Darlington, S.C. — Denny Hamlin had strong motivation to chase down Martin Truex Jr. after badly missing pit road at Darlington Raceway — embarrassment.
Hamlin turned a strong lead into a 20-second deficit when he missed the entrance — “Kind of a rookie move,” he said — yet rallied over the final 50 laps to pass Truex and win the Southern 500. It was a dramatic turn of events that had Hamlin relieved he would not be remembered for blowing a certain win.
“I was hoping it would (turn out this way),” he said, “or else I would’ve looked pretty silly trying to explain why we lost.”
No explanations necessary, expect maybe, how the heck did Hamlin do it?
“I think it’s a great story,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “You can tell when he goes to certain racetracks, too, that he’s got some favorites that he’s awful good at and this is one of them.”
Hamlin won both Darlington races for the second time in his career, the other coming in 2010. He has won seven times in the two series at Darlington.
Hamlin sure didn’t think he’d celebrate anything after his error with 54 laps left as he fell behind Truex by some 20 seconds. But Hamlin slowly reeled in Truex and passed him with three laps left when his rival brushed the wall and got a flat tire.
Hamlin swept throwback weekend at Darlington after winning the Xfinity race Saturday. Truex won the first two stages, clinching NASCAR’s regular-season championship and gaining the No. 1 seed heading into the playoffs in two weeks.
Kyle Busch was second, followed by brother Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon and Erik Jones (Byron, Mich.).
Hamlin led 124 laps and looked as if he was easily on the way to a second Southern 500 after winning in 2010. Then inexplicably, Hamlin missed the entrance and seemingly threw the race to the ever-steady Truex.
“We can still do this,” crew chief Mike Wheeler told Hamlin after the miscue.
Hamlin got up to Truex’s bumper with three laps to go before moving low around lapped traffic to take the lead and hold on for victory.
“This is a good day all in all. So proud to be back in victory lane in the Southern 500,” he said.
Truex rubbed the wall , blew his right front tire and stumbled home in eighth.
“Sometimes it’s just not your night,” Truex said. “Tonight wasn’t our night.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 22nd — the same as how he started — in his final time racing at Darlington. On Friday, the track rechristened one of its suite buildings in turn three as “Earnhardt Towers” in honor of Dale Jr. and his late father Dale Earnhardt, who won nine times at Darlington.
Matt Kenseth was sixth, Ryan Newman seventh, then Truex, pole-sitter Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray rounding out the top 10.
It’s the second time Hamlin has swept events at Darlington, winning both the Xfinity and Cup races together in 2010 and this year. Hamlin passed Joey Logano coming off the final turn to take Saturday’s race.
At Bowmanville, Ontario, Austin Cindic spun out leader Kaz Grala on the final lap and went on to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
Racing on his 19th birthday, Cindric plowed into Grala in Turn 5 on the road course. Cindric earned a spot in the playoffs with his first career series victory. He started from the pole in Brad Keselowski Racing’s Ford and overcame a pit-road penalty.
Noah Gragson was second, and Grala recovered to finish third.
Justin Haley was fourth, followed by Ryan Truex, Johnny Sauter and Chase Briscoe.
Briscoe, Cindric’s Brad Keselowski Racing teammate, also wrapped by a playoff berth with a 75-point advantage over the cutoff spot. Christopher Bell, John Hunter Nemechek, Sauter, Matt Crafton and Grala also have qualified, with the final spot to be determined Sept. 15 in the in the regular-season finale at Chicagoland Speedway.
At Watkins Glen, New York, pole-sitter Alexander Rossi won the IndyCar Grand Prix at The Glen, holding off Scott Dixon over the closing laps at Watkins Glen International.
The race for the IndyCar title tightened significantly with one race left in the season. Rossi, who won last year’s Indianapolis 500 and just inked a contract extension with Andretti Autosport, notched his second career win by keeping Dixon, a four-time winner at The Glen, in his rearview mirror over the final 14 laps, winning for the second time in the series by just under a second.
Ryan Hunter-Reay finished third, followed by Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and Will Power.
Points leader Josef Newgarden started third and remained in contention until a crash exiting the pits ruined his day. He finished 18th, two laps down.
Dixon cut Newgarden’s 31-point lead to three as the series heads to the road course at Sonoma for the finale.
At Monza, Italy, Lewis Hamilton won the Italian Grand Prix virtually unchallenged from pole position and moved ahead of Sebastian Vettel to take the lead in the drivers’ standings.
Hamilton finished nearly five seconds ahead of Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas while Vettel came third in his Ferrari, more than half a minute behind.
Hamilton now has 238 points, three more than Vettel with seven races remaining in what has developed into a riveting Formula One season.
Vettel had led the standings all season but Ferrari struggled in rainy qualifying conditions Saturday and couldn’t match Mercedes’ race pace, either, on a Monza circuit featuring long straights and high speeds better suited to Mercedes’ power.
At Clermont, Ind., Jack Beckman won the Funny Car NHRA Traxxas Nitro Shootout at the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Beckman had a 3.952-second pass at 324.67 mph in a Dodge Charger R/T to beat Robert Hight in the final and earn $100,000 in the bonus event.
In the regular event, Clay Millican (Top Fuel), Matt Hagan (Funny Car), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock) and Eddie Krawiec (Pro Stock Motorcycle) secured the No. 1 qualifying positions.