Hamlin Clinches Playoffs Spot at DarlingtonSeptember 3, 2018
Denny Hamlin finished 10th in Sunday night’s 500-mile event at Darlington Raceway, overcoming ill-handling conditions and a late-race pit road penalty to notch his 13th top-10 of the 2018 season in the #11 FedEx Toyota.
Hamlin, the defending race winner, captured his third pole of the 2018 season and led the field to green on Sunday. He showed the way for the first 11 circuits around the “Lady in Black,” but fell back outside the top five as he battled loose conditions. When Stage 1 concluded, Hamlin crossed the line seventh, then visited pit road for four fresh tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment before restarting Stage 2 in sixth.
The #11 FedEx Toyota was seen amongst the top-10 for the majority of the second 100-lap segment, with Hamlin making his way as high as third as the #11 FedEx Toyota stayed out on track as leaders cycled through for green-flag stops. In the closing laps, competitors on newer rubber unfortunately overcame Hamlin, and he was relegated to 11th when the green-white-checkered waved.
Hamlin restarted the final Stage in 12th, and this time he reported his FedEx Toyota was trending tight in traffic. He battled his way back to sixth when he elected to make his green-flag pit stop with just over 50 laps to go in the event, however the caution flew at the exact same moment, trapping Hamlin a lap down. NASCAR also ruled that Hamlin pitted just after the caution flag came out with pit road closed, and he was served a penalty that forced him to the tail end of the field.
A flurry of late-race cautions allowed the #11 team to return to the lead lap, and quick work by the crew positioned Hamlin eighth for the restart with only 20 laps to go. As they returned to green-flag racing, Hamlin charged his way up to fifth, but engine troubles forced the #11 FedEx Toyota backwards in the final laps, and he crossed the line in 10th.
“I always come to Darlington with high expectations, but unfortunately we ran into some tough luck late in the race that obviously set us back,” said Hamlin. “I can’t say that tonight was the finish we hoped for, but we’re looking ahead to Indy and getting the Playoffs started.”
Hamlin’s finish at Darlington secured his spot in the 2018 NASCAR Playoffs, and he is now is 13th in the overall Playoffs points standings.
The Series returns to action next Sunday, September 9, at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the regular season finale.