Denny Hamlin has been one of the hottest drivers in NASCAR over the past two months. He continued to show his dominance on Saturday night as he won for the second time this year at Darlington Raceway. Hamlin, who had his odds set at +500 to win the Southern 500 by NASCAR sportsbooks, became the first driver in 17 years to sweep Darlington.
The win gives Hamlin his third victory in his last six races. His recent run of success comes after many thought he had lost his luster after being tagged as the driver to win the 2010 Sprint Cup championship. He got off to a sluggish start to begin the season and his knee surgery on March 31 had many believing his year might be done. However, Hamlin has been proving his doubters wrong and now has won his 2nd race since his surgery.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about us winning right now because I know what our team is capable of when we get to Chase time,” he said. “We are running last year’s cars for the most part, and we’re just kind of easing our way into it. We didn’t expect this success, but we felt like we could contend for race wins and maybe get one here or there in the first 12.
Out of the 367 laps, Hamlin led a total of 104 and knew that in the closing laps of the race, Jeff Burton and Jeff Gordon would be two drivers he would have to contend with. But two mistakes by both Gordon and Burton gave way to his victory.
Closing out races has been a problem for Gordon this year. He has been in position to get wins, but has failed to capitalize late in races and get the victory.
“When we were ready to come in and pit a little early, I just didn’t signal the guys behind me in time and I was going to get run over. My fault,” Gordon said. “I don’t like making mistakes like that.”
It will be interesting to see if Hamlin is peaking a little too early. The Chase does not begin until the final 10 races of the season. Hamlin’s crew chief Mike Ford had a plan to roll out his best cars later in the season, but he feels that there will not be a let down as the season progresses.
“Knowing what we’ve got coming later in the season, what we’re working on … honestly, I’m surprised how strong we are right now,” Ford said. “Not to spill the beans, but we’re working on Chase stuff right now. We’re racing things that we were racing at the end of last year so we can concentrate on the later months of this year.”
Jamie McMurray, who started the race at the pole, finished second on Saturday. Kurt Busch placed third, followed by Gordon in fourth and Juan Pablo Montoya in fifth.