Denny Hamlin could be a sleeper tonight at Darlington

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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.

G’day mate: Will Power wins first career Indy 500, Carpenter second, Dixon third

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After 10 prior tries, Will Power, the pride and joy of Toowoomba, Australia, finally earned the biggest prize of his IndyCar career, capturing Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

In doing so, the 37-year-old Power not only earned his first 500 title, he also becomes the first driver to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indy 500 in the same month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having won the GP on May 12.

It also is the 17th Indy 500 win for team owner Roger Penske, as well as Team Penske’s 201st all-time IndyCar win, with Power taking No. 200 two weeks ago in the Grand Prix.

Power’s previous best finish in the 500 was runner-up in 2015.

Power took the lead on Lap 197 after race leaders Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey were forced to pit road for a splash of fuel.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter finished second, followed by Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud, Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden, Robert Wickens and Graham Rahal.

Here’s how the race played out:

Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan were the first drivers to hit pit road in the race, both on Lap 31. The rest of the field came in for service over the next three laps.

On Lap 48, in the first contact of the day, defending 500 winner Takuma Sato wrecked with James Davison, knocking both drivers out of the race.

Davison had struggled throughout the race to maintain a competitive speed. Sato came out of Turn 3 at full speed and had nowhere to go, unable to avoid Davison’s car, running into its left rear, destroying both cars.

“We knew Davison was running way up high and running slow … and it looked like we just didn’t see him or didn’t understood the closing rate and hit him,” team owner Bobby Rahal told the IMS Radio Network. “It’s very disappointing.”

After being medically cleared at the infield care center, Davison said, “We had an anti-roll bar jam and I couldn’t choose the balance and not put any steering in it without getting loose. I feel for Takuma and his team, getting caught up in that. It’s not the situation you wanted to be involved in. It just wasn’t to be for us this year.”

Added Sato, “James seemed to be struggling, went high, we braked, slowed down and the closing speed between he and I was too small, I hit the brakes, tried to avoid him and it just sucked in.”

The Davison-Sato wreck proved to be the first of seven wrecks in the 200-lap race.

As the cleanup completed, the majority of the field came to pit road on Lap 51, most only for fuel.

On Lap 6o, another driver who did well in last year’s race, made an early exit. Ed Jones, who finished third last year as a rookie, had a one-car incident coming out of Turn 2 and saw his race come to an abrupt end.

Jones complained of a headache and neck pain and was transported to the Indiana Health facility a few miles east of the Speedway.

Danica Patrick, in the final race of her two-plus decade racing career, saw her hopes for a win also come to a premature end as she spun and hit the outside wall coming out of Turn 2, in a similar situation and location to Jones’ mishap.

“I don’t really know what happened, just came around on us,” Patrick told the IMS Radio Network. “It was a little tough to drive but I was not expecting it.”

Patrick finished 30th, the worst finish of her eight appearances in the 500.

“It just seemed to come around, seemed pretty late off the corner,” Patrick told ABC. “Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want for your last race, but I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I could have finished stronger.

“It’s an entire career, but what really launched it was this. I’ve had a lot of good fortune here and still had some this month, it just didn’t come on race day. We had some good moments.”

Graham Rahal, who started near the back of the pack, led at the halfway point (100 laps) before falling back.

On Lap 105, Zach Veach came on pit road and suffered flames when the fueling hose disconnected. Veach returned to the track and the flames extinguished themselves, apparently not causing any damage to Veach’s car.

Just before that, Tony Kanaan had to return to pit road for an unscheduled pit stop when it appeared he was losing air in his right rear tire. The stop forced Kanaan, who had been at or near the front for much of the race, to fall one lap off the pace.

On Lap 113, rookie Kyle Kaiser suffered mechanical failure coming onto pit road that ended his day and his first appearance in the 500.

On Lap 139, Sebastien Bourdais spun coming out of Turn 3, hit the Turn 4 wall and wound up sitting backwards on the track.

On Lap 147, Helio Castroneves saw his bid for a fourth Indy 500 win end, spun coming out of Turn 4 and crashed hard into the pit road wall.

Castroneves, who was running in the top five, received a big round of cheers from fans and walked under his own power to the infield care center.

“I was never expecting it, I never had any sign,” Castroneves told ABC. “It was very frustrating. The car was good, it definitely was very tough out there.”

Castroneves already hopes to be back for next year’s 500.

“Please, Roger, I’ve gotta go back,” he said in a plea to team owner Roger Penske.

Penske told ABC, “We’ll certainly take a good look at that, for sure. … I guess he just got a little bit high. You don’t see a guy like him lose it very often, what a great guy and what he’s done for our team for so many years. He’s the fence climber and he’s one of my best guys.”

As he exited Turn 4 on Lap 155, Sage Karam hit the outside wall hard in almost the same place as where Castroneves hit.

“I really don’t know what happened, man,” Karam said over his team radio.

Another fan favorite, Tony Kanaan, joined the list of drivers that wrecked, losing it coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 190 and striking the inside retaining wall.

We’ll have more, including driver quotes and more shortly. Please check back soon.

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