Rain wreaked havoc on Darlington Raceway throughout the days leading up to Wednesday’s Toyota 500K, the second of two-consecutive races at the track and the second race for the NASCAR Cup Series since a 10-week break because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The original scheduled race start time was moved up with the hope of beating rain in the Wednesday forecast; then, rain forced postponement of the race until after that originally-scheduled start. Ultimately, rain resulted in race being called official 20 laps shy of a 228-lap scheduled distance with Denny Hamlin up front for the win with the early checkered flag.
“I’ve got my happy face on and made sure I brought it with me today,” Hamlin said. “Just can’t thank FedEx and Toyota and Coca-Cola, Jordan Brand – the whole JGR engine and fab shop. The pit crew did a great job today. Everybody, really. I was pretty happy with how it all turned out.”
The win was the 39th Cup Series win of Hamlin’s career, and his third-career win at Darlington. It also was his second win of the season, making him the second-multi-race winner of 2020, six races into the season.
Hamlin’s win came after a decision to stay out when Clint Bowyer wrecked on lap 195, bringing out the 10th caution of the race. A few laps later, Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch made contact with second-place runner Chase Elliott, sending Elliott into the wall and bringing out a final caution. The race never restarted, as rain returned to the track during the yellow flag.
According to Hamlin, the call to stay out wasn’t made based on the weather radar.
“The weather really didn’t play a factor in our call, there,” Hamlin said. “It was, really, we were limited on tires. We had just come to take tires, which was our last set, but we had a set of one-lap scuffs. They weren’t glued up in time. We didn’t have time to glue them. The only choice for us was to stay out. We were really the best car on that long run, anyway. I think the right car won.”
Busch finished second, giving JGR a one-two.
“I know I made a mistake and just misjudged the gap,” Busch said. “When we were racing there with the 11 [Hamlin] and the 9 [Elliott], had a run on him. I knew he was there, and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could and in doing, so I watched him and his momentum as he was going by me. I tried to look up in my mirror and see where [Kevin] Harvick was to get in, and I just misjudged and made a mistake and clipped the 9, there, and spun him into the wall. I hate it for him and his guys. I have too many friends over there on that team to do anything like that on purpose. I’ve raced Chase since he was a kid and never had any issues with him whatsoever. It was just a bad mistake on my part, and I’ll just have to deal with it later on.”
The previous Sunday’s winner in The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington, Kevin Harvick, finished third.
“We had to start 20th; battled kind of an ill‑balanced car tonight,” Harvick said. “The track conditions were just a lot different. We made some adjustments going into the race, just couldn’t get the front of the car to turn. Every time we tried to adjust the back, it would just take the back out. We never could get the front of the car to turn. Had to use a lot more throttle tonight. The things I could do with the car Sunday, I couldn’t do tonight. They kept clawing and fighting. In the end, we had a great pit stop on the last pit stop, were in position to have a chance to win the race there, and it rained. The whole night we wound up restarting on the bottom of the race track. We’d lose three or four spots every time we’d restart. Definitely didn’t get the good end of the draw on the restarts. In the end, our Mobil 1 guys did a great job of just battling. Sometimes you have great nights; sometimes you have nights you have to battle. It was a good two days in Darlington for us.”
Elliott led 28 laps of the race. He took his first lead when he passed Erik Jones on lap 161. The yellow flag didn’t wave again until lap 179 when Matt Kenseth spun after most of the race field had cycled through green-flag pit stops. Brad Keselowski, though, had yet to pit. After the caution, Elliott was back up front. Aside from Keselowski taking a brief lead on lap 191, Elliott continued to run up front until Hamlin’s late-race pit strategy for the lead.
Keselowski finished fourth, and Jones, another Joe Gibbs Racing driver, was fifth to give JGR three finishes inside the top-five. All four JGR drivers were in the top-10 at the checkered flag with Martin Truex Jr. in 10th.
Bowyer led a race-high 71 laps before his late-race wreck. He dominated the first two stages of the race, winning stages on lap 60 and lap 125.
“Very proud of the car the guys brought for me on a short turn around. Fast hot rod,” Bowyer said. “Thing just took off behind two cars racing for lucky dog and smoked the wall and blew our night. The #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil Delvac 1 Ford was fast. We keep doing that, our day will come.”
Ryan Preece started on the pole but failed to lead a lap. Instead, second-place starter Ty Dillon took the lead on lap one. Preece, although starting first, wound up last in the finishing order as a result of a blown engine on lap 69.
Dillon and Joey Logano led laps before Bowyer took his first lead by being the first off pit road during a competition caution that came out on lap 25. Bowyer led the remainder of the opening 60-lap stage.
Truex took the lead from Bowyer by staying out during a caution on lap 72. Harvick, one of Bowyer’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, took the lead from Truex on lap 100, and Bowyer reassumed the lead by getting out of the pits first during a caution that came out for Cole Custer on lap 108. Bowyer led until Ryan Newman opted to stay out during the caution that came out after the completion of the second 65-lap stage.
When the race restarted, Newman found himself in a three-way battle with Bowyer and Jones for the lead — a battle that was won by Jones. Jones continued to run up front until he was overtaken by Elliott.
Other top-10 finishers included Logano in sixth, Aric Almirola in seventh, Jimmie Johnson in eighth, and Matt DiBenedetto in 10th.