DARLINGTON, S.C.: Denny Hamlin doesn’t have a contingency plan for Darlington Raceway.
He has every intention of running the entire race.
Hamlin turned 23 laps last week at Talladega before turning the car over to relief driver Brian Vickers. It was Hamlin’s first race since suffering a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back. The March 24 injury cost him four races.
Hamlin has no plans to have a driver on standby for tonight’s Southern 500.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’ll go the whole way,” said Hamlin, who tested himself by running 90 consecutive minutes during a long first practice Friday. “Nothing was uncomfortable, nothing hurt, nothing was sore. So I’m pretty confident I can make it the three, three and half [hours] that it’s going to take to run the race.”
Hamlin is determined to qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and currently sits 31st in the standings. But he’s only 76 points out of 20th place, where he’d need to be to be eligible for one of two wild-card berths.
He knows every run from here until Richmond in September needs to be nearly perfect, and figures Darlington is going to be one of the toughest tests.
After all, they don’t call it “The Track Too Tough To Tame” for nothing.
“It will be a challenge because this is one of the toughest, physically challenging races that we have — not only by distance, but the amount of mental focus that you have to have during the race is tough,” Hamlin said.
“That was the one thing that I was actually worried about ... ‘Is my stamina going to be enough to make it?’ I’ll be able to make it physically, but it’s a matter of whether I can keep my mind engaged through whatever physical pains I have toward the end to keep our finish good.”
Kurt Busch wins pole
Kurt Busch set a Darlington Raceway record in earning the pole for the Southern 500.
Busch’s lap of 181.918 mph Friday earned him his third career pole at Darlington and broke the 2-year old mark of 181.254 mph held by Kasey Kahne. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson will start alongside Busch, followed by Kyle Busch, Kahne and Martin Truex Jr.
Kurt Busch got a strong start toward erasing an agonizing, 10-year-old memory at Darlington. He was second there in 2003 behind Ricky Craven by .002 of a second — the closest finish in Sprint Cup history since the series went to electronic timing in 1993.
The record lap came less than a week after Kurt Busch finished his race at Talladega by going airborne and landing on competitor Ryan Newman.
No word for Newman
Newman said he has tried to contact NASCAR about his concerns following a late-race accident at Talladega Superspeedway and has not heard from them.
Newman’s race ended last week when Kurt Busch went airborne and landed atop Newman’s No. 39 as part of a 12-car crash. Newman said afterward on TV that NASCAR has made significant safety advances but still can’t figure out how to keep cars on the track.
He used a vulgarity in his interview, but he was not fined for his comments.
Newman said Friday after qualifying for the Southern 500 he tried to contact someone at NASCAR “who could make a difference.” He said he has not yet gotten a response.
Kyle Busch took the lead from Joey Logano 18 laps from the end to win his fifth Nationwide race this season and second in three years at Darlington Raceway on Friday night.
Busch started from the pole and was the strongest car throughout. He led for 107 of the 147 laps and finished about a second in front of Elliott Sadler.