Denny Hamlin holds off hard charging Larson to win Cook Out Southern 500
By Hunter Thomas
Denny Hamlin entered the NASCAR Playoffs winless, but on Sunday night at Darlington Raceway, he outran Kyle Larson to win his third Cook Out Southern 500. Heading into the 72nd running of the prestigious race, Hamlin and Larson were two of the favorites to win, but no one could have predicted the finish that fans were treated to on Sunday. Hamlin was in control of the race in the closing laps, but on the final lap, Larson made significant ground and challenged for the lead. Separated by a few car lengths on the backstretch, Larson tried something different and drove his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet deep into Turn 3. Larson slid up into the wall and then into the back of Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Offerpad Toyota. Larson kept pushing Hamlin through the Turns 3 and 4, and when the two drivers exited, Hamlin held him off and won his first race of the season and his fourth at Darlington Raceway. Sunday wins solidifies Hamlin a spot in the Round of 12. “Yeah, he drove it in past the limit of the cars and the tires,” said Hamlin who led 146 laps during the Cook Out Southern 500. “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.” Larson won the Regular Season and entered Sunday’s race with a considerable point lead in the NASCAR Playoffs. Throughout the night, he led a race high of 156 laps. He appeared to be the driver to beat, but with 69 laps to go, Hamlin regained the lead. As the laps ticked away, Larson began to be challenged by third-place driver, Ross Chastain who wasn’t competing in the NASCAR Playoffs. Larson adjusted his line and was able to keep up with Hamlin and keep Chastain at bay. “I kind of — 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.” Chastain captured his best-ever Darlington finish on Sunday night. The driver of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 42 McDonald’s Chevrolet finished third. Prior to the race weekend, he had never finished higher than 15th at the Lady in Black, but on Sunday, he ran up front all race long, earning points in all three stages. “I can go fast,” Chastain said. “I just can’t quite race with them, and it starts with my restarts. I’ve got some work to do there, so I gave up the outside to take the bottom to be safe and then Kyle rolls around me. “Was able to make one last charge there at him at the end, but yeah, I just need to clean up a few things.” NASCAR Playoff contenders, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five. Kurt Busch finished sixth, followed by Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chris Buescher and Austin Dillon. Hamlin won Stages 1 and 3, and Larson won Stage 2. The yellow flag flew on 11 occasions for 52 laps on Sunday. Many of the NASCAR Playoff contenders had issues throughout the 367-lap race. Playoff contenders finding the wall included Alex Bowman, Michael McDowell, Kyle Busch, William Byron and Chase Elliott. Ryan Blaney also went for a spin. Leaving Darlington, Tyler Reddick who raced his way into the Playoffs at Daytona is currently the bubble driver who holds the 12th position in the standings. Bowman is tied on points. Busch is two points back, while Byron is nine points back and McDowell is 20 points back. The second race of the Round of 16 will be held at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 11. Live coverage of the Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders will broadcast live on NBCSN and MRN at 7:30 p.m. ET.