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Darlington Race Report

Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing with a fourth-place finish in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Kyle Busch battled to a sixth-place finish, while a late pit road speeding penalty kept Denny Hamlin from joining his teammates in the top ten and he came home in 19th.

Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota in 25th but quickly advanced into the top 20 and was running 12th when the first caution came out on lap 40. The Home Depot/Husky crew would gain him two more spots on pit road allowing him to restart 10th. He would drive his way up to seventh on the next run and then a two-tire stop under the next caution would allow him to restart second on lap 63. He would take his first lead on the restart and was able to maintain it for several laps before finally giving way to a car that had taken four fresh tires on the previous stop. Still Kenseth managed to settle in to run second on the next run. Nightfall would bring cooler temperatures and changing track conditions and the handling on the No. 20 Camry would move to the loose side. Kenseth was running sixth on lap 150. He would line up eighth following a round of pit stops on lap 202. Kenseth would continue to battle and was back in the top 10 running eighth following a lap 251 restart. He gained a few spots on the next run and came down pit road with 94 laps to go for four tires and adjustments. He restarted seventh with 89 to go. Kenseth would take fifth with 63 laps to go and pitted under green with 47 laps remaining. Once the field cycled through stops he was running fourth. He would continue to run fourth when a caution came out with just 10 laps to go. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would make the call for a two-tire stop and Kenseth lined up third for a restart with five to go. Two more cautions would set up two green white checker finishes and Kenseth lined up fourth for both of them. He would hold onto the fourth spot to the finish.

Busch qualified his No. 18 M&Ms Toyota eighth and proved fast from the outset as he drove his way into the top five and ran as high as third on the opening run. The M&Ms crew would gain him a spot on pit road during the first round of pit stops and he would claim second on the restart before settling in to run fourth on the following green flag run. The 18 team would elect for a four-tire stop while several others made the decision to take just two tires on the next round of stops and that left Busch to restart seventh on lap 63. He would drive back into the top five on the next run. As the sun set and the track cooled the No. 18 Camry’s handling changed and Busch would drop back to run 10th at lap 150. He would line up ninth for a restart following a round of pit stops on lap 202. His M&Ms Camry would continue to prove difficult to turn in the corners and he would make contact with the wall causing damage to the right side. The 18 team would take the time on pit road to make the necessary repairs to ensure the tires were clear of the fender and Busch restarted 24th on lap 251. A two-tire stop with 94 laps to go would help Busch regain the lost track position and he would line up third on the restart with 89 to go. The hope was a caution would come about 15 laps into the next run and despite the disadvantage of running on only two fresh tires the team would be able to maintain a good portion of the track position they gained. That caution didn’t come as quickly as hoped, but amazingly Busch still managed to keep the M&Ms Camry in the top ten for nearly 40 laps over the course of the green flag run. He would pit from the ninth position under green with 51 laps remaining and once the field cycled through stops he was in sixth. He would hold that sixth position until a caution with 10 laps to go. Crew chief Dave Rogers would make the call for a four-tire change and Busch lined up eighth with five to go. Another caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and Busch was eighth. He would gain two spots to sixth before yet another caution came out setting up a second green-white-checker attempt. He would hold the sixth position to the finish.

Hamlin started his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota from the 10th position and he was able to drive up to as high as sixth on the opening few laps before settling back into the 10th position for the opening green flag run. The Sport Clips crew would gain him two spots on pit road allowing him to line up 8th for the initial restart of the night. He would drive his way up to sixth prior to the next caution and a quick two-tire stop allowed him to restart in the top spot on lap 63. Hamlin would give way to some of the cars that took four tires on the previous stop but still managed to hold on to the sixth position over the course of the next run. Once the sun went down the handling on his No. 11 Camry shifted to the loose side on the cooling track, but Hamlin still managed to run seventh on lap 150. He would line up 10th for a restart following a round of pit stops on lap 202. He would line up 12th for a restart with 89 to go. Hamlin would drive his way back into the top ten and was running eighth with 70 to go. He would pit under the green flag with 46 to go and once the field cycled through stops he was running 10th. He would gain two spots and was running eighth when a caution came out with 10 laps to go. Hamlin would bring the Sport Clips Camry down pit road for four tires, but NASCAR ruled he was too fast entering and had to serve a penalty by restarting at the tail end of the field. He would make it up to 18th on the first couple of laps but made hard contact with the wall in doing so and another caution came out to set up a green-white-checker. He would come back to pit road for repairs and lined up 20th on the restart. He would gain two spots before yet another caution set up another green-white-checker attempt. He would go on to finish 19th.

Kevin Harvick won the race followed by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top five. There were 11 cautions for a total of 50 laps and 22 lead changes among 12 different drivers. The race was extended seven laps for two green-white-checker attempts.

Next week is a rare weekend off for NASCAR. The Sprint Cup Series will return the following week in Richmond, VA for a Saturday night race. Live coverage from Richmond International Raceway on Fox begins Saturday, April 26 at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:30 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

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