Toyota drivers dominated Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, leading 307 of the 367 laps; however, they couldn’t close the deal due to various issues.
Tyler Reddick, who led four times for 90 laps, was the lone Toyota driver carrying that manufacturer’s torch in the top five that was dominated by Chevrolets. Reddick claimed second, finishing 0.447-second behind winner Kyle Larson. Chevrolet drivers William Byron and Ross Chastain recorded fourth- and fifth-place finishes, respectively, while Ford driver Chris Buescher claimed third.
“Kyle (Larson) and I were pretty close the majority of the day,” Reddick says. “He just got ahead of us there, unfortunately, on pit road, but all-in-all this is the day that we needed to have.”
In the race’s latter stages, Reddick said he wanted to keep pushing to try and catch Larson, but he was getting too loose.
“I about wrecked in the middle of (turns) one and two a few times,” Reddick says. “I was either going to catch Kyle or I was going to wreck … and finish …28th. It just didn’t make sense in my head, so we’ll take second place.”
Denny Hamlin suffered possibly the most heartbreaking night. He led three times for 177 laps and won the race’s first two stages before a loose wheel foiled his run. The incident occurred during a green-flag segment in the race’s second half. Hamlin was leading when he pitted for four tires and fuel. He then reported a loose wheel to his crew and pitted again, losing a lap, and dropping to 30th in the 36-car field.
“I felt I was gonna crash if I kept going,” Hamlin says. “I had to bring it in, and it just turned the day upside down.”
Hamlin then got collected in a multi-car frontstretch accident. In addition to Hamlin, that lap 331 incident involved Kyle Busch, Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland, and Christopher Bell. That left Hamlin with a 25th-place finish.
“I don’t know where the points are, and I really don’t care. I hate losing a race that we definitely should have won,” Hamlin says.
Before Bell’s Toyota developed a handling issue, he led three times for 40 laps.
“Just got in the marbles in turn two and damaged the car,” Bell says. “That was pretty much the story of our night.”
Martin Truex Jr., who entered the first Cup Series playoff race as the regular season champion, had to pit for a loose wheel during the third segment of green-flag stops. That left him 32nd, one lap down, in the 36-car field and he spent most of the event trying to regain the lost lap.
Truex finally received the free pass during the seventh caution period that began on lap 320. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver managed to salvage an 18th-place finish.
Pit Road Rule Bites Harvick
An ill-timed caution flag proved costly for Kevin Harvick, eliminating him as a victory contender in Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
With 60 laps remaining in the 367-lap event, Harvick trailed leader Tyler Reddick by 0.508 second. When crew chief Rodney Childers called Harvick to pit road for his green-flag stop, Reddick’s crew chief did the same. However, Reddick couldn’t make the turn onto pit road even though he slowed, which caused a close following Ryan Newman to spin. Newman’s spin on lap 310 triggered the sixth caution period.
Harvick had already committed to pit road but didn’t make it onto pit road before the red light came on, officially closing pit road. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver elected to proceed with his stop and incurred a penalty for pitting when pit road was closed. Harvick restarted at the rear of the field, but clawed his way back to a 19th-place finish.
“The caution came out and the light was on, and I didn’t think I could turn right,” Harvick says. “We’ll just go and put the gas pedal down and do the exact same thing we’ve done for 23 years.”
Blocking Move Eliminates Suarez, Bowman
A blocking maneuver involving Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman on Darlington Raceway’s frontstretch eliminated both drivers from Sunday night’s Cook Out Southern 500 as well as Harrison Burton who was an innocent victim.
The wreck occurred on lap 319 when Suarez dove low to pass Bowman. Bowman immediately threw a block on Suarez, who then moved high. Bowman moved with him and both Chevrolets slammed into the wall. Burton couldn’t avoid Suarez and slammed into the Trackhouse Racing entry.
When Suarez was asked if Bowman’s move was fair, he replied, “That depends who you ask.”
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) September 4, 2023
“I went to the inside and after that, he blocked me pretty low,” Suarez says. “I had to lift a little bit to not wreck him and put him into the inside wall. But then I went high, and he blocked me again. You can block once, but you can’t block twice like that.
“We’ve been racing here three-and-a-half hours and to wreck with 40 laps to go, it’s a little dumb.”
Bowman says every time he races Suarez, he “does something, whether it’s his crew chief flipping me off on the way to the airport or he blocks me really aggressively.”
“So that’s just part of it sometimes,” Bowman says. “Obviously, the block didn’t work out and looking back I shouldn’t have done it. I knew I needed to hang on to whatever track position I could.”
Burton said he tried to slow his Ford when he saw Suarez coming down the track, but he couldn’t.
“At that point, I was in trouble,” Burtons says. “By the time I saw him coming down, he was in my lap.”
That’s The Night The Lights Went Out In Darlington
With 50 laps remaining in the Cook Out Southern 500’s second stage, NASCAR ordered a caution due to an issue with the lights along the inside of turns three and four. They didn’t come on and a few drivers complained that they couldn’t see the outside wall.
The yellow flag first waved on lap 180 and then NASCAR stopped the race for 6 minutes 55 seconds while the lights were repaired. Overall, the second of eight caution periods consumed 12 laps.
Sub Hocevar Produces Solid Performance
When Legacy Motor Club tabbed Carson Hocevar to drive the No. 42 Chevrolet at Darlington, it marked just the second NASCAR Cup Series start for the Michigan native who’s battling for the Craftsman Truck Series championship. That fact didn’t prevent the 20-year-old driver from producing the team’s best finish since March at Atlanta when the team’s former driver Noah Gragson placed 12th.
Hocevar ran in the top 20 throughout the race before finishing 17th.
“Physically, I feel really good,” Hocevar says. “The weak part of my game was pit road. I felt like I lost four or five spots on each cycle. I think I exceeded my own expectations.”
Hamlin Oldest Driver to Win Xfinity Darlington Race Since Trickle
At age 42, Denny Hamlin became the oldest driver to win a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway since Dick Trickle accomplished the feat at age 56 in 1998. That day Trickle led the final 24 laps to defeat then point leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the race that ended under caution.
On Saturday, Hamlin defeated Xfinity Series point leader Austin Hill by less than a second. The Virginia driver led three times for 14 laps, including the final three in the 148-lap race to claim his sixth Darlington Xfinity Series victory.
When Hamlin was informed of Trickle’s age in his post-race interview, Hamlin responded, “I will not break that record.”
NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500
1. (18) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 367.
2. (3) Tyler Reddick (P), Toyota, 367.
3. (8) Chris Buescher (P), Ford, 367.
4. (23) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 367.
5. (27) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 367.
6. (5) Brad Keselowski (P), Ford, 367.
7. (19) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 367.
8. (13) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 367.
9. (4) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 367.
10. (20) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 367.
11. (11) Kyle Busch (P), Chevrolet, 367.
12. (6) Joey Logano (P), Ford, 367.
13. (16) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 367.
14. (10) Aric Almirola, Ford, 367.
15. (12) Chase Briscoe, Ford, 367.
16. (25) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (P), Chevrolet, 367.
17. (15) Carson Hocevar(i), Chevrolet, 367.
18. (31) Martin Truex Jr. (P), Toyota, 367.
19. (7) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 367.
20. (28) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 367.
21. (17) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 367.
22. (22) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 367.
23. (1) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 366.
24. (29) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 366.
25. (2) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 366.
26. (30) Todd Gilliland, Ford, 366.
27. (35) Ryan Newman, Ford, 365.
28. (34) Ryan Preece, Ford, 364.
29. (26) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 364.
30. (33) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 362.
31. (14) Austin Cindric, Ford, 361.
32. (9) Michael McDowell (P), Ford, Accident, 329.
33. (24) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, Accident, 322.
34. (21) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, Accident, 320.
35. (32) Harrison Burton, Ford, Accident, 318.
36. (36) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, Engine, 210.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 120.906 mph.
Time of Race: 4 Hrs, 8 Mins, 47 Secs. Margin of Victory: .447 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 8 for 51 laps.
Lead Changes: 13 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: C. Bell (P) 1-33;J. Yeley(i) 34;T. Reddick (P) 35-62;D. Hamlin (P) 63-67;C. Bell (P) 68-71;T. Reddick (P) 72-91;D. Hamlin (P) 92-150;T. Reddick (P) 151-153;C. Bell (P) 154-156;D. Hamlin (P) 157-269;K. Harvick (P) 270;C. LaJoie 271-273;T. Reddick (P) 274-312;K. Larson (P) 313-367.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Denny Hamlin (P) 3 times for 177 laps; Tyler Reddick (P) 4 times for 90 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 1 time for 55 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 3 times for 40 laps; Corey LaJoie 1 time for 3 laps; Kevin Harvick (P) 1 time for 1 lap; JJ Yeley(i) 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 11,45,5,4,12,6,9,20,17,10