Darlington, SC, Sunday, September 2, 2018
The 69th running of the Bojangles Southern 500 is steeped in tradition. The Labor Day celebration at Darlington Raceway is officially designated as NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend. Drivers and crews embrace the theme. Fans love the nostalgia and the media eats it up.
The racing is as hot as the weather. Teams are fighting it out for the final playoff spots. Darlington is a place that can produce a surprise winner. The Southern 500 is an endurance test for both the driver and his machine.
The 6:00 pm start provides a slight relief from the heat and humidity of the South Carolina summer. But, it’s still 500 miles, 367 laps around the track “Too Tough to Tame.”
Denny Hamlin(11), with Kyle Larson(42) tucked in behind him, took off from their starting positions on the front row. By lap 10 they had built a 1.5 second lead on third place Martin Truex Jr.(78). On lap 12 Larson made a pass for the lead. He began to stretch the advantage over Hamlin almost immediately.
Kyle Busch(18) started 5th, Kevin Harvick(4) 22nd, and Jimmie Johnson(48) was sent to the rear of the field for unapproved modifications. Johnson’s team had to work on his car after qualifying and NASCAR imposed the penalty.
By lap 25 Harvick worked his way into the top 10. But, there was no catching Larson as he continued pulling away to win the Stage. Byron, Michigan’s own Erik Jones(20) finished 2nd to Larson. Only 14 cars remained on the lead lap at the end of Stage 1.
Stage 1 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
Erik Jones was penalized for an uncontrolled tire during his pit stop and sent from 2nd place to the rear of the field for the restart.
Larson pulled away on the drop of the green flag without a challenge from 2nd place Joey Logano(22). As the pack straightened out into single file formation Truex Jr. took over 2nd. Logano ran third, Harvick 4th, and Keselowski 5th.
The first accident of the evening had Kyle Busch(18) getting into the rear of Joey Gase(23) causing Gase to spin down the front stretch on Lap 127. Everyone pitted during the caution. Truex Jr. beat Larson out of the pits to take over the lead. Harvick and Logano will follow the front row into turn one on the restart.
Truex Leads the Southern 500
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Martin Truex Jr. took the lead in the Southern 500 after the Gase caution. He led Larson off pit road. coming to the green flag, Larson’s car seemed to stumble at the start-finish line. Truex Jr. drove off into Turn 1 with the lead and Harvick moved into 2nd place.
Truex Jr. led for 30 laps. Larson recovered from his poor restart to regain the lead on Lap 160. He held the lead for the remainder of Stage 2.
Stage 2 Results
* Ford Fusion Drivers
The Final Stage
More of the same at the beginning of the Final Stage. Larson ran away from the field when the race went back to green. Other than giving up the lead to pit, Larson dominated the competition.
With 56 laps to go, Clint Bowyer tangled with Ryan Newman(31) and Jeffrey Earnhardt(96) in Turn 4. The caution brought the field to pit road for fuel and tires. The field bunched up for the restart that would likely determine the winner.
Larson led the field. Keselowski, Logano, Harvick, Elliott, Jones and Kyle Busch followed Larson to the green flag on the restart. The 7 contenders were the only cars on the lead lap.
The yellow flag waved again with 39 laps to go for debris in Turn 2. All the leaders pitted getting new tires for the sprint to the finish. Larson, Logano, Keselowski, Elliott, and Harvick were the first 5 cars back on the track.
With 24 laps to go Earnhardt spun in Turn 2 bringing out the caution again. All the leaders came to pit road for fresh tires. With tire wear such an issue at the track, fresh rubber is a huge advantage. No one dares to restart with worn tires against cars with fresh rubber.
Keselowski beat Larson off pit road. Logano, Harvick, and Jones followed. With the quick cautions and wave arounds, the lead lap cars now number 16. On the restart, Keselowski was able to outrun Larson into Turn 1. Suddenly Larson’s car appeared vulnerable. Logano passed for the 2nd position.
The two Team Penske cars finished 1st and 2nd. The first win for Penske at Darlington since 1975. Also, it was the first Cup win for Keselowski at the famed “Lady in Black.” He had just won yesterday in the Xfinity Series for the first time in his career at the track.
Larson settled for 3rd. A big disappointment for the driver of the dominant car all evening. He led 284 of the 367 laps.
While Keselowski was into the playoffs on points, getting the win and the 5 playoff points is a big confidence boost with 1 week to go in the regular season. Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman(88) are the only 2 drivers in danger of missing the playoff among the top 16 in wins and points. Johnson is 19 points ahead of Bowman.
It will take a win by someone outside the playoff cut line to eliminate Johnson or Bowman. Next week at Indy the playoff field will be determined. Playoff points earned will then be added to the totals for each of the 16 playoff qualifiers.
More “Live Coverage” next week from The Lasco Press at the legendary “Brickyard.”
Results of The Bojangle’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway
|11||78||Martin Truex Jr.||9.185||367|
|12||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||20.689||367|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||883||4|
|17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.*||518||0|
* Ford Fusion Drivers