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Kyle Larson Starts Playoffs With Win at Darlington Amid Rough Night For Playoff Contenders

The driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is now officially a winner of the Southern 500 as he scored a win on a night, where many other faltered, at Darlington Raceway.

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hero image for Kyle Larson Starts Playoffs With Win at Darlington Amid Rough Night For Playoff Contenders

You always want to get started off on the right foot, right? Well, for numerous NASCAR Cup Series Playoff contenders, the chase for the championship got off to a really rough start in Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. In the end, Kyle Larson, who won the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship and is again in the Playoff hunt, took the victory.

Larson is proud to be a winner of another of NASCAR's crown jewel events -- the Southern 500.

"Honestly, I'm happy to win a crown jewel," Larson stated. "A place that we've been close to winning at. A place that we've both wanted to win at for a very long time. And then just to start the Playoffs good. I would have been happy to just get a good, good, solid race in. To win, it feels, obviously, better. And I just hope we can put multiple weeks together like we did today. Not necessarily win -- I know we'll be capable of winning every race in the Playoffs, but really I just want to put together solid races from start to finish..."

RELATED: NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 Race Results
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To put how much of a topsy-turvy night it was into perspective, Larson won after starting from the 18th position, which is the furthest back a winner at Darlington has started since Regan Smith's win from the 23rd starting spot in the 2011 Southern 500.

That's not to say Larson didn't have a good No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. In fact, Larson clawed through the field very early in the race, but it looked like he was destined to finish second through fifth, as Denny Hamlin was head and shoulders above everyone else in the field.

When Hamlin had a loose wheel late in the race, Larson saw an opportunity to pounce. Larson would gain the lead with 55 laps remaining, and he wouldn't look back as he held off Tyler Reddick, who was also very strong all race long. This triumph at Darlington is the 21st victory of Larson's NASCAR Cup Series career, and it rights the wrong from the spring, when Larson was crashed by Ross Chastain while battling for the lead late in the 400-mile race at Darlington.

"It just feels really good, honestly," Larson said of winning at Darlington. "To get a win, and to finally win at this track. Like you said, we've led lots of laps here. And to lead lots of laps here, you have to be good at a number of different races through the years. This is a track that I really enjoy, suits my style, and just hadn't won here yet. It was good to do it today."

The win also marks the 299th NASCAR Cup Series victory all-time for Hendrick Motorsports. No team has ever reached the 300-win milestone. HMS can become the first

"I think all four of us would want to be the one to do it, but really, I think 300 is just a super big number," Larson explained. "For me, I'm going to be just as happy to see William, Chase or Alex win No. 300 for Rick as I would be for myself to win.

"I think when you -- which Rick has already stamped himself in this support as the greatest car owner of all time, to reach another milestone like 300, that takes a whole time throughout decades and decades. No. 300 as a whole means more than me winning it or any individual person."

While it was a rough night for Playoff contenders, many of them rebounded from their issues, and in the end, Playoff contenders made up 10 of the top-12 finishers in the race.

While Reddick finished second, he was followed by Chris Buescher in third, William Byron put in a hard-fought effort to finish fourth, and Ross Chastain came home in fifth.

Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Erik Jones rounded out the top-10 finishers in the race.

For Wallace, who finished seventh, he rebounded from a sluggish pit stop, where the air hose got caught on his car, and a spin at the end of Stage 1, while battling Joey Logano. For a driver that many questioned how mentally tough he was coming into the race weekend, Wallace definitely was up to the challenge Sunday at the track too tough to tame.

Kyle Busch (11th), Joey Logano (12th), and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16th) also made solid recoveries on the night.

Busch slapped the wall hard on several occasions, and he was front and center in a multi-car crash on Lap 331 of the race. However, the driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet stayed determined and came back to score an 11th-place finish.

Logano, likewise had issues, as he suffered from his toe being knocked out on the No. 22 Team Penske Ford Mustang in his incident with Wallace at the end of Stage 1. But the defending series champion rallied to finish in 12th.

Stenhouse was busted for speeding early in the event, which led to him losing a lap after serving his penalty. Stenhouse would remain a Lap down for a long portion of the race, but would finally get the free pass on Lap 216.

Somehow, Stenhouse would go from a lap down, to scoring Stage Point in a strange few minute swing of fortunes to end Stage 2. But then, as the final Stage began, Stenhouse was again mired in the back due to strategy. While in the back, Stenhouse would again lose the lead lap, only to gain the free pass again on Lap 310. Stenhouse would parlay the second free pass into a solid 16th-place finish.

While many of the Playoff contenders rebounded from their misfortunes, several -- like Denny Hamlin -- did not.

Hamlin led a race-high 177 laps, but a loose wheel on a pit stop at Lap 151 spoiled a great run.

"Yeah, I mean, it's part of it," Hamlin said of the loose wheel, which derailed his night. "Everyone's all-in on it, and trying to do the best they can. And just one little thing, obviously, can take you out. It obviously turned our day. But what a great car. Controlled the race."

Hamlin would attempt to rally his way back, but the rally would run out of steam as he was involved in the multi-car crash with fellow Playoff contenders Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, and Christopher Bell, as well as Austin Dillon, and Todd Gilliland on Lap 331.

After the first race of the Round of 16, Hamlin sits fifth in the championship standings, and he sits 20 points above the Playoff cutline. Hamlin says the points were the last thing on his mind, he just feels bummed to miss out on a win in the Southern 500.

"I don't know where the points are, I really don't care. I just hate losing a race that, you know, definitely should have won," Hamlin stated with dejection.

After Hamlin was eliminated from contention for the race win, Kevin Harvick elevated himself into a position to score his first win of the season. However, as the Stewart-Haas Racing driver was heading toward pit road, Ryan Newman went for a spin after an incident with the then-leader of the race Tyler Reddick.

Harvick would enter a closed pit road and would be penalized by being sent to the tail end of the field. Harvick would only recover to finish 19th.

The NASCAR Cup Series will now head to Kansas Speedway for the second, of three, races in the Round of 16. That race is scheduled for Sunday, September 10th at 3:00 PM ET. That race will be carried live on television by USA Network. The Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will provide the radio broadcast of the event.

Photo Credit: Tyson Gifford, Racing America

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