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Kyle Larson wins NASCAR playoff opener at Darlington

DARLINGTON, SC — Kyle Larson has led many laps around Darlington over the years, but not his last. He finally accomplished this Sunday with a victory in the Southern 500.

Larson, the 2021 Cup Series champion, entered this event after leading for 715 career laps on the “Too Tough To Tame” track without crossing the checkered flag.

“It’s a track that I really enjoy and suits my style,” Larson said. “I just hadn’t won yet. It was good to do it today.”

Especially because that puts his No. 5 Chevrolet in the second round of the NASCAR playoffs, regardless of where he finishes in the two remaining first-round races at Kansas and Bristol over the next two weeks.

Larson led the final 55 laps to earn his first career win at Darlington.

“Adding this trophy to the collection is incredible,” Larson continued. “It’s one of the three or four crown jewels.”

Larson didn’t have the fastest car at the Southern 500, just a car that took the lead at the right time as the other contenders fell.

Denny Hamlin led a race record 177 over 367 laps and appeared to be heading for victory before he felt the vibrations as what he told his crew was a loose wheel and had to stop on consecutive laps.

“We controlled the race until we had problems,” said Hamlin, winner of the first two stages. “That’s just part of the problem.”

Tyler Reddick led 90 laps but lost the lead to Larson coming out of pit road. Kevin Harvick, chasing the first win of his final season, battled for the lead with less than 60 laps to go but was penalized when he couldn’t avoid entering the pits for moments after they were shut down by NASCAR after a warning.

Harvick couldn’t recover from the penalty. He said he didn’t have time to get back on track before the line of engagement.

It was a successful run on the track for Larson after several close calls. He had three and two-thirds seconds in his previous 11 Cup Series races at Darlington. In May, Larson was racing late for the lead when he was hit by Ross Chastain and finished 20th.

“It’s been one of my favorite tracks of my entire career,” Larson said. “I’ve been really, really fast here my whole career, usually in the wall.”

The victory was also the 299th all-time for Hendrick Motorsports and the 500th motorsport victory for the Hendrick engine program.

Larson won for the third time this season and won his eighth race in seven playoff appearances.

Cliff Daniels, crew chief of Larson’s No. 5 Chevrolet, said he and his driver had faced many heartaches at Darlington over the years and were happy to put an end to them.

“This track and this race have been on our calendar for a long time,” Daniels said.

The playoff drivers took the top seven spots. Reddick finished second, followed by Chris Buescher, William Byron, Chastain, Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace.

Harvick finished 19th and Hamlin 25th. The rest of the playoff field was Kyle Busch 11th, Joey Logano 12th, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 16th, Martin Truex Jr. 18th, poleman Christopher Bell 23rd and Michael McDowell 32nd.

In the points standings, Bell is 12th on the playoff grid in the second-round playoff bubble. The drivers outside the next round after this week are Wallace, Harvick, Stenhouse and McDowell.

Byron, Larson’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports and co-seed with Truex, entered with the series’ best five wins this year and was pleased with the strong placing.

“I think it’s a good stepping stone for Kansas and a good way to get a strong first run in the playoffs,” he said.

Ryan Preece, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver who suffered a chilling crash at Daytona last week but escaped largely unscathed, finished 28th at Darlington for his Cup return.


Darlington fans, drivers and staff said goodbye to track president Kerry Tharp, who announced his retirement after nearly two decades with NASCAR earlier this summer. Signs celebrating Tharp’s eight-year tenure as head of Darlington were both inside and outside the facility. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster awarded Tharp the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor state governors can bestow.


NASCAR halted the race for seven minutes when some lights at Turns 3 and 4 failed to come on as the event transitioned from day to night. A warning was issued when teams noticed the lights were out, and NASCAR attempted to cautiously address the issue. Fans in the sold-out venue cheered as the lights came on and the cars quickly drove off. The problem was a transfer switch that was not receiving enough voltage to trip. The problem did not show up during the track lighting test prior to the race weekend.


The second of three races in the first round of the NASCAR playoffs will take place at Kansas Speedway on September 10. Wallace won this event a year ago, while Hamlin won there in May.


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