Saturday, July 13, 2024

Denny Hamlin’s Darlington sweep ruined by loose wheel, Kyle Larson capitalises

On Saturday, Denny Hamlin was in Victory Lane at Darlington Raceway while Kyle Larson finished last after struggling with engine problems. On Sunday, Hamlin was dominating before a pit road error dropped him out of contention while Larson delivered the 500th win for Hendrick Motorsports’ engine department.

Hamlin won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday in an overtime scramble despite the event being mostly led by his Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate John Hunter Nemechek. The restart was set up by Parker Kligerman getting spun by Sam Mayer in the closing moments, and Hamlin held off Austin Hill and Nemechek for his sixth Xfinity win at Darlington.

He sought to continue his momentum in the Cup Series the next day, and things shaped up in such a manner as he led 177 laps and won the first two stages. However, his day unravelled during green-flag pit stops on lap 270 when his team realised the left-rear tyre had not been fully tightened on his car, forcing him to return to pit road. Hamlin was unable to recover and was eventually caught in a lap 332 wreck with team-mate Christopher Bell and fellow playoff contender Michael McDowell, finishing twenty-fifth.

“It looked like the left rear was still tightening as we were gone,” Hamlin explained. “It’s close enough to where it didn’t matter. What I felt, I was in a crash. I had to bring it in and just turned the day upside down. I didn’t think the damage was that bad, but the car drove significantly worse after that incident. Once you damage the splitter on these cars, they’re no good.”

With Hamlin out of the picture, Larson seized the opportunity to rebound from his Saturday troubles. He spent the final fifty-five laps facing pressure from Tyler Reddick, which was exacerbated by Larson’s driving style that preferred riding along the wall. This approach caused him to lose some time upon scraping the wall, but lapped traffic helped keep Reddick at bay.

The win is his first in the Cup Series at Darlington, a rather surprising feat as he had typically run up front only to fall short in the end. Larson had led a combined 715 laps but finished second in three consecutive Darlington races between 2019 and 2021.

“It feels really good, honestly, just to get a win and finally win at this track,” Larson commented. “We’ve led lots of laps here, so to lead lots of laps here, you have to be good at a number of different races through the different years. This is just a track that I really enjoy, suits my style, and just haven’t won yet here. It was good to do it today.

“I knew we were going to have a good car. We just didn’t qualify as good as we had hoped. Drove through the field way better than I thought that I would, and today did a really good job on the pit sequences to cycle us in front of people, and from then on you try and manage a race. Denny was really good, too. He was going to be hard to beat without his mishap, but once whatever happened to them happened, it kind of opened the door for a few more guys to possibly win, and we kept ourselves in the game enough to get it done. I got in the wall at some point in the third stage and then kind of had to nurse it to the next pit stop and then things just worked out. The team executed when we needed to.”

With the win, Larson qualifies for the Round of 12. While the Xfinity race was not a playoff event like the Cup event that opened the postseason, it also provided another layer to the playoff picture as Sheldon Creed clinched his berth.

Cup race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 18 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 367 Running
2 3 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 367 Running
3 8 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 367 Running
4 23 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 367 Running
5 27 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 367 Running
6 5 6 Brad Keselowski Team Penske Ford 367 Running
7 19 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 367 Running
8 13 9 Chase Elliott^ Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 367 Running
9 4 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 367 Running
10 20 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 367 Running
11 11 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 367 Running
12 6 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 367 Running
13 16 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 367 Running
14 10 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 367 Running
15 12 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 367 Running
16 25 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 367 Running
17 15 42 Carson Hocevar* Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 367 Running
18 31 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 367 Running
19 7 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 367 Running
20 28 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 367 Running
21 17 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 367 Running
22 22 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 367 Running
23 1 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 366 Running
24 29 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 366 Running
25 2 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 366 Running
26 30 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 366 Running
27 35 51 Ryan Newman Rick Ware Racing Ford 365 Running
28 34 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 364 Running
29 26 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 364 Running
30 33 15 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Ford 362 Running
31 14 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 361 Running
32 9 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 329 Accident
33 24 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 322 Accident
34 21 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 320 Accident
35 32 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 318 Accident
36 36 78 B.J. McLeod Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 210 Engine
Bold – Currently in playoffs
^ – Currently in owner playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points

Xfinity race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 2 19 Denny Hamlin* Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 148 Running
2 9 21 Austin Hill Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
3 1 20 John Hunter Nemechek Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 148 Running
4 4 00 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 148 Running
5 7 8 Josh Berry JR Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
6 15 98 Riley Herbst Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 148 Running
7 3 7 Justin Allgaier JR Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
8 16 2 Sheldon Creed RIchard Childress Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
9 14 10 Kyle Busch* Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
10 6 11 Daniel Hemric Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
11 5 1 Sam Mayer JR Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
12 10 16 Chandler Smith Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
13 19 31 Parker Retzlaff Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
14 8 9 Brandon Jones JR Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
15 17 24 Corey Heim* Sam Hunt Racing Toyota 148 Running
16 22 45 Rajah Caruth* Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
17 11 18 Sammy Smith Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 148 Running
18 24 27 Jeb Burton Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
19 27 07 Stefan Parsons SS-Green Light Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
20 31 6 Brennan Poole JD Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
21 26 51 Jeremy Clements Jeremy Clements Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
22 33 08 Chad Finchum SS-Green Light Racing Ford 148 Running
23 21 91 Ross Chastain* DGM Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
24 13 48 Parker Kligerman Big Machine Racing Team Chevrolet 148 Running
25 18 25 Brett Moffitt AM Racing Ford 148 Running
26 34 38 Joe Graf Jr. RSS Racing Ford 148 Running
27 32 53 Matt Mills* Emerling-Gase Motorsports Toyota 148 Running
28 30 26 Kaz Grala Sam Hunt Racing Toyota 148 Running
29 36 43 Ryan Ellis Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet 148 Running
30 20 39 Ryan Sieg RSS Racing Ford 148 Running
31 28 4 Kyle Weatherman JD Motorsports Chevrolet 148 Running
32 29 66 Timmy Hill* MBM Motorsports Ford 148 Running
33 23 78 Anthony Alfredo B.J. McLeod Motorsports Chevrolet 147 Running
34 35 02 Blaine Perkins Our Motorsports Chevrolet 147 Running
35 25 28 Kyle Sieg RSS Racing Ford 147 Running
36 38 35 Patrick Emerling Emerling-Gase Motorsports Chevrolet 145 Running
37 37 92 Josh Williams DGM Racing Chevrolet 143 Running
38 12 17 Kyle Larson* Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 117 Running
DNQ 44 Dawson Cram Alpha Prime Racing Chevrolet
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