As it did last season, Darlington Raceway lived up to the moniker Too Tough to Tame for a myriad of playoff contenders on Sunday night (Sept. 3) in the NASCAR Cup Series’ annual Cook Out Southern 500.
In the end, it was Kyle Larson who survived and took home his first Southern 500 win and his third of the season. The 2021 Cup champion also locked himself in to the Round of 12 and won’t have to worry about the upcoming races at Kansas Speedway or Bristol Motor Speedway.
“We kept our heads in the game,” Larson told NBC Sports. “That was really important. This race is all about keeping your head in it. I’ve been pretty hard on myself the last couple of months, but having a leader like Cliff (Daniels) is good for my mind.”
“Adding this trophy in the collection is going to be amazing … just proud of this bunch again. Pit crew came in clutch to get us out and into the lead … just kind of fell in our lap there and we were able to take advantage of it.”
Larson’s win marks No. 299 for Hendrick Motorsports.
Tyler Reddick fought valiantly to finish second, while Chris Buescher, William Byron and Ross Chastain rounded out the top five. Chastain had to overcome a less than stellar first half of the race to get there.
“Kyle and I were pretty close the majority of the day, honestly,” a disappointed Reddick told NBC Sports. “He just got ahead of us there unfortunately on pit road, but all in all this is the day we need to have, so really just thankful for the hard work from my pit crew, from the team, everyone at the shop.” Reddick’s big day netted him a 30-point cushion over the cut line heading into Kansas Speedway, where his team swept both races last season.
Brad Keselowski came home sixth, while Bubba Wallace, who survived a spin at the end of the first stage finished in seventh. Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and last year’s winner Erik Jones rounded out the rest of the top 10.
Christopher Bell was the first to draw the ire of the infamous outside wall at the famous South Carolina track as he smacked it in stage one, and the polesitter was rendered a non-factor all evening from that point. Joey Logano had also earned a Darlington stripe, but he was able to salvage his race with a 12th-place run. Martin Truex Jr. finished 18th.
Of course, the biggest misfortune of the night went to two of the most decorated veterans of the Cup Series. Denny Hamlin had the clear-cut best race car on the track for much of the race, winning two stages and leading 140 plus laps. On lap 273 though, following a green flag pit stop, Hamlin felt something amiss in his Toyota Camry and came back to pit road thinking he had a loose wheel.
Hamlin immediately fell from the top of the leaderboard to 30th place, one lap down. He never recovered, and with 34 to go, got caught up in a crash that also eliminated fellow playoff driver Michael McDowell and put the nail in the coffin for Bell’s night. Hamlin continued, but finished back in 25th, while Bell finished ahead of him in 23rd.
Kevin Harvick also suffered big misfortune not long after Hamlin’s incident. As Harvick was committing to pit road, Ryan Newman slowed up thinking leader Tyler Reddick was pitting. The sudden change in speed sent Newman around, and caused him to spin, bringing out the caution. Harvick entered pit road, mere seconds after NASCAR closed it. That resulted in a penalty, and the 2014 champion couldn’t recover. He was running second and challenging for the lead moments before. He finished a disappointing 19th.
Tempers also flared between two non-playoff drivers late in the race. With 50 to go, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman were racing hard within the top 10. Going down the frontstretch, Bowman threw two blocks on Suarez, the second of which caused them to get locked together heading into turn one. Both cars were destroyed in the ensuing crash.
Bowman owned his part in the crash, telling Frontstretch reporters: “I meant to block low, I didn’t realize he had gotten outside or I wouldn’t have moved up like that … He blocks me every time I’m around him. We needed to hold onto all the track position we could, we were so good on long runs but just too tight on short runs. It didn’t work out and I didn’t know he was outside of me.”
Suarez responded: “I gave him a break once, I won’t give him a break twice. He’s smarter than that … he had five minutes of being a dummy and he used it against the 99, I guess.”
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs continue at Kansas Speedway on Sunday (Sept. 10). Coverage begins on USA Network, MRN, and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio at 3 p.m. ET.
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