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Hamlin passes Hill on final restart to win Xfinity race at Darlington on Saturday

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — Denny Hamlin rallied on a final restart in overtime to win the Xfinity Series event at Darlington Raceway on Saturday. That will certainly help him when he starts the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs here on Sunday, right?

“No, it will not,” Hamlin said with a laugh.

Hamlin said he feels he's in a no-win situation. “There's only one way to go when you run these races and that's down, when you don't win,” said Hamlin, who passed Austin Hill on the last restart at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

Plus, the Next Gen car Hamlin has driven to the No. 3 playoff seed this season is completely different than the lighter, more mobile machine run on the Xfinity Series.

“A couple of years ago, I felt you could learn some stuff” running an Xfinity race, he said. “But Next Gen and this car is just so different, that it's just a race of its own.”

Hamlin will start his 17th career NASCAR Cup Series playoff run here on Sunday night in the Southern 500. He warmed up in NASCAR’s Triple-A series with his sixth Xfinity win at Darlington and the 18th of his career.

Hamlin had crossed in front in the Darlington Xfinity race in 2019, but was disqualified in post-race inspection.

He was told after that, at 42, he was oldest winner at Darlington since the late Dick Trickle won at the track when he was 56 in 1998.

“I'm certainly happy that whatever my age is, I feel I'm as good as I've ever been,” Hamlin said before adding he doesn't plan to top Trickle's distinction.

Hill was in front when the race went to a green-white-checkered finish. But Hamlin came from the high side to pass Hill in turn two and went on to a six car-length victory.

“I really didn't want to show everything we had to the very end of the race,” Hamlin said. “It was a great win.”

Hill was second followed by John Hunter Nemechek, who leads the Xfinity Series with five victories this season.

Cole Custer and Josh Berry rounded out the top five.

Hill said he went low into turn one on the final restart that opened the way for Hamlin to take the checkered flag.

“I just need to go back to the drawing board to find out what I'm doing wrong on the restarts there,” Hill said. “It's been frustrating.”

Hamlin was among several Cup regulars racing Saturday. Kyle Larson got as high as second during the first 90 laps before engine problems drove him to the pits where he sat with his hood up and his team tried to diagnose his problem.

Larson fell 31 laps behind and ended in 38th, last place.

All-time Xfinity Series winner Kyle Busch was also in the field and ran in the top 10 for some time. He finished ninth.

Ross Chastain was other Cup driver contending. He ended 23rd.

Xfinity ends its regular season next week at Kansas with its 12-team playoffs starting a week later at Bristol.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing