CONCORD, N.C. -- The Southern 500 kicked off the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with a bang Sunday night after Kyle Larson almost took over the lead spot in the final lap of the race after an aggressive charge at Darlington Raceway. Larson didn’t want to risk an accident and placed second after the intense finish, which pushed him to second in the playoff standings behind winner Denny Hamlin.
“We got to the white, and I was like, ‘Well, I haven't been able to gain on him now, I'm going to try something,’” Larson explained of his last-lap strategy. “Honestly, (I) got to his bumper too quick. I was hoping he was going to run that diamond to kind of be safe and I could skirt to his outside, but I gave everything I had.
“I didn't want to wreck him, I just wanted to try to get to his outside there, but he did a great job not really making any mistakes during the last run, and I was having to push really hard in second to try and just stay with him.”
Like many Cup Series races, outside circumstances can play a huge factor in how drivers finish an event. With Darlington being a tighter track at just 1.366 miles, Larson was hoping Hamlin would have to deal with the same lap traffic he did, which would give him a shot to slide around into first place.
“In traffic I just got stuck really bad, and then there at the end losing control of the race really hurt us,” Larson said. “All-in-all, a great day; good points day. Pit crew did great. (Crew chief) Cliff (Daniels) made some good changes in the car.”
Despite the track “Too Tough to Tame” living up to its name, Larson has had impressive runs at Darlington in 2021. He notched a runner-up finish at the track in May, as well, which adds to his total of six second-place finishes so far this year.
Even though he’s now second in the standings behind Hamlin, Larson has a massive playoff point buffer from his runner-up result with 80 markers. Martin Truex Jr. is in third place with 36 playoff points.
“It's good to get a good start,” Larson said. “I think everybody's nervous getting ready for the final 10 and just the anticipation of how it's going to go. So good to get a good first week in and build some momentum and some confidence within the team, so hopefully go to Richmond (and) be a little bit better than we were earlier in the year."