Gibbs drivers leave Darlington with heads high
Busch, Hamlin, Logano all finish solidly at the Lady during weekend races
By David Caraviello, NASCAR.COM
May 14, 2012 3:02 PM, EDT
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Denny Hamlin didn't win this weekend at Darlington Raceway. But a pair of second-place finishes left him content leaving NASCAR's oldest, and arguably most difficult, major speedway.
Hamlin was runner-up to Jimmie Johnson Saturday night in a Bojangles' Southern 500 that provided Hendrick Motorsports with its 200th victory on NASCAR's premier series. But the organization that enjoyed the second-best outing at the egg-shaped facility was Joe Gibbs Racing, which placed all three of its drivers in the top 10, led by Hamlin's second-place finish.
Kyle Busch finished fourth and Joey Logano took 10th for Gibbs, which also swept the top two spots (behind Logano and Hamlin) in Friday night's Nationwide race. The class of the Gibbs field Saturday was clearly Hamlin, who led four times for 56 laps, and might have given Johnson a run at the end had he not slid through his stall on the final pit stop of the race.
"It's tough to say," he said, when asked if he might have been able to catch Johnson without the mistake. "You know, I thought the 56 [car of Martin Truex Jr.] probably could give him a good run.
"You know, when our car was best, we could probably hang with him. Obviously it looked like his car was very strong, was one of the best. In my opinion, the 56 probably was right there with him. But he chose to come in and pit and lost his track position. It looks like he still made it back up, so that tells you he had a pretty fast car there."
Busch led five times for 44 laps, and time and time again dueled with Johnson on restarts. He held the front spot until Johnson overtook him with 44 laps remaining and, although he didn't have enough for the eventual winner at the end of the race, he was pleased with his finish nonetheless. It was the third straight top-five finish for Busch, who has moved up to ninth in points after some early-season struggles.
"It was a lot of fun to keep [the car] up front like that all night," he said. "I didn't get a Darlington stripe until past halfway so it was really good for us. Just really looking forward to going to the All-Star Race next week and hopefully getting an All-Star win there and taking home a million bucks."
Logano, who won Friday night's Nationwide event after accidently spinning leader Elliott Sadler on a late restart, scored his third top-10 of the season despite struggling on restarts and once making contact with the wall.
"This was the longest race ever," he said. "We started 21st and we worked our way up front consistently. Pretty awesome -- I was surprised. We're doing a good job.
"We worked our way all the way up to fourth and thought, 'Man we're doing good,' but, man, I suck on restarts. I can't get going on restarts and that's where I lose so many spots. My car wasn't handling good and it took like five, six laps at least for it to come in and I kept getting passed. I got anxious and overdrove into (Turn) 3, stepped it out sideways and clobbered the fence. Luckily, we got a caution, fixed it and then started fighting our way up gain and we got to 10th, so that's exciting. I'm glad we got a top-10 out of it, but frustrated because I feel like I had a top-five car."