Denny Hamlin picked a very opportune time to score his first win of the season holding off a hard charging Kyle Larson to win the opening round of NASCAR’s Playoffs at Darlington Raceway Sunday night.
The driver who lost out on the regular season title to Larson survived a last lap, last corner charge that saw the top two cars bang the wall coming out of Turn 4 and leave a smoky trail across the start-finish line with Hamlin winning.
Ross Chastain was third as the highest-ranking driver outside the playoffs followed by Martin Truex Jr. fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Larson had the lead when the final stage started on lap 298 but gave up the point during a round of green flag stops. Hamlin pitted just before Larson and cycled to the lead on lap 299. Hamlin would be out front with Larson trying to close the gap and hold off a determined Chastain. Larson would finally clear himself of Chastain with under 10 laps to go but came up .212 of a second short of the win.
“He drove it in past the limit of the cars and the tires,” Hamlin said. “I knew he was coming. I was a little bit conservative on that last lap because I had that four-car-length lead. Yeah, I didn’t think it was going go that deep, but yeah, still a great race.
“It’s been back and forth with me and him most of the year. He’s just been a little bit faster on these types of racetracks, and luckily the caution came when it did and the strategy worked out great for the team, but man, I’m really happy.”
The Southern 500 is known as a race of attrition and it didn’t sway from that narrative as several Playoff drivers were scored with DNFs. They included Michael McDowell who crashed on lap 31, Kyle Busch on lap 125 and two of the four Hendrick drivers: William Byron on lap 200 and Chase Elliott on lap 326. All four were scored outside the top 30. Another Hendrick driver, Alex Bowman found trouble early scrapping the wall on lap 15 and clipping the car of Byron. Bowman would struggle the rest of the race and finished 26th four laps down.
Hamlin won Stage 1 and led 147 of 367 laps in route to his fourth Darlington victory and the 45th of his Cup Series career. Larson won Stage 2 and led a race high 156 laps in a marathon race that lasted just over 4 hours.
“We got to the white, and I was like, well, I haven’t been able to gain on him now, I’m going to try something,” Larson said. “Honestly got to his bumper too quick. I was hoping he was going to run that diamond to kind of be safe and I could skirt to his outside but gave everything I had.
“I didn’t want to wreck him, I just wanted to try to get to his outside there, but he did a great job not really making any mistakes during the last run, and I was having to push really hard in second to try and just stay with him.
“Was hoping we’d catch some sort of traffic, but we never really did.”
Playoff drivers Kurt Busch finished sixth, Brad Keselowski seventh, Joey Logano eighth with non-Playoff drivers Chris Buscher and Austin Dillon rounding out the top 10.
As for the rest of the Playoff field: Aric Almirola was 16th, Tyler Reddick 18th, Christopher Bell 20th and Ryan Blaney who had a spin late, 22nd.
Hamlin, who had 6 wins at this point last season, including a win at Darlington has now punched his way into the next round of the Playoffs with his first win of 2021.
“I tell you what, I couldn’t be happier for this win and now to move to the Round of 12,” Hamlin said.
The Cup Series’ next race is the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders, scheduled Saturday at Richmond Raceway. Two events remain in the three-race Round of 16, the opening elimination phase of the 10-race postseason.
NASCAR Cup Series Race Results Southern 500
Darlington, South Carolina
Sunday, September 5, 2021
- (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 367.
- (6) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 367.
- (23) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 367.
- (10) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 367.
- (9) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 367.
- (3) Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 367.
- (16) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 367.
- (11) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 367.
- (34) Chris Buescher, Ford, 367.
- (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.
- (31) Cole Custer, Ford, 367.
- (18) Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 367.
- (26) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 367.
- (19) Ryan Newman, Ford, 367.
- (25) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 367.
- (8) Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 366.
- (29) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 366.
- (7) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 366.
- (24) Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 366.
- (13) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 366.
- (17) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 366.
- (1) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 366.
- (30) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 365.
- (32) Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 364.
- (20) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 364.
- (5) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 363.
- (27) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 359.
- (28) Josh Bilicki, Ford, 359.
- (35) Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 357.
- (37) Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 355.
- (4) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 327.
- (22) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Engine, 264.
- (33) Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 209.
- (14) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 199.
- (12) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Accident, 125.
- (36) James Davison, Chevrolet, Accident, 50.
- (15) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, Accident, 30.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 121.279 mph.
Time of Race: 4 Hrs, 8 Mins, 1 Secs. Margin of Victory: .212 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 52 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 10 drivers.
Lap Leaders: R. Blaney (P) 1-14;K. Busch (P) 15-27;E. Jones 28-29;K. Harvick (P) 30-49;J. Gase(i) 50;D. Hamlin (P) 51-80;R. Blaney (P) 81-83;D. Hamlin (P) 84-121;K. Larson (P) 122-158;C. Bell (P) 159-165;K. Larson (P) 166-196;C. Bell (P) 197-199;K. Larson (P) 200-232;R. Chastain 233;K. Larson (P) 234-269;D. Hamlin (P) 270-278;M. Truex Jr. (P) 279;K. Larson (P) 280-298;D. Hamlin (P) 299-367.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Larson (P) 5 times for 156 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 4 times for 146 laps; Kevin Harvick (P) 1 time for 20 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 2 times for 17 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 1 time for 13 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 2 times for 10 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 2 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 1 lap; Joey Gase(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,5,1,12,4,19,8,10,42,22
Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,20,42,11,4,1,22,9,12,7