Labor Day weekend can only mean one thing for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Throwback Weekend, meaning that almost all teams feature throwback paints schemes to honor legendary drivers, primarily from the 1980s. Everyone gets in on the act, with announcers donning attire that tips their hat to such recognizable 80s personalities as Madonna and the cast of Miami Vice, some drivers grow mustaches or wear wigs sporting 80s hairdos, and NBC broadcasting brings back the old peacock logo and channel announcements. This special event aptly takes place at Darlington Raceway which is a throwback in and of itself. The Southern 500, which was once a Sunday day race, is now the Bojangle’s Southern 500 and is held on Sunday night. Everyone loves an ‘under the lights’ race, and once again it did not disappoint.
The race started with an honorary pace car, Richard Petty‘s iconic 1967 No. 43 Plymouth Belvedere, driven by Petty himself. He had so much fun during the pace laps that he forgot to pull off the track to allow the field to take the green flag. This resulted in NASCAR black flagging Petty, which was rather humorous. After completing one more lap, during which announcers discussed the oddity of black flagging The King, he pulled down pit road and the Southern 500 was underway.
Only 18 laps into the 367-lap event, the #6 of Trevor Bayne blew a tire and hit the wall. The #47 of AJ Allmendinger was clearing the #6 on the inside just as Bayne bounced off the wall and slid down the track into Allmendinger. This sent the #47 spinning down the front straightaway and brought out the first of 8 cautions flags that flew throughout the night.
While making his way to pit road under the yellow caution, Clint Bowyer‘s engine stalled and he could not get it to refire. His #14 Ford had to be pushed into the garages where his night ended especially early. This incident seemed to trigger more of the same with other Ford cars, including Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano who experienced similar issues throughout the race.
Lap 40 saw another caution when the #17 of Ricky Stenhouse Jr got loose coming off Turn 4. Stenhouse over-corrected the steering and ended up hitting the SAFER barrier head on. While pole-sitter Kevin Harvick was strong in the first half of the race, he was no match for Kyle Larson or Martin Truex Jr., the latter of whom swept in at the last second to capture the Stage Win.
Stage 2 saw more cautions for single car spins when that infamous and pesky Darlington wall got in the way. On Lap 123, rookie driver Daniel Suarez slammed that wall hard and popped a tire. His #19 Toyota Camry was on fire when he brought it to the pits and his race ended there. On Lap 155 AJ Allmendinger spun and collected Matt Dibenedetto. On Lap 196, with just 3 laps remaining in the stage, Grey Gaulding blew a tire and spun in Turn 3. The Stage ended under caution as the Pace Car helped the field complete the final laps. Once again, Martin Truex Jr was in the lead at the time of the accident and got the Stage Win. This was his 17th stage win of the season and with it, he clenched his spot as the Regular Season Winner.
Stage 3, the longest of the race at 167 laps, surprisingly held only had 2 cautions – the first on Lap 207 for David Ragan spinning on the backstretch and another on Lap 261 for debris. The #11 Sports Clips Toyota of Denny Hamlin had gotten the lead a few times throughout the night and proved to be one of the strongest cars in the field. However, with 52 laps to go, Hamlin attempted to come to pit road but could not slow down in time and missed the entrance. It appeared that his shot at the win was over, especially as the time-costly error caused him to go a lap down. When he came to pit road on the next lap, his Toyota took on four fresh tires which gave him an advantage over the competition. Hamlin was able to un-lap himself and chase down Martin Truex Jr, who was on 50+ lap tires.
Within the final 10 laps, Hamlin was able to close the 6-second gap between him and Truex. When Truex faltered by scraping the wall and then blowing a tire, Hamlin was right on his tail and capitalized on Truex’s mistake. Thus, Hamlin took the checkered flag and earned his 31st career win and his second Southern 500 victory.
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