Kyle Larson outduels John Hunter Nemechek to win Xfinity Series race at Darlington
In a fitting end to a true Darlington slugfest, Kyle Larson won Saturday‘s Shriners Children‘s 200 after bouncing off the wall at the Turn 4 exit and knocking John Hunter Nemechek into the inside SAFER barrier 100 yards short of the finish line.
With the help of two opportune cautions, Larson recovered from a speeding penalty that sent him to the rear of the field for the start of the Final Stage.
Restarting behind race winner Nemechek for the final green-flag run with seven laps left, Larson stalked the No. 20 Toyota and charged into the lead on the final lap, as the top two cars made side-to-side contact on at least three occasions during the run to the checkers.
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“We had a really, really good car the whole race, and I made a mistake on pit road,” said Larson, who was driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing. “I knew we were going to have time to get to the front if we had a caution.
“We were picking off cars really fast and had some lane selections work out for me… We were just bouncing off each other a little bit. I don‘t know what happened in (Turn) 3. It seemed like he (Nemechek) tried to get behind me to shove me into the corner.
“It kind of hooked me right, and I hit the wall, and I was trying to stay away from him and get off of (Turn) 4. What an exciting race there.”
The victory was Larson‘s first of the season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his first at Darlington in any of NASCAR‘s top three divisions. It was Larson‘s 14th career Xfinity win in his only start so far this year.
Nemechek, who beat Larson in a photo finish to win Stage 2, had to settle for fifth after the last-lap crash. Justin Allgaier claimed the runner-up spot, followed by Cole Custer, who pitted for fresh tires on Lap 137 and charged forward from 16th after the final restart on Lap 141. Austin Hill was fourth in a damaged car.
“Had a really fast race car and battling with one of the best in the sport in my opinion, Kyle Larson,” said Nemechek, who led 57 laps to Larson‘s 46. “It was a really great day…
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“Just disappointed a little bit from the standpoint of how that ended up there. Overall, we gave it a shot and still had a shot to win off of Turn 4. Fast car, top-five to show for it, when it probably should have been Victory Lane or second.”
Larson paced the field when Sheldon Creed washed up the track and pinched Nemechek‘s Toyota against the wall on Lap 67. Trying to avoid the wreck, Sam Mayer steered his Chevrolet down the track into the Camaro of Hill, who slid sideways into the path of Brandon Jones. The driver of the No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet couldn‘t avoid terminal damage.
Behind Jones and Hill, the cars of Ryan Truex and Chandler Smith spun in tandem, with the crush panels cascading out of the driver‘s side of Smith‘s No. 16 Chevrolet.
All told, 11 cars sustained damage in the wreck, and four others merely spun and continued. Jones, Chandler Smith and Truex fell out of the race.
Unlike Friday night‘s NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race, which ran without cautions for racing incidents during the first two stages, action in the Xfinity Series event started early and ultimately resulted in 10 cautions for 51 laps.
On Lap 4, Sammy Smith spun in Turn 2 while running beneath the No. 98 Ford of Riley Herbst, causing the first caution. After the subsequent restart on Lap 8, Smith slipped sideways, making slight contact with Justin Allgaier‘s No. 7 Chevrolet.
And on Lap 12, Herbst pancaked the right side of his Mustang against the outside wall and came to pit road for an unscheduled stop, losing two laps in the process.
Nineteen laps later, Herbst slammed the wall between Turns 1 and 2 and exited the race in last place with irreparable damage.
Jeb Burton spun on Lap 39 to cause the second caution. After pit stops, Larson won the first stage six laps later, beating pole winner Nemechek to the green/checkered flag.
The second stage contained its own share of action. Parker Retzlaff spun off Turn 4 across traffic to cause the fourth caution. Lap 60 brought two separate incidents that saw the front right quarter panels ripped off the cars of Sage Karam and Anthony Alfredo.
Seven laps later came the Talladega-sized “Big One” that destroyed the winning chances of more than a handful of contending cars.