DARLINGTON, S.C. – Like many other times at Darlington Raceway throughout the years, no one could catch Denny Hamlin down the stretch on Aug. 31, 2019.
No one but the post-race inspection team, it turns out.
After coming all the way from the back of the field to seemingly win the Sport Clips Haircuts VFW 200 Xfinity Series race, Hamlin was disqualified when his car did not meet the height requirements on the left-front and right-rear.
The result was a disqualification of his No. 18 Toyota that gave Cole Custer his first victory at Darlington despite never leading a lap.
It was the first time that a winner has been disqualified post-race on the Xfinity Series under the new rules package.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s a really strange feeling, obviously,” Custer said. “I don’t know. It’s a way to win. I mean, you don’t want to win them that way, but it is what it is. We all play by the same rules. Was that the deciding factor? No, for the reason he won the race. But it is what it is. We get the points, we get the money and we get everything but the trophy, I guess.
“So it’s a way to win, and we’ll take it.”
Hamlin took the lead with just under 30 laps remaining. A late caution after Josh Williams went sideways set up a mad dash that saw Custer come close to catching Hamlin, but Custer finished 0.602 seconds behind him until the result was overturned.
Hamlin also failed post-race inspection following his 2017 Southern 500 victory.
He lamented afterward about what an adjustment racing in the Xfinity cars for the first time in 2019 was.
“Car was a handling mess and had to put a boatload of rounds in RR to help it. This is the result,” Hamlin tweeted out after learning of his disqualification.
It would have been Hamlin’s eighth victory at Darlington between the two series and his sixth Xfinity win. Instead, Custer was able to pick up his sixth win this year on NASCAR’s junior circuit and add to his points total. He entered the day third overall in the standings with a playoff berth already clinched.
“I think it’s just been places I’ve been comfortable at ever since I started,” the No. 00 Ford driver said of racing on abrasive tracks. “We’ve obviously had really fast cars. Mike (Shiplett’s) given me really fast cars to work with at the tracks and pretty much every single weekend.”
The post-race DQ and Hamlin’s worst-to-first run negated what had been a day dominated by Ryan Blaney and Tyler Reddick. The duo led for 120 of the 147 laps. Reddick, the series points leader, won stage one by leading 31 of the 45 laps after passing the pole sitter 16 laps into the race.
Blaney returned the favor on lap 85 to take stage two.
“We didn’t start out great,” Blaney said. “I thought I was pretty free and got it tightened up the second stage and was pretty good. I was able to get by the 2 on the long run.”
But even he couldn’t stop Hamlin’s late surge. Blaney wound up in fourth while Reddick took third initially before both were bumped up a spot following inspections.
“The 18 got to us and I couldn’t go,” Blaney said. “I was really tight and let him get by us, and I wasn’t able to start on the front row for the last restart, and that was kind of a short run to be able to do anything, so that stinks.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., racing for just the second time since retiring, finished fifth.