Darlington darling: Hamlin wins again

Associated Press • May 12, 2007 at 1:36 AM

DARLINGTON, S.C. - Denny Hamlin won the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 for the second straight year Friday night, again surviving a wreck-filled Busch Series event at historic Darlington Raceway.

Hamlin, a Virginia native, then paid tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, taking a school flag along for his victory lap.

Hamlin had hoped to honor the victims several times in the past month, and particularly last week at Richmond International Raceway. Still, he was glad for the chance to remember the innocent lives lost in the tragic shooting.

"I just feel like I'm doing my duty as a fellow Virginian to help them heal," said Hamlin, fourth in the Nextel Cup standings.

The young star raced to his third Busch Series victory, winning from the pole at the "Lady in Black" for the second consecutive year.

Not that it was easy.

Hamlin picked his way through a record-tying 10 caution periods to take the checkered flag. The race matched the 10 cautions from April 1984. A year ago, there were nine caution periods.

Hamlin stood strong through a final restart with six laps left. Busch points leader Carl Edwards got as close as Hamlin's window as he dived low in turn one trying to take the lead, but Hamlin powered through the turn and was never tested again.

"We wanted to saddle them up and see what he had," Hamlin said. "And we came through at the end."

Mark Martin, driving a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, finished second, and Edwards was third.

Hamlin led five times for 79 laps, including the final 52.

The most high-profile caution involved former Nextel Cup champion Matt Kenseth, who hit the wall in turn one and was clipped by Brad Keselowski as he slid down the track. Neither driver was hurt.

"Everything just went wrong all day pretty much after we took the lead" from Hamlin on lap 17, Kenseth said.

A short time after Kenseth's wreck, David Gilliland bounced off the wall and into Shane Huffman, who drives for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team. Huffman's front wheels lifted off the ground from the collision.

Bobby Labonte brought out the final caution, spinning near the start-finish line on lap 137. When it took longer than expected to tow Labonte's car off the track, officials red-flagged the race for 3½ minutes.

Hamlin showed his Chevy's strength from the start. He led the first 16 laps then, after falling behind Kenseth, retook the top spot six laps later.

Hamlin held the lead twice more before moving in front for good when he swept past Jason Leffler on lap 96.

Hamlin had to outrace his rivals through four more restarts to get the victory. He's not sure why he excels at Darlington, a quirky oval with an abrasive surface. Maybe, he thought, he's "more on a level playing field with the guys (at Darlington) because no one's figured out the perfect way to get around these race tracks. There is no perfect way." The race featured longtime Roush Fenway Racing star Martin driving for former rival team owner Rick Hendrick. Martin, who holds the Busch record with eight Darlington victories, was racing in just his third Busch event this year.

Martin said he just wasn't close enough at the end to catch Hamlin.

"I was in the best position handling wise that I possibly could've been in at the end, but I didn't have the track position," Martin said.

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