Denny Hamlin won Wednesday’s Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway after the race was called with 20 laps remaining because of rain. But the driver that will be most remembered from this race will likely be his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.
Hamlin was out front but out of fresh tires and trying to hang on to the lead when he got unintended help from Busch when the reigning Cup Series champion caused Chase Elliott to crash eight laps earlier to bring out the caution.
Busch made contact with Chase Elliott while they battled for second, sending Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet spinning before it slammed into the inside wall.
A furious Elliott climbed out of his car and stopped to give a middle finger to Busch before climbing into a service vehicle for a ride to the infield care center.
Busch took responsibility on pit road after having a long, masked conversation with Elliott’s crew chief Alan Gustafson, Busch’s former crew chief at Hendrick Motorsports.
“There’s no question, I know. I made a mistake and misjudged the gap. I knew [Elliott] was there, and I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could. And in doing so, I watched him and his momentum as he was going by me, and then I tried to look up in the mirror to see where [Kevin] Harvick was to get in, and I just misjudged it,” Busch explained.
“I made a mistake and clipped the 9 and spun in him to the wall. I hate it for him and his guys. I got too many friends on that team to do anything like that on purpose. I’ve raced Chase since he was a kind and never had any issues with him. It was just a bad mistake on my part, and I’ll have to deal with consequences later on.”
Hamlin was leading when the rain drops began falling. Officials threw the caution flag on lap 202 before the race was declared official on Lap 208.
“I got my happy face on,” Hamlin said of the facemask he was wearing when he climbed out his No. 11 Toyota. Prasing the track that’s nicknamed “Too Tough To Tame” for being a driver’s race track, Hamlin said, “You can move around, you can do different things to make your car handle. We just, we got it right today.”
It was Hamlin’s second win of the season after winning the season opening Daytona 500 and the third of his career at Darlington.
Clint Bowyer won both the first and second stages, the first time this season the same driver has swept the opening two segments.
NASCAR was holding its first Wednesday night Cup Series since 1984 when Richard Petty earned his 200th career win in the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona International Speedway.
Wednesday’s race was the second at Darlington Raceway in four days after the series suspended competition on March 13 because of the coronavirus pandemic. NASCAR successfully made its return Sunday by using a a strict health protocol and limiting those in attendance to only the most essential for conducting a race.
The health screenings were held again before Wednesday’s race and every driver was cleared to participate. The race was again being run without spectators and only 16 people are permitted per entry.
Kevin Harvick, who won on Sunday for the 50th victory of his Cup career, finished third on Wednesday, followed by Brad Keselowski, Erik Jones, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Jimmie Johnson, Matt DiBenedetto and Martin Truex Jr.