Kyle Larson made a hard push to overtake Denny Hamlin during the final 10 laps of Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500, but Hamlin ultimately emerged with his first victory of the 2021 NASCAR season.
Larson led 156 of the 367 laps to Hamlin’s 146. Hamlin won the first stage and Larson the second.
Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. caught a break when Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 4 on Lap 318 while the two JGR drivers stayed on the track trying to stretch the cycle of pit stops. Truex beat Hamlin off pit road but was flagged for speeding, and Hamlin held the top spot the rest of the way.
Non-Playoff driver Ross Chastain finished third, followed by Truex, who recovered from the penalty and an earlier loose wheel to run fourth. Playoff drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano were fifth through eighth, respectively, but for other title hopefuls, the race brought disaster.
Two-time series champion Kyle Busch suffered an early exit and a blow to his hopes of winning a third title. Contact with the No. 3 Chevrolet of Austin Dillon sent Busch’s No. 18 Toyota rocketing into the outside wall in Turn 2, causing irreparable damage.
Busch fell out in 35th place and now faces an uphill battle to advance to the Round of 12.