The playoffs began. Fans returned to Darlington Raceway. The restart for NASCAR has come full-circle since the first race back in May. One constant aspect of this restart has been the dominance of Kevin Harvick, who held off Austin Dillon to pick up his eighth race win of the season.
Ryan Blaney had to drop to the rear at the start of the race due to failing pre-race inspections, as well as Dillon. Team Hendrick jumped out to the early advantage as Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman led the field. Martin Truex Jr. jumped ahead of Bowman 21 laps in for second place. Elliott led to the competition caution.
Jimmie Johnson, a non-playoff driver, was soaring through the field, moving up to fifth 61 laps in. Elliott regained the lead after everyone made their green flag pit stops.
With 34 laps to go in stage one, Brad Keselowski crashed his right side into the wall, bringing out the caution. Drivers came down pit road once again and took tires. Kurt Busch, however, stayed out and restarted beside Truex. Truex jumped out to the lead on the restart. Johnson continued his surge as on lap 100, he passed Hamlin for third place. Five laps later, he passed Elliott for second place. Truex would hold on, picking up the stage win while Busch finished fifth in the stage.
Stage two started with a flat tire for Blaney, who had to immediately pit after the restart. Truex restarted with the lead over Elliott. Harvick pitted with 73 laps left in stage two. During green flag pit stops, Kurt Busch was the last one to pit, cycling out to fifth. Harvick held the lead after everyone pitted.
65 laps into stage one, Bubba Wallace spun out to bring out the caution. Everyone pitted and Truex regained the lead over Harvick on the race off pit road. Truex won stage one with Dillon finishing eighth.
Hamlin beat Truex on the race off pit road while Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch moved into fifth place. Hamlin held the lead in the final stage until John Hunter Nemechek suffered a tire puncture, bringing out another caution. Truex won the race off pit road over Hamlin and Busch, who were second and third respectively.
JGR decided to stay out as most other playoff drivers pitted with about 80 laps left in the race. Clint Bowyer had to pit with 65 laps left due to a tire issue. Truex and Busch pitted while Hamlin missed pit road. He had to pit a lap later.
Harvick took the lead on a two-stop strategy. Elliott took the lead from Harvick with 55 laps to go. A lap later, debris from Keselowski’s car brought out the caution, a huge break for Elliott and Harvick. Elliott won the race off pit road.
With 13 laps to go, Truex and Elliott were battling for the lead when Truex failed to clear Elliott entering turn one, causing both to slam into the wall and suffer damage.
Harvick took the lead with Dillon close behind. Despite Dillon closing in on Harvick on the final lap, Harvick would win the Southern 500.
Dillon finished second, his third top-five finish of the season. Joey Logano finished third, Erik Jones finished fourth, and William Byron rounded out the top-five.
Elliott and Truex finished 20th and 22nd respectively.
The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Richmond for the second of three races in the round of 16 this upcoming Saturday.
Updated playoff standings: