Tonight’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway could see the eighth different winner in as many Sprint Cup races this season. There’s still multiple big names that haven’t broken through for a spot on the Chase Grid, but one of them seems to be going under the radar.
That guy is Denny Hamlin, who has had a relatively quiet year so far outside of his season-opening runner-up to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the Daytona 500 and his absence from Fontana due to a sliver of metal getting stuck in his eye.
But the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could be ready to star tonight on the track “Too Tough To Tame,” where he has consistently been a contender in his Cup career.
In eight Cup starts at Darlington, Hamlin’s earned one win (2010), four Top-5s, and seven Top-10s – including second-place results in each of the past two Southern 500s. The only time he didn’t finish in the Top 10 was in 2009, when he finished a still-respectable 13th.
His average finish at the 1.366-mile oval is a remarkable 5.4, which is tops among active Cup drivers. Also, his average running position in Darlington races, 8.6, is second-best in that regard.
Yesterday in qualifying, Hamlin made it into the final round, where he would wind up 10th on the grid for tonight.
“We’re looking forward to [tonight],” he said afterwards. “This is a pretty good track for us and has been in the past. I thought our car was pretty good today in practice. We didn’t quite qualify where I hoped we would, but we still made it past all three rounds and at least got ourselves a chance at it.
“All the Toyotas really look like they’re struggling for a little bit of speed right now. We’re towards the front of those guys and that’s really all we can ask for.”
Last weekend at Texas, Hamlin looked like a threat mid-way through the race until a pit road speeding penalty knocked him to an eventual 13th place finish.
Don’t be surprised if he rebounds nicely this evening in South Carolina.