, Jones eventually was passed by Chase Elliott, and Hamlin followed through into the second position. As the final pit stops were just about to cycle, a caution flew, and that allowed Brad Keselowski to get into contention for the first time.
On the ensuing restart, Elliott stayed out and led the field back to the green, but Keselowski had slightly fresher tires. The two fought, but before it could be resolved, there ended up being another caution which split the strategy once more.
Hamlin stayed out, while many others pitted. Kyle Busch made the move into second on the restart, but Elliott was challenging on the outside. As the two fought down the frontstretch, Busch turned to the right, and got into Elliott’s left rear, and that sent Elliott down into the wall and out of the race.
The race never restarted, and Hamlin was able to celebrate, donning his own smile-printed-on required mask as he exited his car.
The next race will be on Sunday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Coca-Cola 600. This is the only scheduled event that will have live qualifying in the near future. There will be another event at Charlotte the following Wednesday night, which will be the third race made up after 10 weeks missed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Thursday, the final event at Darlington Raceway will take place, the rescheduled NASCAR Xfinity Race that was scheduled for Tuesday night, but postponed due to weather. Noah Gragson will start on the pole.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 42 Mins, 23 Secs.
Average Speed: 104.984 MPH
Margin of Victory: Under Caution
Stage 1 Top 10: 14, 19, 12, 88, 22, 10, 9, 11, 42, 37
Stage 2 Top 10: 14, 9, 19, 20, 4, 24, 11, 88, 22, 21
Caution Flags: 11 for 54 laps; Laps: 4-7 (#38, 42 Incident Turn 4 ); 12-14 (#38 Incident Backstretch [None]); 27-30 (Competition Caution ); 62-68 (Stage 1 Conclusion ); 73-76 (#34, 17 Incident Turn 2 ); 83-86 (#47 Incident Turn 2 ); 109-112 (#41 Incident Turn 2 ); 127-132 (Stage 2 Conclusion ); 180-186 (#42 Spin Turn 2 ); 196-199 (#14 Incident Turn 3 ); 202-208 (#18, 9 Incident Fronstretch ).
Lead Changes: 17 among 13 drivers; R. Preece 0; T. Dillon 1-8; J. Logano 9-27; B. Wallace 28-30; C. Bowyer 31-83; M. Truex Jr. 84-99; K. Harvick 100-109; *. Suarez 110; C. Bowyer 111-128; R. Newman 129-133; E. Jones 134-160; C. Elliott 161-175; B. Keselowski 176-181; B. Poole # 182; C. Elliott 183-190; B. Keselowski 191; C. Elliott 192-196; D. Hamlin 197-208.
American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award : Clint Bowyer, #14 Sunoco
Rookie of the Race Award : Christopher Bell, #95
Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com