Darlington: Well Done.
It was a strong night for Joe Gibbs Racing on what is widely considered to be one of the most difficult tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Circuit having earned the reputation as the track “too tough to tame.”
JGR raced inside the top ten all night and when the Bojangles Southern 500 had concluded all three of their teams earned finishes in the top ten, with Denny Hamlin second, Kyle Busch fourth, and Joey Logano tenth.
Hamlin started the No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota eighth and patiently raced his way up into the top five following the first 100 laps of the race. He would battle handling conditions over the next 100 laps and was just outside the top ten when the race reached the midpoint. When the night’s second caution came out crew chief Darian Grubb made the decision not to pit, but remain on the track, which allowed Hamlin to restart as the leader on lap 200. Without fresh tires he wasn’t able to hold the lead for long, but he did manage to settle into second and remain there until the night’s next caution with 137 laps to go. Tremendous work by the Sport Clips crew would put Hamlin out front on the next restart on lap 235. He would go on to lead the next 49 laps. The No. 11 Camry would come down pit road under caution again and while many others elected to go with two tires, Hamlin would take four this time and restarted fifth with 65 laps to go. Hamlin would remain in the top five the rest of the way and restarted fourth for a green white checker finish. He was able to make a great move to jump into second on the restart and then held onto the position to the finish.
Busch started the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota fifth tonight and went into the first round of green flag pit stops running fourth. Amazing work by the 18 crew put Busch back out in the lead once the field had cycled through. As day began to turn to night the Doublemint Camry would begin to shift to looser handling conditions and Busch would race in third through the next segment of the race. Busch would restart second following the night’s first caution which came just before the midpoint of the race. He managed to race away from Jimmie Johnson with a strong move on the outside in turn one to take the lead. Busch would pit for four tires and restart just outside the top ten on lap 200 when many others made a call for two tires during the round of stops. While racing his way back toward the front he would make contact with the wall affecting the handling conditions of the Doublemint Camry and causing him to drop back to ninth on the next run. A great stop by the Doublemint crew would gain several of those spots back, allowing him to restart fifth with 132 laps remaining. Crew chief Dave Rogers would call for a two-tire stop following the night’s next caution that allowed Busch to restart second with 65 laps to go. Busch’s driving skills would be on full display as he would drive around the 48 car for the lead with 55 laps remaining, but 12 laps later the 48 would return to the lead. Busch, who ran inside the top five nearly all night and led five different times for a total of 44 laps, would finish with a strong fourth-place effort.
Logano qualified the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota 21st and quickly began to pick up spots on the field as he raced his way toward the top ten. Logano would come down pit road for four tires to restart just outside the ten on lap 200 and then managed to drive his way into the top ten just a few laps into the next run. He would race his way up to seventh by the time the next caution came out with 137 laps remaining. The Home Depot crew would make an outstanding stop allowing Logano to restart fourth on lap 235. Unfortunately The Home Depot Camry proved to struggle on the restarts all night as it would take a few laps before the car settled in for Logano. He was racing sixth with 100 laps to go and managed to remain inside the top 10 until contact with the wall with 45 laps to go resulted in a tight handling car and caused him to lose several positions on the track. He would pit under caution with 35 laps remaining to fix the damage and make final adjustments to his Home Depot Camry. With most everyone remaining out on the track, Logano had to restart at the back of the lead lap cars, but he was able to make the most of the remaining laps, driving hard to get back in the top ten and earning a 10th-place finish.
Jimmie Johnson would claim the victory, with Hamlin in second, Tony Stewart third, Kyle Busch fourth, and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 38 laps with 22 lead changes among eight different drivers. The race was extended one lap for a green-white-checker finish.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series takes a week off from point racing for the annual Sprint All-Star Race next Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coverage of the All-Star Race will be Live on SPEED with a green flag scheduled for approximately 9 PM ET. You can also keep track of all the action by following @joegibbsracing on twitter.