By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Just send it.
Heading into the final set of turns in Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington, Kyle Larson had one chance to try and surpass Denny Hamlin for the win and in true Larson fashion, he gave maximum effort.
Larson launched his car around the outside lane of Turns 3 and 4, bouncing off the wall a few times, but still managed to gain ground on Hamlin, eventually finding himself on Hamlin’s back bumper as they came down the home stretch to the checkered flag.
Despite the video-game style move on Larson’s part, Hamlin would not be deterred as he crossed the line just ahead of Larson, who brought his battered Chevrolet across the line in second-place for another runner-up finish at the Lady in Black.
“We got to the white and I was like ‘Well, I haven’t been able to gain on him. I’m going to try something,’” Larson said. “I 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. Gave it everything I had. I didn’t want to wreck him, but I wanted to get to his outside.
“He did a great job, not really making any mistakes there the last run. I was having to push really hard in second to try and stay with him. I was hoping we’d catch some sort of traffic, but we never did.”
Hamlin replayed the last lap from his point of view during his victory celebration, saying he expected Larson to try something, but not quite what we saw happen between the two.
“He (Kyle Larson) drove it in past the limit of the car and the tires,” Hamlin explained. “I knew he was coming. I was a little bit conservative on that last lap because I had that four-car-length lead. I didn’t think it was going go that deep, but yeah, still a great race. It’s been back and forth with me and him most of the year.”
After starting the night in sixth-place, Larson finished the first stage in second-place and moved up to the top spot as he took the win in the second stage. He would lead five times for 156 laps on the night, eventually giving up the lead for good to Hamlin with 69 laps remaining. Two restarts on laps 326 and 332 gave Larson another shot at Hamlin, but ultimately it wasn’t enough for the win.
“My Hendrickcars.com Chevrolet was really good out front,” Larson said. “Just in traffic, I would get stuck. In lapped traffic, I just got stuck really bad, and there at the end losing control of the race really hurt us. All in all, a great day. Good points day. Pit crew did great. Cliff made some good changes on the car. We’ll try again next week.”
The No. 5 team now heads on to the second race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Richmond next weekend with a 60-point advantage over the cut-off line. Larson has one win at the three-quarter mile oval back in 2017 and in the most recent race at the track back in April, finished 18th.