NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Recovers to Win Southern 500

NASCAR Barometer: Hamlin Recovers to Win Southern 500

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Sunday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway featured a throwback theme, and Denny Hamlin made the right moves to come out on top for his second win of the weekend. His misstep earlier in the race of missing the pit road entry made the task of winning a bit more difficult, but he was still able to get the job done. Martin Truex Jr. used pit strategy to stay out longer than Hamlin in the final miles, but Hamlin's fresher tires, despite the pit road miss, proved too much for Truex to handle. Still, Truex won both the first and second stages of the race, which earned him the regular-season championship and extra playoff points that will serve him well once the elimination rounds get underway after this week's race at Richmond Raceway.

One final race remains for drivers to claim their spot in the championship playoffs. Hamlin's win on Sunday means at least one driver is guaranteed to enter the championship chase on points. Right now that would be Chase Elliott, but just three points to Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray in 16th and 17th positions separate him from an early exit. This week's race at Richmond is guaranteed to bring out the fiercest competitor in all of those still chasing a spot in the championship hunt.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin spent a good deal of time leading Sunday night's race, and Darlington has been a good venue for him throughout his career. He was fast enough

Sunday night's Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway featured a throwback theme, and Denny Hamlin made the right moves to come out on top for his second win of the weekend. His misstep earlier in the race of missing the pit road entry made the task of winning a bit more difficult, but he was still able to get the job done. Martin Truex Jr. used pit strategy to stay out longer than Hamlin in the final miles, but Hamlin's fresher tires, despite the pit road miss, proved too much for Truex to handle. Still, Truex won both the first and second stages of the race, which earned him the regular-season championship and extra playoff points that will serve him well once the elimination rounds get underway after this week's race at Richmond Raceway.

One final race remains for drivers to claim their spot in the championship playoffs. Hamlin's win on Sunday means at least one driver is guaranteed to enter the championship chase on points. Right now that would be Chase Elliott, but just three points to Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray in 16th and 17th positions separate him from an early exit. This week's race at Richmond is guaranteed to bring out the fiercest competitor in all of those still chasing a spot in the championship hunt.

UPGRADE

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin spent a good deal of time leading Sunday night's race, and Darlington has been a good venue for him throughout his career. He was fast enough to hold off Truex and needed tire strategy and some luck to battle for the win but missed the pit road entry for a late stop. That was a mistake he couldn't afford as strong as other cars were, but he battled back to take advantage of Truex's blown tire to win Sunday's race. It was his second win of the season and gives him a full head of steam for Richmond. Hamlin has three Richmond victories and is on a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes at the track as he prepares for this week's return visit.

Martin Truex Jr. – Truex made a last-moment move to sneak the Sunday's first stage win away from Kyle Larson, and he was one of the best cars throughout the entire night, too. By also winning the second stage of the race, Truex increased his total tally to 17 and clinched the regular-season points title. Unfortunately, he didn't complete the race sweep after a blown tire cost him the lead with two laps to go. All of those stage wins set him up well for a run at the championship with the accompanying bonus points in tow, but he has one more race at Richmond before the playoffs get underway. He has three consecutive top-10s at the Virginia short track heading into this week's final race of the regular season.

Kevin Harvick – Harvick had one of the fastest cars throughout Sunday night's race. He had some smaller issues on pit road that lost early track position for him but recovered to fight for the win late. Unfortunately, he didn't have the speed at that point in the race to work his way farther forward than the ninth position. Still, it was a good night for the team to build on as the playoffs approach. Harvick's last three races at Richmond all ended with fifth-place finishes, and he has top-fives from five of the last six races at the track. His consistency has always been his strength, and that will pay dividends again in the playoffs if he is able to maintain it.

Kyle Busch – Though Busch wasn't the dominant driver fantasy owners have come to expect this season, he still had a good race at Darlington. He worked on his car throughout the night and was able to climb into the top five by the finish. Races like that allow him to be in position to pick up the pieces should any leaders ahead of him falter. That is excellent race craft, and when coupled with his raw speed, it should be a formidable force to contend with in the playoffs. Busch has four Richmond victories in his 24-race career at the track. He led one lap before finishing 16th there earlier this season, and has three top-10s from the last four races.

DOWNGRADE

Clint Bowyer – Bowyer's struggle to gain entry to the championship playoffs took another hit at Darlington Sunday evening. The No. 14 didn't even see the end of the first stage of the race. Bowyer switched his car off under an early caution in an effort to save fuel, but the motor failed when he tried to get it restarted. Bowyer fell further behind in the points as a result of the non-finish, and now has just one remaining chance to work his way into the top 16 contenders who will fight for the title. He has two Richmond wins from his 23-race career at the track but hasn't finished in the top 10 in the last three races.

Kyle Larson – Larson led much of Sunday night's first stage but failed to close out the win when Truex snuck past him at the line. He retained his speed throughout the night and was a regular fixture among the top runners. He struggled with handling late in the race after a hard move off of the banking upset his chassis, though. That small misstep relegated him to a 14th-place finish on a night when he should have walked away with a top-10. The team has the pace but needs to consistently close out races to make their way to Miami with championship hopes intact. Larson has a best finish of second at Richmond, which is his lone top-10 at the circuit, but has never finished worse than 16th.

Daniel Suarez – Suarez got his taste of Darlington's harshness when he made hard contact with the outside wall in the second stage of Sunday night's race. It was the fourth caution period of the night, and dropped Suarez from contention in the race. The car went to the garage and was retired, while Suarez was checked and released from the medical center. The Joe Gibbs Racing rookie still has one more race remaining to score a win that would get him into the championship playoffs. He started 11th and finished 12th in his only Cup series race at Richmond, and he has three top-10s from six Xfinity starts. While his championship dreams may be fading, he still has time to end the season on a high note.

Trevor Bayne – Early contact with the Darlington wall put Bayne on the back foot for the rest of the night, and after making repairs he was never able to work his way back up the running order. The rough start to the race was a shame for the Roush Fenway Racing driver after building a full head of momentum prior to Sunday's race. Still, the success he has started to discover should carry through the remainder of the year, which will be good news to fantasy players' ears. In five Richmond starts Bayne has yet to finish in the top 10. He has two top-20s from his four tries and should be well positioned to land another this week.

Ryan Blaney – Blaney also had early contact at Darlington. The driver on his way to Penske Racing next season also suffered a flat rear tire in the third stage, which dropped him even further behind the leaders after he spent much of the race trying to remain at pace. While he's in the playoffs due to his win earlier this summer, Richmond stands in his way to getting that battle started. In three visits to Richmond in the Cup series he has a best finish of just 28th. He qualified on the front row there earlier this year and will want to regain some positivity with a good result next week before heading into the playoffs.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Erik Jones – Once again rookie Erik Jones delivered a performance worthy of a veteran. In his first Cup series visit to Darlington he drove consistently without mistakes to finish fifth at one of the most difficult racecourses on the schedule. He heads to Richmond this week with a streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes including the latest three all being top-fives. Jones is truly coming into his own as a contender in the series and is likely to be one of the stars of the future. Fantasy owners will have questions as Richmond approaches since Jones crashed out of his only start at the track in this series, but from four Xfinity starts he has three top-fives.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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