Denny Hamlin took a gamble by refusing to make a pit stop while most of the field took on fresh tires late in the race at on Wednesday; one that paid off 29 laps later as he held the lead as rain caused a premature end to the Toyota 500.
The win is the second of the season for the driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 car; who also earned victory at Daytona International Speedway on February 17.
A yellow caution flag paused the race after collision involving reigning Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and young star Chase Elliott; but a deluge of rain started falling and eventually caused officials to call the end of the race.
Busch ended the race in second place, with Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones rounding out the top-five. Elliott fell to 38th place, and made his displeasure with Busch known.
“I’ve got my happy face on, made sure I brought it with me today,” he said at pit road after the race; referring to his smiley face mask. “The pit crew did a great job today, everybody really. I was pretty happy with how it all turned out.“
After crediting his pit crew Hamlin also said that the track itself helped him maneuver his way to the front from his 16th place starting spot to his third win at Darlington. “It’s a driver’s race track,” he said. “You can move around and you can do different things to make your car handle and we got it right today.”
While Hamlin got the win, veteran driver Clint Bowyer controlled the majority of the race. He won the first two stages of the contest; but fell back to a 22nd place finish after blowing a rear tired by hitting a wall with 33 laps left in the race.
Hamlin sits in fourth place in the NASCAR Cup Series standings after his second win in six races with 201 points; trailing Alex Bowman (219 points), Joey Logano (224 points), and Kevin Harvick (258 points).
Elliott, Keselowski, Aric Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Matt DiBenedetto and Clint Bowyer fill out the rest of the early season top-10.
Logano is the only other driver with multiple wins so far this year; which has been conducted without fans as a COVID-19 precaution. NASCAR is one of the few sports whose schedule hasn’t been greatly impacted by the Coronavirus; thanks to the isolated nature of the competition.
Drivers will return to the track on May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the annual Coca-Cola 600.