DENNY HAMLIN BLESSES THE RAIN DOWN IN DARLINGTON
Only one person prays for rain late into the race; that person is the leader, and while it doesn’t always go their way, sometimes they hit the Mother Nature jackpot. On Wednesday night’s Toyota 500, Denny Hamlin got the lead late and got the rain he asked for, but it was not an easily earned win.
The night started with more rain, which held off the start for an hour, and Ryan Preece and Ty Dillon on the front row after the top twenty invert from Sunday night’s race. When the green finally waved, Dillon got out ahead with Preece slotting up behind him. Only four laps later, the caution came out for John Hunter Nemechek spinning and hit the wall with his left rear; he was able to continue but had heavy damage. Dillon was able to keep the lead on the restart, but Joey Logano moved to second right behind him and took the lead soon after. The bad day for Nemechek soon continued as he spun again after he cut a tire; bringing out the caution. Dillon got a strong push from Ryan Blaney get the lead back from Logano on the restart, but Logano took it right back as Dillon began to drop. Clint Bowyer climbed to second and started to gain but his run was halted as the competition caution came out. Everyone but Bubba Wallace pitted leaving him the leader and Bowyer out second. Bowyer took the lead on the green with Blaney right behind him. As the field started to scatter and heavy racing took over, Bowyer started to pull away and easily win the first stage.
Bowyer and Blaney are the first ones off pit-road and begin to race side by side on the green. Bowyer got out ahead as Alex Bowman moved into second. Ryan Preece’s strong start then took a dive as his motor blew and he had to pull on to pit-road; no caution would come from it. The caution did come out soon after though as Chris Buescher spun and gave the wall a little smack, but with no damage, he continued on. Bowyer keeps the lead on the restart, but the caution came again after Ricky Stenhouse Jr spins and collects the wall again; he also had damage but was able to continue. Martin Truex Jr stayed out to take the lead while Harvick gained second. The two raced for the lead on the restart while Blaney had to pit for heavy damage after slamming into the wall. With no caution, Truex’s tires began to fall off and Harvick took the lead. Cole Custer then brought out the caution after slamming the wall and tearing off his exhaust as he drove away. Everyone pits as the fear of rain started to make its rounds; Bowyer took the lead back and was able to hold of a hard-charging Chase Elliott for the stage two win, making him the first driver of the season to sweep the first two stages.
Harvick came off pit-road first but wasn’t the leader as Ryan Newman took over. Newman kept the lead on the restart but lost it after Erik Jones took him and Bowyer three-wide for it. As the field began to back up, Elliott got to second as Bowyer got held up by Newman. Elliott took the lead over again as Jones scraped the wall and lost speed and continued to lead until the green flag stops. During the stops, Matt Kenseth spun with a flat but kept it moving. At the time of caution, Keselowski was leading with Brennan Poole in second. With only a few drivers on the lead lap at the time of caution, Elliott took over the lead again. With forty-two to go, the green waved again and Elliott got out ahead with Keselowski right on him until the caution came out for Bowyer clanging the wall and getting a flat that made him spin. Nearly everyone pits but Hamlin and Matt DiBenedetto stay out with the chance of rain increasing. With twenty-nine to go on the restart, Hamlin and Kyle Busch raced for the lead while Elliott came out of seemingly nowhere to second place. The run didn’t last for Elliott long though as Busch miscalculated how close he was and came up right into Elliott and wrecked him into the wall. As the caution was underway and Elliott was giving Busch a one finger salute, the skies opened up and began to rain. The rain sealed the deal as it didn’t let off and gave the win to Hamlin, his second win of the year.