Hamlin Etched Into Darlington History

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Denny Hamlin joined an elite group of drivers over the weekend that have taken the checkered flag in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, including his favorite driver growing up - Bill Elliott.

Hamlin, who now leads all active drivers with a 6.6 average finish at Darlington, will have his name and picture etched on the Johnny Mantz trophy. His name will be the 44th Darlington winner on it, and the first edition since the 3-foot, 40 pound trophy debuted in 2009.

Mark Martin took home the trophy last season, but was already on it after winning the 1993 Southern 500.

"I looked at this trophy in Victory Lane. The faces on it are unbelievable," Hamlin said. "Mine is going to stick out like a sore thumb, I can tell you. Hopefully one day it's a face that fits in with those guys."

Not only was the win special for Hamlin because it came on Mother's Day weekend with his mon, Mary Lou, in attendance, but it also brought back memories of watching Elliott race around the track "Too Tough to Tame" when he was a kid.

"I can remember Bill Elliott winning the million dollar bonus here," Hamlin said. "I was watching that race. I was a huge fan of his. In 1985, I was five years old, but he was my driver, he was my guy. Just I never forget that, him winning that here at Darlington.

"For us to have a similar situation, it was as big for me now as what it probably was for him back then."

Although his first test with Joe Gibbs Racing at Darlington in 2004 didn't go as planned, Hamlin's performance in his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race at the 1.366-mile track was a big stepping stone in his career.

"Six years ago we took Denny down here, his first Nationwide race was at Darlington," Owner J.D. Gibbs said. "I figured, We'll give him a shot. The odds are long he's going to do well, get a shot at JGR. His first race here, when he came and tested the week before, he tore up everything. This isn't going to go well. He finished eighth his first race. That is when we gave him the shot the next year to run the full program."

Now since that first start, Hamlin has combined for four wins and nine top 10s in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series at Darlington. His sweep of the track over the weekend was the first by a driver since Martin in 1993.

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