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NASCAR Cup Darlington II

Unscheduled stop turned Hamlin's race 'upside down'

Denny Hamlin was on track for what would be an impressive weekend sweep at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, but it went horribly awry in the final stage of Sunday night’s NASCAR Cup race.

In his only Xfinity Series start of the 2023 season, Hamlin earned his sixth series win at Darlington and Saturday and for much of Sunday’s Southern 500, he looked primed for another trip to Victory Lane.

Hamlin won the first two stages and led a race-high 177 of 367 laps but after completing a green flag pitstop on lap 274, he immediately radioed his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota team and told them that he believed he had a loose wheel.

Hamlin quickly returned to the pits and returned to the track in 30th position and one lap down. From there, it only got worse. He got caught up in a multi-car accident on lap 331 and ended up with a 25th place finish.

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry

Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing, Sport Clips Haircuts Toyota Camry

Photo by: John Harrelson / NKP / Motorsport Images

Chris Gabehart, Hamlin’s crew chief, told his driver the wheels seemed fine after inspection.

Asked what he felt after the stop, Hamlin said, “It’s really tough to tell. It looked like the left rear was still tightening as we were gone. 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 it turned the day upside down.”

With Hamlin’s stage victories, the damage from the poor finish was not nearly as bad as it could have been.

With two races remaining in the first round of the playoffs, Hamlin enters next weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway still fifth in the standings and a comfortable margin ahead of the cutoff position of 12th.

“All the work you put in, the stages, the regular season, it all matters,” Hamlin said. “I don’t know what the points are, I really don’t care. Just I hate losing a race that we definitely should have won.”

Hamlin said he remains confident he’ll return to the track next weekend with another opportunity for a win.

“There’s not one week where I show up and I don’t think I’m going to win. But you’ve got to play the game and sometimes when you play the game it doesn’t work out the way you planned,” he said.

“I am happy about the speed the car had and the restarts that I had. The things I had to work on I felt like I really did well today. It’s part of the process. We move on, and if we advance, all we really lost out on is points for the next round, so we’ll see.”

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