Larson wins Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway
By Hunter Thomas
Kyle Larson finally broke through to earn his first Darlington victory after holding off Tyler Reddick to win the 74th running of the Cook Out Southern 500.
Larson had come close to winning at Darlington Raceway several times before, but he always came up just a little short. On Sunday, Larson’s pit crew won a crucial race off pit road as they got him the lead on Lap 313. The win didn’t come easy as Larson had to outrun 23XI Racing’s Reddick in the closing laps that saw three late-race cautions.
“Adding this trophy to the collection is going to be amazing, and just such a prestigious race,” Larson said. “This is one of three or four crown jewels, and I feel like besides the 500 maybe the only one I haven’t won yet. We get to hopefully go back to the Brickyard next year on the oval and would love to win that one, too.
“Just proud of this bunch again. Pit crew came in clutch there at the end to get us out in the lead. Had some things work out, staying out when that car was spinning out, too, so just kind of fell in our lap there, and we were able to take advantage of it.”
The driver of the No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet led the final 55 laps en route to earning his third win of the season and Hendrick Motorsports’ 500th victory.
“Just proud of the team, proud of Rick Hendrick, Jeff Gordon, Jeff Andrews, Chad Knaus, everybody at Hendrick Engine shop,” Larson said. “500 wins, that’s incredible, so congratulations to each and every one of you at the shop for all your hard work. Valvoline, JINYA Ramen Bar, all of Hendrick Motorsports.”
Reddick was fast all race long, finishing out Stage 1 in second and Stage 2 in third, but once again, he came up just one position short of winning at the track, Too Tough To Tame. After his boss, Denny Hamlin made an unscheduled pit stop for a potential loose wheel, Reddick inherited the lead following the pit cycle. On the following pit stop though, he lost the race off pit road to Larson, and he just didn’t have the speed to overtake for the lead.
“Kyle and I were pretty close the majority of the day, honestly, and he just got ahead of us there on pit road, but all in all, this is the day that we needed to have,” Larson said. Really just thankful for the hard work from my pit crew, from the team, everyone at the shop. Days like this with a car like this, we haven’t been able to get a second-place finish out of it, so really glad we were able to do that, and it was a really good points day on top of that, as well.”
Chris Buescher nearly had his fourth win in six races, but he had to settle for a very stout third-place finish on Sunday night. The effort marked Buescher’s best-ever finish at Darlington Raceway. He had several opportunities to get out front on restarts, but he was unable to, and then he had to focus on defense as William Byron began to challenge for position the closing laps.
“We were trying,” Buescher said. “It was just we were all running the same groove trying to make speed and obviously playing other games there, too, and Byron was faster at the end and had to defend that a little bit.
“I don’t know, we tried to start on the front row, what, three times next to Larson, so we had our chance and got close when Brad pushed us one of those restarts, and just the outside had the momentum for sure, and they were really good.”
Byron and Ross Chastain rounded out the top-five. Completing the top-10 was Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones.
There were 13 lead changes among seven drivers. Hamlin dominated the race, winning Stages 1 and 2 and leading a race high of 177 laps, but he finished a disappointing 25th following the unscheduled stop for a potential loose wheel and a crash.
“It’s really tough to tell,” Hamlin said about what happened to his car. “It looked like the left rear was still tightening as we were gone. It’s close enough to where it didn’t matter. What I felt, I was in a crash. I had to bring it in and just turned the day upside down.”
The caution flew on eight occasions for 51 laps. The race was fairly clean until the final stage, when drivers began battling for their final spots.
Byron leads the NASCAR Playoffs by a mere 1 point over Larson. Reddick is third (-15), followed by Buescher (-18), Hamlin (-18), Martin Truex Jr. (-20), Kyle Busch (-25), Keselowski (-27), Ryan Blaney (-29), Chastain (-32), Joey Logano (-42), Christopher Bell (-44), Bubba Wallace (-45), Kevin Harvick (-46), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-48) and Michael McDowell (-63).
The NASCAR Playoffs continues Sunday, September 10 as the NASCAR Cup Series visits Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400. Live coverage will broadcast on USA at 3 p.m. ET.