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3 things we learned from Denny Hamlin's NASCAR victory at rainy Darlington Raceway

The Charlotte Observer — By Alex Andrejev The Charlotte Observer

May 21-- Chase Elliott flipped off Kyle Busch and then Mother Nature flipped off NASCAR.

Wednesday night, the Toyota 500 was called with 20 laps remaining in the 228-lap race due to rain. Leader Denny Hamlin was deemed the winner of NASCAR's second race at Darlington.

Kyle Busch finished in second place and Kevin Harvick finished third.

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Shortly before Hamlin stood for his post-race interview (wearing a face mask printed with his smiling mouth on it), drama unfolded on the track. With under 30 laps to go, Busch and Chase Elliott ran side-by-side behind Hamlin vying for the second-place spot. Busch then moved to the outside lane behind Elliott, tapping the No. 9 car from behind and causing Elliott to spin into the outside wall.

Elliott emerged from his car and gave Busch the middle finger. His crew chief, Alan Gustafson, confronted Busch after the race for answers. Busch responded it was an accident.

"I knew I needed to get in line as quick as I could," Busch said.

In doing so, Busch said he misjudged the timing and ended up making contact with Elliott. Moments later, a caution flag was thrown and rain fell on the track.

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In addition to Busch, the night was a smash for Clint Bowyer. Not literally. The No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing driver did not force anyone to rage quit NASCAR's second race at Darlington on Wednesday night because he was too far out front.

Bowyer clinched the first two stage wins of the race before falling to 22nd. He took the first green-and-white checkered flag with a 2-second lead over Ryan Blaney in third.

His pit stops then stayed efficient for the remainder of the night and gave him his best-ever showing at the Darlington track. Before Wednesday, Bowyer had never raced a top-five finish in 15 starts at Darlington and only had previously had only two top-10 finishes.

"We're firing on all eight cylinders!" Bowyer told Fox Sports after his second stage win.

He led 71 laps and ran in the top-10 all night until spinning out with 34 laps to go, forcing the 10th caution of the night. Bowyer took his repairs, but stayed on the lead lap.

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The team was in the conversation before the race even started since NASCAR/NFL Hall of Famer and JGR owner Joe Gibbs delivered the invocation. Gibbs' team looked a little more blessed than others.

No. 19 driver Martin Truex Jr. raced his way into a second- and third-place finish, respectively, in the first two stages.

With 60 laps to go, Hamlin had moved into second place behind Elliott while No. 20 driver Erik Jones ran closely behind his JGR teammate. Busch and Truex Jr. ran side-by-side vying for a spot and there was a moment when the Toyotas took the top, where they remained until the abrupt finish.

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