Kyle Larson Wins The First NASCAR Cup Playoff Race, And His First Ever At Darlington

It looked like this was a race that had Denny Hamlin written all over it. He signed a nice extension with Joe Gibbs Racing, he started on the front row, won both Stages and he led 177 laps. I mean, you could just write this one early and go to bed, right?


As weird as this race was with a red flag for track lights that weren’t working, pit stops played a key role in the outcome of this race. Hamlin felt like he had a loose wheel and had to make an extra pit stop under green putting him a lap down. Then to make matters worse, he got wrecked when Kyle Busch hit the 38 which collected Hamlin, Michael McDowell and polesitter Christopher Bell. Hamlin and Bell were able to continue on but the night was over for McDowell.

Kevin Harvick was having a great race going when he decided to pit, but Ryan Newman spun just as he was about to enter the pit commitment line. Confusion on what to do in those critical seconds saw him pit and get sent to the tail of the longest line and he would up P19 instead of possibly winning the race.

Late in the race Alex Bowman tried to throw block after block on Daniel Suarez who appeared to be faster at that time. But it was one block too many that wrecked them both and Harrison Burton. Bad move by Bowman in sopite of his post-race rhetoric. Suarez was 100% correct that Bowman was out of line racing him like that when both were in position to finish in or near the Top 10.

Instead of Hamlin coasting to a win or Harvick gritting it out at the track that is too tough to tame, Kyle Larson got to the lead, led 55 laps and held off a very race-y Tyler Reddick for his first Darlington win and ensuring his continuation in the playoffs.

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Things of note: Playoff points make the difference

The final Top 10 held nearly all playoff contenders and sets the tone for the next two races. Even drivers that needed a good run got it and are still facing a tough row to how the next two races.

Bubba Wallace got in on points and had a Top 10 finish but due to playoff points, he sits one point below the final playoff position held by Christopher Bell.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. had his Daytona win but nothing else. His P16 finish wasn’t terrible but he is still below the cut off by 4 points.

Kevin Harvick is two back and probably has the best chance of gaining any ground.

McDowell is in the worst position, 19 back.

Christopher Bell is just barely ahead of the bottom 4 and can’t afford any more mistakes. Joey Logano is up by 3 after a dreadful Darlington run. At +13, Ross Chastain needs to stay ahead of the others to keep from being the next bubble driver. Lucky for him, he is decent at Kansas.

Next up: Kansas

Of the drivers below the playoff cut off, Bubba Wallace has a real shot to stay in contention and not make Bristol harder than it will be. He won this race in 2022 and was Top 5 in the spring race won by Denny Hamlin who finished second to Wallace in 2022.

Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano also have a Kansas win since 2020.

Larson has led the most laps by far but Hamlin leads in wins and best average finish.

Harvick should be able to bounce back from this and have a decent finish but he really needs help from Stenhouse, Wallace and Bell. If Bell, Wallace and Stenhouse all finish mid pack, that could mean Harvick could advance his position if he runs Top 10.

This race will could come down to Hamlin, Larson and Martin Truex, Jr. battle. But don’t count out William Byron on this just yet. And Ross Chastain might just be the dark horse.

That’s my take, enjoy the playoffs and keep the shiny side up.  My past articles can be found by clicking here.

(Featured Photo by Jacy Norgaard/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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