Kyle Larson led the final 55 laps of Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 to score his first Darlington Raceway win in the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Larson locks his place into the Round of 12 with the victory, advancing from the first round of the postseason. The Hendrick Motorsports driver bested Tyler Reddick by 0.447 seconds with Chris Buescher third, William Byron fourth and Ross Chastain fifth.
Bubba Wallace recovered to finish seventh after a spin at Lap 115 as Stage 1 came to a close, with his No. 23 Toyota bouncing off Joey Logano and sliding sideways off Turn 4. Brad Keselowski was sixth ahead of Wallace, with Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and defending Southern 500 winner Erik Jones concluding the top 10.
Denny Hamlin dominated the majority of the race with 177 laps led of the evening, his most since leading 203 laps at Martinsville last fall. But Hamlin pulled his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota back to pit road for an extra pit stop at Lap 274 because he believed one of his wheels was loose. The team changed all four tires once again before sending the car back on track, where he returned 30th, one lap down.
Todd Gilliland collided with Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon at Lap 331, spinning across the frontstretch. Attempting to avoid the melee, Hamlin dove low and spun back toward the outside wall, getting hit from behind by fellow playoff contender Michael McDowell. Polesitter Christopher Bell, who battled a bent lower control arm after earlier wall contact, was also involved in the crash. Bell finished 23rd with Hamlin 25th both one lap down and McDowell 32nd, the lone playoff driver who failed to finish Sunday’s race.
Kevin Harvick finished 19th after a potential top-five run went awry at Lap 310. As the 2014 Cup champion came to pit road from the second place, race leader Tyler Reddick checked up to attempt to pit late. Ryan Newman was just behind Reddick and spun to avoid him, bringing out the caution flag. That closed pit road just before Harvick’s No. 4 Ford hit the pit-entry line, and the team incurred a penalty to restart at the tail of the field because it serviced the Stewart-Haas Racing entry under a closed pit road.
The race was red-flagged at Lap 188 during the race’s second caution period because lights on the inside of the race track in Turns 3 and 4 had not illuminated as the sun set.
The second race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is set for Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Sept. 10 (3 p.m. ET, USA, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App).
This story will be updated.