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Hamlin finishes second in full-time return

May 13, 2013, Staff report, NASCAR.com

Hamlin finishes second in full-time return
Newman joins Hamlin in top 10; four Coca-Cola Racing Family drivers finish in top 15

Denny Hamlin was sore and he was exhausted following Saturday night‘s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

He was also thrilled.

Completing his first full race since being injured during a last-lap wreck at Auto Club Speedway on March 24, Hamlin steered his No. 11 Toyota to a second-place finish at one of the most difficult tracks in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Hamlin suffered a broken vertebra in his lower back during that crash, which was caused when he and Joey Logano -- another member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family -- bumped cars multiple times while battling for the win.

Doctors cleared Hamlin to compete in the full race at Darlington, but it was unknown how his back would hold up on one of the circuit’s most grueling courses.

Hamlin said he his “60-year-old” back held up OK -- and his 40-plus point night makes him a legitimate threat to get back into the top 20 and compete for a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Hamlin wasn’t the only member of the Coca-Cola Racing Family to finish in the top 10, either. Ryan Newman worked his way through the field for a 10th-place finish. Greg Biffle and Tony Stewart both placed in the top 15, respectively.

A roundup of the six drivers in the Coca-Cola Racing Family:

Denny Hamlin (No. 11)

Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota 

Recap: Darlington is one of Hamlin’s better tracks, but until the green flag flew for Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500, it was unknown if the driver would be in condition to record his eighth top-10 in nine attempts. Hamlin surpassed those expectations by finishing second to race winner Matt Kenseth -- his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate -- after gaining five spots over the final 100 laps. During a lengthy set of green-flag runs early, Hamlin drove steadily and grinded out miles, waiting until the end to make his move. His 42-point night vaulted him four spots up the standings.
Quotable: “I’m sore and I’m tired, but you know it just takes a while. Really it’s like starting your season over with. To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles -- there’s some muscles that have gotten weak. I’ve gotten pretty sore and tired -- mentally tired as well. We’ll have a couple weeks really to rest until the next long event and we’ll be good to go then.”
His standing: Hamlin is 27th in the standings with 197 points.
Outlook: Hamlin qualified for the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race by virtue of his one win in 2011 -- he also won twice in 2012 prior to the All-Star weekend. The No. 11 Toyota qualified third fastest at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but was not a factor in the four 20-lap segments, or the final 10-lap segment that determined the winner. Hamlin has never won the All-Star Race; he's qualified to run in this year's race due to his five wins in 2012.

Ryan Newman (No. 39)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Recap:
Newman felt fortunate to leave Darlington with a finish on the lead lap, much less a top-10 effort. Driving the No. 39 Chevrolet, Newman qualified 21st and struggled to move up after a 124-lap green-flag stretch to start the race, and then a 171-lap green-flag stretch after the first caution. But then came four caution flags in the final 64 laps, and Newman was the beneficiary -- literally -- and got back on the lead lap. A massive change to his loose race car helped Newman gain critical spots over the final 25 laps to record his 10th top-10 at Darlington in 15 starts.
Quotable: “That was a really good comeback by our Quicken Loans team. Our race car was loose pretty much all night up until that last run, but Matt Borland (crew chief) and the guys kept adjusting on it and working on it trying to make it better. I’m just really proud of how hard these guys battled tonight.”
His standing: Newman is 17th in the standings with 276 points.
Outlook: A veteran of participating in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race, Newman automatically qualified for the 2012 race due to winning one race in 2011. The No. 39 Chevrolet was second on the grid thanks to Newman’s blistering pace during race qualifying, and he finished the event in 10th. Newman has one All-Star win, in 2002 prior to his eight-win 2003 season. Newman is eligible for the 2013 All-Star Race due to his one win in 2012.

Greg Biffle (No. 16)

Roush Fenway Racing, Ford 

Recap: Biffle and his team couldn’t get his No. 16 Ford in good shape. His car was decent all night, but a decent car at Darlington rarely yields a top-10 finish. And indeed, Biffle finished outside the top 10 for the fourth consecutive race, although his 13th-place finish is the team’s best showing since Texas on April 13. With the result, Biffle drops out of the top 12 in the standings to 13th, the lowest he’s been this year.
Quotable: “It’s a little disappointing. We’ve tested and practiced and are still struggling. We’ll just have to keep working and try to figure it out.”
His standing: Biffle is 13th in the standings with 311 points.
Outlook: Biffle didn’t win in 2011, so his 2012 entry into the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race wasn’t guaranteed entering the 2012 season. The driver qualified for the All-Star race by winning the seventh race of last year at Texas, which is approximately one month before drivers head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the All-Star festivities. Biffle, though, was the unfortunate recipient of a blown engine, which set his No. 16 ablaze after 67 laps. Biffle later won at Michigan in 2012, so he has automatically qualified for this year's event.

Tony Stewart (No. 14)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Recap:
Stewart again fell short of obtaining his second top-10 finish of the season thanks to an ill-handling car and a brush with Darlington’s infamous white wall. Yes, even a veteran such as Stewart isn’t immune from getting a stripe at one of the series’ quirkiest tracks. The brush with the wall came at an inopportune time, with Stewart in the top 10 with less than 60 laps remaining. A series of late cautions gave Stewart’s team the chance to tighten up the race car, but those fixes didn’t solve all of Stewart’s problems. Running eighth after Lap 300, Stewart crossed the start/finish line 67 laps later in 15th place.
Quotable: Stewart was not available for comment following the race.
His standing: Stewart is 21st in the standings with 253 points.
Outlook: Stewart, who won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (and $1 million bonus) in 2009, qualified ninth and finished 17th in last year’s race. He's automatically qualified for this year's All-Star Race.

Joey Logano (No. 22)

Penske Racing, Ford

Recap:
It was another rough week for Logano, who finished outside the top 10 for the third time in the past four races. The 22-year-old had a long climb after qualifying 30th, and he reached an apex of 15th-place by lap 180, which was virtually halfway through the Bojangles’ Southern 500. But as the race progressed, Logano’s engine began to overheat. The driver had to make multiple unscheduled stops into pit road to try and cool it; he lost valuable position, but managed a 22nd-place finish.
Quotable: “We were really in a hole from the very beginning when we didn’t put down the qualifying lap that we needed to. (That) put us in the back and having to make up track position early. And then you add up the really long green flag runs and that’s just a recipe for disaster. It’s frustrating because you know you have a car that is probably an eighth- to 10th-place car based on the cars you are passing during the race, but when you are stuck a lap down and you can’t get it back because there are no cautions, you just get frustrated.”
His standing: Logano is 19th in the standings with 259 points.
Outlook:
Logano didn’t win in 2011, so he was one of 22 drivers to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Showdown, which is the 40-lap race that precedes the NASCAR All-Star Race. The top two finishers from the Showdown gain entrance into the All-Star Race, but Logano was not one of those two -- he finished sixth. Logano won at Pocono in 2012, so he is automatically entered in the 2013 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.

Danica Patrick (No. 10)

Stewart-Haas Racing, Chevrolet

Recap:
Patrick started 40th and in her back-up car at Darlington Raceway after hitting the wall hard during practice. Although she got faster as the 500-mile race progressed, Patrick went three laps down early and couldn’t make up that ground. Still, she finished 28th, gaining 12 positions in her first start at “The Lady in Black.”
Quotable: “Those long green flag runs just killed us. It’s tough because you get behind, and it’s hard to get caught back up when the pace is that fast and there are so little yellows at the beginning. We had a setback in practice, and that cut into our practice time and because of that we didn’t get to make any qualifying runs, which led us to going out cold in qualifying, which is not a strength of mine anyway. So it was just a tough weekend.”
Her standing: Patrick is 28th in the standings with 196 points.
Outlook: Patrick has never competed in the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. She has a chance to do so this year either by finishing first or second in the 40-lap Sprint Showdown, or by winning the fan vote.

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