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No win, but Hamlin tops all playoff drivers at Darlington

Denny Hamlin couldn’t quite run down Erik Jones in a 20-lap dash to the finish of Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

Watch: Denny Hamlin reacts to second-place finish at Darlington

Hamlin was the last of the leaders to make his final green-flag pit stop – a strategy many called into question – but he got a break when a late caution for Cody Ware bunched the field up one final time.

During the caution, Kyle Busch – who had exited pit road with the lead – suddenly suffered an engine failure and fell out of the race.

That turned the lead over to Jones with Tyler Reddick and Hamlin behind on the restart on Lap 348 of 367.

Hamlin quickly moved into second and slowly began to run down Jones. He came close to getting in position to attempt a pass for the lead in the final two laps but came up just short.

Still, Hamlin ended up with the best finish of the 16 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series playoff field.

Asked if there was anything different he could have done to get around Jones, Hamlin said, “Not without contact. Last night in Xfinity there was like 2½ seconds of falloff (on tires) in the last 15-lap run, and I think it was about a second for us in a 15-lap run.

“So, the speeds are so fast, and so much on throttle time, it’s an error game. Erik just did a really great job.”

With this runner-up finish, Hamlin has improved to third in the playoff standings and trails leader Joey Logano by just eight points with two races remaining in the first round.

Late engine trouble for JGR

The engine problem for Busch late in the race also provided a potential scare for Hamlin and his team as they are teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing and utilize the same engines.

But there was little Hamlin could do but race hard for the win.

“I mean, we can’t come in and change the engine. Nothing we’re going to do about it. We’re never going to give up track position to fix something even if it’s obvious anyway,” he said.

“That late in the race, I just looked at it, said it was a tough one for those guys. Obviously, it’s a bummer, but there’s nothing I’m going to change in the car, so I just concentrate on doing the best I can driving.

“Man, just a great day for Erik, great day for our team.”

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