The winner of Sunday night’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway ended a season-long drought and put himself into the second round of the playoffs.
Denny Hamlin claimed the checkered flag for the first time in 2021, winning the Cook Out Southern 500. He had to fight off regular-season champion Kyle Larson after Larson made a desperation move on the final turn.
Hamlin led the points standings for most of the regular season despite not winning a race. Larson, who has five wins this year, eventually passed him for the title. Hamlin still made the playoffs comfortably, and now he is assured of being in the Round of 12 with his win in the playoff opener.
Below is more about Hamlin’s win Sunday, plus the complete results of the race.
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Who won the NASCAR race yesterday?
Denny Hamlin earned his first win of the 2021 Cup Series season by holding off Kyle Larson in the Cook Out Southern 500. Hamlin was leading by about half a second until Turn 4 of the white-flag lap when Larson drove his car way too hard into the corner and right up to Hamlin’s rear bumper. Larson said he tried to “video game it” in desperation.
“He drove it in past the limit of the car and tires,” Hamlin told NBCSN after the race, later adding, “He was going to have to go through me.”
Hamlin and Larson — who combined to lead 302 of the race’s 367 laps — engaged in a drag race to the start/finish line, with Hamlin staying in front to win by a two-tenths of a second.
“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,” Larson said, per NASCAR.com.
“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,” Larson added.
Hamlin passed Kevin Harvick for most Darlington wins among active Cup drivers with his fourth.
NASCAR Cup playoff standings
While Hamlin clinched a second-round berth and Larson increased his playoff points lead, four playoff drivers suffered big hits in the standings after crashing out at the track that’s “Too Tough to Tame.” Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, William Byron and Michael McDowell all ran into trouble and wound up with poor finishes in addition to junked cars.
McDowell was the first to go out, followed by Busch, Byron and Elliott. Busch, Byron and McDowell now occupy the last three spots in the playoff standings, putting them in early danger of being eliminated in the Round of 16. A third Hendrick Motorsports driver, Alex Bowman, is tied for 12th and thus flirting with the cut line. Elliott is in 10th place after the playoff opener.
Ryan Blaney fell from second to fifth after a 22nd-place finish that was marked by brake issues.
x-Clinched berth in Round of 12.
NASCAR results from Darlington
Four of the top five finishing positions in the Cook Out Southern 500 were claimed by playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin (first), Kyle Larson (second), Martin Truex Jr. (fourth) and Kevin Harvick (fifth). Ross Chastain broke up the group with a third-place finish.
The second race of the Round of 16 is the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 11 (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TSN, MRN. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
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