Denny Hamlin Holds Off Kyle Larson At Darlington For Cup Series Playoff Victory

Denny Hamlin celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Sunday (Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Holding off regular-season champion Kyle Larson throughout a thrilling final green-flag run in Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Denny Hamlin is winless in 2021 no more. 

Hamlin maintained control of his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota as Larson buried his No. 5 Chevrolet into Turns 3 and 4 on the final lap. Larson gave Hamlin a tap, but Hamlin blocked the top lane and got to the finish line .212 seconds ahead of the runner-up.

“He drove it in past the limit of the car and tires,” Hamlin said of Larson’s banzai charge. “I knew he was coming. I was a little conservative on that last lap because I had that four-car-length lead.” 

The victory was Hamlin’s first of the year after a winless 26-race regular season. He won for the fourth time at Darlington and for the 45th time in his career to earn an automatic berth into the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

“Yeah, it was a matter of time,” Hamlin said of the long-awaited win. “We can’t just keep leading inside 10 laps to go every week and not get a win.” 

Hamlin kept Larson at bay over the final two restarts but couldn’t pull away to a comfortable lead.

“We got to the white (flag), and I was like, ‘Well, I haven’t been able to gain on him now, I’m going to try something,’” Larson said of the desperation try he labeled a “video-game move.” “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.”

Larson led 156 of the 367 laps to Hamlin’s 146. Hamlin won the first stage and Larson the second.

Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. caught a break when Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 4 on Lap 318 while the two JGR drivers stayed on the track trying to stretch the cycle of pit stops. Truex beat Hamlin off pit road but was flagged for speeding, and Hamlin held the top spot the rest of the way.

Non-Playoff driver Ross Chastain finished third, followed by Truex, who recovered from the penalty and an earlier loose wheel to run fourth. Playoff drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were fifth through eighth, respectively, but for other title hopefuls, the race brought disaster.

Two-time series champion Kyle Busch suffered an early exit and a blow to his hopes of winning a third title. Contact with the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon sent Busch’s No. 18 Toyota rocketing into the outside wall in Turn 2, causing irreparable damage.

Busch fell out in 35th place and now faces an uphill battle to advance to the Round of 12.

“It wasn’t the 3’s (Dillon’s) fault,” Busch said. “Just take our lumps, you know. We were running like (crap), and that’s what you get when you run like (crap). Shouldn’t be there.” 

Three-fourths of the Hendrick Motorsports armada took a major hit as well. Alex Bowman scraped the wall on Lap 14 and stayed on the track, hoping to make it to the competition caution on lap 25. But a tire rub proved disastrous, sending Bowman’s Chevy into the Turn 4 wall, and damage the No. 24 Camaro of teammate William Byron in the process.

Bowman was able to continue and finished 26th, but Byron wasn’t as fortunate. After recovering to run in the top 10, Byron cut a left front tire on Lap 200, crashed hard into the Turn 1 wall and exited the race with a 34th-place finish. 

“That was a big hit,” Byron acknowledged. “It looked like on that (previous) pit stop, it looked like we dropped the jack and the left front was still finishing up. I took off and everything felt OK. I went to pass the No. 00 (Quin Houff) or somebody down the frontstretch and was just about to turn into (Turn) 1 and the left front went down. 

“There was nothing we could do. The guys did an awesome job to fix it. We were running like top-12, I think, even with all the (earlier) right rear damage, and it’s just terrible. I don’t know, man. That sucks.” 

Reigning series champion Chase Elliott fell out in 31st place after slamming the outside wall on Lap 327 in a three-wide melee in Turn 1 with Bubba Wallace and Christopher Bell. 

An early wreck put a dagger to Michael McDowell’s slim championship chances. On Lap 31, McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford broke loose behind Erik Jones’ Chevrolet in Turn 2, smacked the outside wall and careened nose-first into the inside SAFER barrier.

McDowell exited the race, his car destroyed and his title hopes hanging by a thread.

“The 43 (Jones) kind of got everybody jammed up,” McDowell said after exiting the infield care center. “I think he started on the front there without tires, which is a tough spot to be in, and I just went three-wide underneath him and just got into the patch (of new asphalt in Turn 2) with my left sides just a little bit low.  

“I got loose enough into the wall and that was about it. I’ll have to see the replay, but just heartbreaking for everybody on this Front Row team. We had high hopes coming into the Playoffs and this is not how we wanted to start it.”

Bowman, Busch, Byron and McDowell fell below the current cut line for the Round of 12. Elliott leaves Darlington 10th in the Playoff standings.


NASCAR Cup Series Race – 72nd Annual Cook Out Southern 500

Darlington Raceway

Darlington, South Carolina

Sunday, September 5, 2021

  1. (2)  Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 367.

  2. (6)  Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 367.

  3. (23)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 367.

  4. (10)  Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 367.

  5. (9)  Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 367.

  6. (3)  Kurt Busch (P), Chevrolet, 367.

  7. (16)  Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 367.

  8. (11)  Joey Logano (P), Ford, 367.

  9. (34)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 367.

  10. (21)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.

  11. (31)  Cole Custer, Ford, 367.

  12. (18)  Ryan Preece, Chevrolet, 367.

  13. (26)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 367.

  14. (19)  Ryan Newman, Ford, 367.

  15. (25)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 367.

  16. (8)  Aric Almirola (P), Ford, 366.

  17. (29)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 366.

  18. (7)  Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 366.

  19. (24)  Chase Briscoe #, Ford, 366.

  20. (13)  Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 366.

  21. (17)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 366.

  22. (1)  Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 366.

  23. (30)  Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, 365.

  24. (32)  Anthony Alfredo #, Ford, 364.

  25. (20)  Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 364.

  26. (5)  Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, 363.

  27. (27)  BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 359.

  28. (28)  Josh Bilicki, Ford, 359.

  29. (35)  Joey Gase(i), Chevrolet, 357.

  30. (37)  Quin Houff, Chevrolet, 355.

  31. (4)  Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 327.

  32. (22)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, Engine, 264.

  33. (33)  Cody Ware(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 209.

  34. (14)  William Byron (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 199.

  35. (12)  Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Accident, 125.

  36. (36)  James Davison, Chevrolet, Accident, 50.

  37. (15)  Michael McDowell (P), Ford, Accident, 30.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  121.279 mph.

Time of Race:  4 Hrs, 8 Mins, 1 Secs. Margin of Victory:  .212 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  11 for 52 laps.

Lead Changes:  18 among 10 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   R. Blaney (P) 1-14;K. Busch (P) 15-27;E. Jones 28-29;K. Harvick (P) 30-49;J. Gase(i) 50;D. Hamlin (P) 51-80;R. Blaney (P) 81-83;D. Hamlin (P) 84-121;K. Larson (P) 122-158;C. Bell (P) 159-165;K. Larson (P) 166-196;C. Bell (P) 197-199;K. Larson (P) 200-232;R. Chastain 233;K. Larson (P) 234-269;D. Hamlin (P) 270-278;M. Truex Jr. (P) 279;K. Larson (P) 280-298;D. Hamlin (P) 299-367.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Kyle Larson (P) 5 times for 156 laps; Denny Hamlin (P) 4 times for 146 laps; Kevin Harvick (P) 1 time for 20 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 2 times for 17 laps; Kurt Busch (P) 1 time for 13 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 2 times for 10 laps; Erik Jones 1 time for 2 laps; Ross Chastain 1 time for 1 lap; Joey Gase(i) 1 time for 1 lap; Martin Truex Jr. (P) 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,5,1,12,4,19,8,10,42,22

Stage #2 Top Ten: 5,20,42,11,4,1,22,9,12,7


  1. There’s only one job now for Preece and that’s to make an impression with the few remaining races he has left this season. Not an easy task for a team looking at layoff notices but he rang the bell with a sterling 12th at a track hey have not had much success at that should make even the most jaded Preece fan perk up.
    Please Mr. Preece do not come back up here for any races. Stay down south, press the flesh so to speak in a Covid19 safe manner, kiss some ass, sell some products and make impressions.
    It’s seems so clear to me. How does a guy on a team going out of business come in 12th and not deserve some kind of consideration for a position in Cup, Xfinity, trucks or something that provides a steady pay check.

  2. Great run for Preece, Don’t forget Doug, that The REST OF THE TEAM is also Auditioning for a JOB a place to land, The Crew Chief, Head Mechanic, Tire Changers, Jack man, Gas Man, all of them are trying to show what they can offer to other Teams……. Hopefully He will land on His Feet somewhere…. Good News will come….He adds Value to other Series as well as Being a Proven WINNER in Xfinity and Trucks… His attitude and hard work will be rewarded like Almindinger has showed how to rebuild His Career…

  3. It would be best to go from 8th to 4th not 8th to 12th

  4. Crickets Gil……..

  5. Turn One Fan says

    The whole “playoff thing” and stage racing is way too complicated and just plain stupid. If it weren’t for Preece in a cup ride, I would have zero interest in watching any cup race. The whole racing experience for a fan is soooo much better at Stafford!

  6. Well put jake.
    One of the differences that made it for him this week, is he did not get killed on pit road. Much better stops. 2 were at 13.7 seconds for 4 tire changes, 2/10 quicker than stenthouse.
    So no, not top tier stops, but better than the 14, 15 second stops that have plagued him all year long.
    As for the 8th to 12, remember, he only went up to that 8th position for a couple of laps from 10th, as cars ahead of him started the pit sequence. Then he pitted.
    He may have finished lower as well, if Elliot, Byron, bush, and bowman hadn’t crashed out. (For the pessimistic) However, that’s racing. I’ll take that 12th as a great run by a guy that guts it out everyone he hits the track. Excellent job in less than top of the line stuff. He sure is doing all he can do. Looks like where it goes after this year, is anybody’s guess.

  7. The problem Preece faces is that there really aren’t any top tier rides open. Does he stay in cup and run outside the top 20 , or maybe some top tier Xfinity or truck ride may come along, otherwise how long can you run in the 20’s just to stay in the big 3. Or do you come back to modified and run as many big money races as you can knowing your a threat to win whenever and wherever you show up. You probably could make a comfortable living racing mods full time.

  8. The amazing thing is that JTG chose “wrecky spinhout over Preece, that guy runs out of talent just about every week, usually ruining someone else’s day.

  9. Crickets, you want to talk about crickets. COREY LAJOIE. I think my comments section must be broken, I haven’t a peep about him. Young man and that team are on an uptick. Keep up the hard work

  10. I must have been watching a different race. In stage 2, Jr, Jarrett and Petty talked about, and showed lajoi’s car for about 2+ minutes while he was in 10th. Rick Allen also called him out at the end of the race. How big the strides have been, ect….. They did talk about preece who was at that time, in 12th, for about 15 seconds, as having a great run and being a free agent.
    Who knows why it went the way it did, stenthouse over preece? The first negative I’ve heard all season was preece, in his race day free agent article, state something to the effect, that jtg does not have the tools to be top. Can’t read too much into that, as he usually takes the high road. And while not an out and out negative comment, I was mildly surprised. So who knows why this went the way it did? Only Mr Preece I’m guessing. Add in that the very popular Matty D is looking for a ride as well, and maybe Newman if he dont hang it up, well, tough business for sure.

  11. Allot of talented drivers out of rides. New talent being groomed starting at a young age, and an average of only 38 cars per race. Nowadays if you under perform, your out. Add to this a new car coming next year and things could get interesting, and we may see new names at the top. These veteran superstar drivers may be in for a big surprise, or even sitting on the sidelines.

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