The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs got underway on Sunday night with the 72nd running of the Cook Out Southern 500. Darlington Raceway hosted the Labor Day Weekend night race, and it sure was one to remember. A wild night saw several playoff drivers have trouble and some surprising names fall below the cut line after the first race. In the end, Denny Hamlin scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win of the season, capped off by a fittingly wild finish.
NASCAR Cup Series Recap | Denny Hamlin Wins at Darlington
Cook Out Southern 500 Stage 1
Before the race could even take the green flag to begin, Alex Bowman came on the radio and said that he may have a problem with something electrical in the car. Ryan Blaney took the green a few moments later and the crown jewel race was underway. Bowman blew a tire early and hit the wall. Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron made a little contact with him and also took some damage. This happened just after Kurt Busch had gotten by Blaney for the lead. Erik Jones stayed out on the competition caution and was the only driver to do so. That strategy didn’t work at all as he fell like a rock on the restart. Kevin Harvick passed him for the lead before Turn One.
🔊 Listen to Burnt Rubber Racing on wherever you get your podcasts!
Shortly after the restart, Michael McDowell got loose out of Turn Two and hit both the inside and outside walls to end his night early. That meant that one-quarter of the NASCAR Playoffs drivers had trouble in the first 35 laps, including Chase Elliott who had some pit-road troubles. Rick Ware Racing had their meeting of the minds again as for the second week in a row, they would wreck together. Denny Hamlin won the ensuing race off of pit road and go on to win Stage 1.
Cook Out Southern 500 Stage 2
Hamlin restarted the race with the lead, but Kyle Larson timed the restart perfectly and took it away on the outside. Kyle Busch made contact with Austin Dillon, spinning himself and hitting the wall to end his day. Tyler Reddick had a little slide but was able to make a great save instead of wrecking the car. Harvick would start the first round of pit stops in the stage. Elliott missed pit road the first time around and lost several spots.
During the green-flag stops, Truex radioed in that he had a loose wheel just as a caution came out for debris. Larson would get the lead back after the pit cycle. Ross Chastain started the second round of stops in the stage. William Byron cut a tire and hit the wall hard to end his day. Same song, second verse as Larson found himself back in the lead after pit stops on his way to the stage win.
Cook Out Southern 500 Final Stage
Blaney was penalized for an uncontrolled tire in the pits and had to restart from the back. Christopher Bell had to pit early in the stage due to a loose wheel. Kurt Busch started the regular pit strategy for the final stage. While the vast majority of cars followed the No. 1 onto pit road, Hamlin, Truex, and Keselowski tried to make it a two-stop stage. Harvick had a loose wheel that forced him to pit to get a new set of tires. Chastain pitted before Larson to jump him on the track and it worked. Moments later, Blaney spun around and said he had lost his brakes.
The different pit strategies went out the window completely with the ensuing caution. Truex Jr. won the race off of pit road, but a speeding penalty forced him to the back of the field. Hamlin took over the lead. Elliott blew a tire and hit the wall ending his day and bringing out another yellow.
Larson and Chastain tried to get to Hamlin down the stretch but to no avail. Larson sent it all out on the final lap and almost got there don’t he outside, but Hamlin blocked just enough to hold him off for the win.
Final Cook Out Southern 500 Thoughts
This was a fantastic first race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The Cook Out Southern 500 had battles all over the track all night long. Drivers were stuck fighting not only each other but with their cars and good ol’ Darlington Raceway. We even got a ticked-off Kyle Busch as part of the evening’s entertainment. This race has changed the face of the playoff bracket with four new drivers below the cutoff line. With two races left in the Round of 16, a lot could still change.
The only thing scarier than the Browns’ pass rush are clowns. Get the design that shows off both today!
Available shirts in men, women and kids, along with posters and tumblers! Click here or the image above to see!