30 Second Read: Denny Hamlin is a winner again at the Cook Out Southern 500

                        (Denny Hamlin celebrates with a burnout after winning the Southern 500)      https://twitter.com/NASCARonNBC/status/1434730938529951744?s=20

Denny Hamlin, after coming up short all season finally earned his first win of the season at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. This marked his fourth win at Darlington he is now only the fourth driver in history to win the Southern 500 for a third time.

With it being the first race of the 10 race playoffs, all 16 playoff drivers started in the top 16 starting positions with Ryan Blaney on the pole and Hamlin in second. Darlington, which is well known for being the track that's ''too tough to tame'', really lived up to it's name. Playoff contender Alex Bowman brings out the first caution of the night with a tire issue sending him into the wall on lap 17. Kurt Busch passes Blaney for the lead as Bowman brings out the caution. Although pit road was open, only takers this first time around are Bowman and William Byron. Busch brings everyone to the restart, the scheduled competition caution comes out at lap 26 and the entire field will come down for service.

Kevin Harvick wins the race off pit road for the competition caution, but Erik Jones chooses to stay out and take over the lead for the restart on lap 30 with Harvick on his outside. Jones drops like a rock as drivers with fresh tires pass him with ease. Caution out again on lap 32 for playoff driver Michael McDowell as he gets loose off of the newly repaved turn 2 slapping the outside wall then hitting head on to the inside wall destroying his car and ending his day early. Harvick and Kurt Busch restart on the front row coming to lap 36. One of the underdog stories of the day is Corey Lajoie who had worked his way up into the top 10 during stage 1 but caution will come out for the Rick Ware Racing cars of James Davidson and Cody Ware on lap 48.

Restart lap 54 with Hamlin and Blaney leading the field to green, the rest of the stage would stay green from here on out as we start our first set of green flag pit stops on lap 81. As pit stops cycle through, Hamlin will resume the lead with 20 laps to go in the stage. Denny Hamlin stretches his lead out to over 2.5 seconds to seal the deal for the stage one win.

Hamlin will win the race off of pit road lining up alongside Kyle Larson for the restart and start of stage 2. Caution out for Kyle Busch on lap 123 as he comes down and makes contact with Austin Dillon sending him sideways into the wall and into the inside wall making hard contact similar to McDowell's earlier wreck. The race will restart on lap 129 with Larson and Ku. Busch in the front row. Caution for debris comes out at lap 165 in the middle of the cycle of green flag stops. The timing of this caution would prove vital with strategy as current leader Christopher Bell pits from the lead allowing drivers behind him take the wave around to gain back a lap or be back on the lead lap. With a restart on lap 168 only a handful of drivers remained on the lead lap as Larson and Busch leads them to the green flag. Green flag pit stops would start on lap 196 but again be shortened on lap 200 as William Byron has a tire go down bringing out a caution. Larson and now Ross Chastain will bring the field to the restart on Lap 206, Bell passes Hamlin on the final lap of the stage to take second while Larson with a 5 second lead holds on for the stage win.

Larson and Bell will lead the field to the start of the final stage of the race with 130 laps to go in the Southern 500, unfortunately while under caution Ryan Blaney's crew could not keep a tire under control and is forced to take a penalty and restart at the tail end of the field. Bad luck continues late in the race for Blaney losing control of his car in turn one as brake issues plague the driver of the number 12 car with 49 laps to go birnging out the caution. Race restart with 42 laps to go with Larson and Hamlin pacing the field, another quick caution occurs this time for Chase Elliott on lap 327 with close contact in a three wide situation with Bell and Bubba Wallace cuts down one of his tires.

Restart at 36 laps to go with Hamlin and Larson again sharing the spot light, Chastain in a griping battle for second harnesses the power of Scottie from Star Trek and gives it all he had with the laps winding down. Larson with better long run speed is able to gain on Hamlin and distance himself from Chastain but in a last last ditch video game effort, Larson dives almost head into the back of Hamlin trying for the outside wall riding but it's not enough! Denny Hamlin holds on for the win at the Southern 500 at Darlington.

Finally getting that first win of the year with the hope of more to come looks to be the beginning of a strong playoffs for the Joe Gibbs Racing number 11 team as a championship bid for Denny Hamlin continues.

Cook Out Southern 500 top 5: 1. Denny Hamlin
2. Kyle Larson
3. Ross Chastain
4. Martin Truex Jr
5. Kevin Harvick

Cook Out Southern 500 Notables: 9. Chris Buescher
11. Cole Custer
12. Ryan Preece
13. Daniel Suarez
15. Corey Lajoie

Written By: Matt Marr