Denny Hamlin gets his first win of 2021

Denny Hamlin gets his first win of 2021

Denny Hamlin picked a great time for the first win of the season.

Hamlin won his first race of 2021 in the first race of the playoffs on Sunday night as he beat Kyle Larson to the checkered flag. The win advances Hamlin to the second round of the playoffs after he was beaten to the regular season title by Larson.

Larson caught Hamlin on the final lap and both drivers hit the wall. But Hamlin was able to keep his car ahead of Larson as they went toward the checkered flag.

Hamlin and Larson were the best drivers of the first 26 races. While Hamlin was really good, Larson was better. Hamlin was winless in the regular season while Larson won five times. 

Those five wins got Larson the regular-season title over Hamlin and the bonus points that came with it. But Hamlin entered the playoffs as a title threat despite the lack of wins. You’re always a title threat when you have an average finish inside of the top 10. 

Larson will make the second round of the playoffs too. He had more than double the playoff points of any other driver and could lock himself into the second round as soon as next week’s race at Richmond. Larson and Hamlin are two of the favorites to make the final four at Phoenix on Nov. 7. 

Hamlin was leading with less than 50 laps to go when Ryan Blaney spun. That brought out a caution and evened out the strategies that Hamlin and Larson were employing. Hamlin had the lead before Blaney’s crash hoping to pit earlier than Larson on the final pit stop and maintain his track position for the win.

The caution ended the competing strategies and put everyone straight up. Larson got second from Ross Chastain on the restart but was never able to actually attempt a pass on Hamlin. 

Other playoff drivers have trouble

There were a bunch of playoff drivers who had problems at Darlington. Kyle Busch crashed. So did Michael McDowell. Chase Elliott missed pit road under caution and got a flat tire after the following restart when he was back in traffic. Alex Bowman hit the wall and collected teammate William Byron.

Busch was, unsurprisingly, unhappy after he hit the wall and crashed out of the race. He came down on Austin Dillon and found himself in the wall after his car got loose. Busch ended up finishing the race 35th out of 37 cars. 

Ross Chastain finished third while Martin Truex Jr. was fourth and Kevin Harvick was fifth. The sheer quantity of playoff drivers who had problems on Sunday night means that the playoff standings are still pretty straightforward heading into the second race of the second round at Richmond on Saturday.

Points standings

1. Denny Hamlin (win)

2. Kyle Larson (+80 on 13th)

3. Martin Truex Jr. (+36)

4. Kurt Busch (+26)

5. Ryan Blaney (+22)

6. Joey Logano (+21)

7. Kevin Harvick (+20)

8. Brad Keselowski (+12)

9. Christopher Bell (+5)

10. Chase Elliott (+4)

11. Aric Almirola (+3)

12. Tyler Reddick (Tie)

13. Alex Bowman (Tie)

14. Kyle Busch (-2)

15. William Byron (-9)

16. Michael McDowell (-20)

Race results

1. Denny Hamlin

2. Kyle Larson

3. Ross Chastain

4. Martin Truex Jr.

5. Kevin Harvick

6; Kurt Busch

7. Brad Keselowski

8. Joey Logano

9. Chris Buescher

10. Austin Dillon

11. Cole Custer

12. Ryan Preece

13. Daniel Suarez

14. Ryan Newman

15. Corey LaJoie

16. Aric Almirola

17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

18. Tyler Reddick

19. Chase Briscoe

20. Christopher Bell

21. Bubba Wallace

22. Ryan Blaney

23. Matt DiBenedetto

24. Anthony Alfredo

25. Justin Haley

26. Alex Bowman

27. BJ McLeod

28. Josh Bilicki

29. Joey Gase

30. Quin Houff

31. Chase Elliott

32. Erik Jones

33. Cody Ware

34. William Byron

35. Kyle Busch

36. James Davison

37. Michael McDowell