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MENCS: Denny Hamlin returns to Darlington Raceway with speed

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Returning to the site of his last vicotyr, Denny Hamlin, was the fastest driver in opening practice for the 2018 rendition of the Southern 500. Hamlin circled Darlington Raceway in 28.543 seconds, 172.034 mph.

Winless so far this season, Hamlin’s average finish is 12.6, one position worse than what he ended last year with. Since entering full time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition in 2006 Hamlin has at least one win every season. He’s already clinched a playoff spot with his regular season points, but a win could alleviate mounting pressure on the No. 11 team.

Kyle Larson went 172.034 mph, fast enough for second on the speed charts. Slower than Hamlin by 0.042 seconds, Larson is also locked into the playoffs but just like Hamlin, he’s still searching for his first win of the year.

Brad Keselowski was third fastest (171.998 mph), Alex Bowman was fourth (171.980 mph), and Ryan Newman was fifth (171.926 mph).

The top-five was compiled of three Chevrolets, one Ford and one Toyota.

Erik Jones, ninth quickest (171.878 mph), was the fastest driver of those who’ve already won a race this year. With 10 minutes left in practice Jones spun out his No. 20 Toyota while approaching pit road, he kept the car damage free.

The three most dominant drivers this season, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. barely cracked the top-15. Truex was 15th (170.436 mph), Harvick 20th (169.865 mph), and Busch 21st (169.707 mph).

Denny Hamlin had the fastest 10-lap average but Kevin Harvick was second fastest.

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