Darlington NASCAR: Hamlin beats Larson for dramatic playoff win

Denny Hamlin picked a perfect time to earn his first win of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Hamlin fought off a wild charge from Kyle Larson in Turns 3 and 4 and hung on to win Sunday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington - his first win of the year, which automatically advances him into the Round of 12 in the NASCAR playoff regardless of where he finishes in the next two races at Richmond and Bristol.

Hamlin led the final 69 laps, but it was the last one where he came closest to losing out on the win. As the two entered Turn 3 on the last of 367 laps, Larson sent his #5 Chevrolet deep into the corner and into the wall.

Larson still managed to get to Hamlin’s rear bumper exiting Turn 4 but lost momentum as the two raced to the chequered flag, where Hamlin won by 0.212 seconds.

“Southern 500, it’s a big win. Yeah, I love this race track. It’s by far my favorite race track,” said Hamlin, who now has four Cup wins at the track, including three Southern 500 victories. “It’s just great.

“He [Larson] drove it in past the limit of the cars and the tyres. 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 he 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 race tracks, and luckily the caution came when it did and the strategy worked out great for the team, but man, I’m really happy.”

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro HendrickCars.com

Photo by: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Asked about the significance of the win, Hamlin said, “It was a matter of time. We can’t just keep leading inside 10 laps to go every week and not get a win.

“Yesterday was some unique circumstances but, man, I tell you what, I couldn’t be happier for this win and now to move to the Round of 12.”

Ross Chastain finished third for Chip Ganassi Racing as Martin Truex Jr rebounded from a late-race speeding penalty to end up fourth for Joe Hibbs Racing and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five in his Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

Kurt Busch took sixth ahead of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, as Chris Buescher and Austin Dillon completed the top 10.

But it was a race to forget for Chase Elliott as he slammed the Turn 1 wall on Lap 327, doing considerable damage to his #9 Chevrolet which forced his race to an early end.

Race results - 367 laps

Cla # Driver Manufacturer Time Gap
1 11 United States Denny Hamlin Toyota 4:08'01.132  
2 5 United States Kyle Larson Chevrolet 4:08'01.344 0.212
3 42 United States Ross Chastain Chevrolet 4:08'03.080 1.948
4 19 United States Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 4:08'03.359 2.227
5 4 United States Kevin Harvick Ford 4:08'13.599 12.467
6 1 United States Kurt Busch Chevrolet 4:08'14.137 13.005
7 2 United States Brad Keselowski Ford 4:08'14.169 13.037
8 22 United States Joey Logano Ford 4:08'17.004 15.872
9 17 United States Chris Buescher Ford 4:08'17.303 16.171
10 3 United States Austin Dillon Chevrolet 4:08'17.803 16.671
11 41 United States Cole Custer Ford 4:08'18.475 17.343
12 37 United States Ryan Preece Chevrolet 4:08'18.934 17.802
13 99 Mexico Daniel Suarez Chevrolet 4:08'18.997 17.865
14 6 United States Ryan Newman Ford 4:08'20.669 19.537
15 7 United States Corey Lajoie Chevrolet 4:08'26.151 25.019
16 10 United States Aric Almirola Ford 4:08'20.067 1 Lap
17 47 United States Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Chevrolet 4:08'25.930 1 Lap
18 8 United States Tyler Reddick Chevrolet 4:08'27.428 1 Lap
19 14 United States Chase Briscoe Ford 4:08'27.600 1 Lap
20 20 United States Christopher Bell Toyota 4:08'28.144 1 Lap
21 23 United States Bubba Wallace Toyota 4:08'30.255 1 Lap
22 12 United States Ryan Blaney Ford 4:08'30.613 1 Lap
23 21 United States Matt DiBenedetto Ford 4:08'32.341 2 Laps
24 38 Anthony Alfredo Ford 4:08'28.915 3 Laps
25 77 United States Justin Haley Chevrolet 4:08'33.103 3 Laps
26 48 United States Alex Bowman Chevrolet 4:08'28.828 4 Laps
27 78 United States B.J. McLeod Ford 4:08'24.670 8 Laps
28 52 United States Josh Bilicki Ford 4:08'32.681 8 Laps
29 15 United States Joey Gase Chevrolet 4:08'06.054 10 Laps
30 00 United States Quin Houff Chevrolet 4:08'15.590 12 Laps
31 9 United States Chase Elliott Chevrolet 3:47'04.415 40 Laps
32 43 United States Erik Jones Chevrolet 3:07'40.171 103 Laps
33 51 United States Cody Ware Chevrolet 2:32'18.650 158 Laps
34 24 United States William Byron Chevrolet 2:17'20.614 168 Laps
35 18 United States Kyle Busch Toyota 1:29'07.877 242 Laps
36 53 Australia James Davison Chevrolet 43'20.957 317 Laps
37 34 United States Michael McDowell Ford 22'13.515 337 Laps
 

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