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  • Josh Scott

Hamlin fends off Larson, advances in Playoff Opener at Darlington

Denny Hamlin kept a charging Kyle Larson at bay beating him by .212 seconds to win the Cook Out Southern 500, and the first NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race, at Darlington Raceway on Sunday. The win is Hamlin's first win of the 2021 season and his second at the South Carolina track. The victory is also Hamlin's 45th career win placing him 18th on NASCAR's all-time wins list, the second-highest driver without a title (behind Junior Johnson).

"Man, I love this race track," Hamlin said, who by winning Sunday night secured a spot in the next round of the Playoffs. "By far my favorite track...(Larson) was gonna have to go through me (to win)."

Ross Chastain finished third, followed by Martin Truex Jr, and Kevin Harvick. Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Chris Buescher, and Austin Dillon rounded out the top 10.

While some Playoff drivers like Hamlin and Larson started the Round of 16 well, many other drivers did not. "The Track Too Tough To Tame" lived up to its name as multiple Playoff drivers found trouble during the 500-mile event. Michael McDowell, William Byron, Kyle Busch, and even defending-champion Chase Elliott crashed out of the race and find themselves in danger of being eliminated from championship contention.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff points standings after the Cook Out Southern 500 is as follows:

The Cup Series travels to Richmond Raceway for the second race in the Round of 16. The green flag drops at 7:30 pm next Saturday on NBCSN.

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