It’s finally here. The 2020 NASCAR Playoffs got underway with the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Regular season points leader Kevin Harvick began the race as the favorite to win the championship, while Denny Hamlin was favored to be the race winner. Before the drop of the green flag, Ryan Blaney was docked ten points and sent to the back of the field for an improperly mounted ballast, starting his playoffs in a hole.
Shortly after 3:00 pm PST, the 2020 NASCAR playoffs got underway with Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin on the front row. Chase Elliott held the lead with Denny Hamlin lightly brushing the wall and falling back through the pack. Martin Truex Jr., in second, kept pace with Elliott as the competition caution came out on Lap 26. All lead lap cars came down to the pits for service, with Elliott and Truex Jr. keeping their first and second positions.
Through the use of the “choose rule,” teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman led the field back to green on Lap 32. Austin Dillon came down to the pits under green for tires and fuel, followed by the rest of the lead lap cars, coming in for green-flag pit stops. After completion of green flag pitstops, Chase Eliott cycled back as the leader.
Lap 82 brought out the first caution for an incident, as Brad Keselowski made contact with the outside wall. All lead lap cars came down to the pits, with Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin exiting 1-2. Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. led the field back to green on Lap 87. Truex Jr. was able to take the lead as Busch, on older tires, fell to second. Truex Jr. was able to keep Jimmie Johnson at bay and won Stage One. Under the caution for the stage break, all drivers came down to the pits for service with Truex Jr. maintaining the lead.
Truex Jr. was able to hold the lead as Stage Two began, with Ryan Blaney making an unscheduled stop for a flat tire. With 74 laps left in Stage Two, Kevin Harvick came down to the pits for tires, fuel, and an adjustment. The lead lap cars began to make their green flag pitstops as the stage crossed the halfway point. Bubba Wallace brought out the fourth caution of the day with a long slide through Turns Three and Four.
All lead lap cars came back down pit road for service with Truex Jr. holding the front position ahead of Harvick. Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin brought the field back to green on Lap 186. With over a five-second lead, Truex Jr. was able to coast to the green-and-white checkered flag, taking Stage Two. All lead lap drivers came down to the pits for service with Denny Hamlin taking over the lead.
Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman led the field back to green on Lap 236, beginning Stage Three. Hamlin was able to keep the lead with Truex Jr. in second and Harvick in third. John Hunter Nemechek brought out the caution on Lap 245 as he slammed into the outside wall. All lead lap cars entered pit road looking for new tires and gas as Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick came out first and second.
Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch led the field back to the green flag on Lap 251. After a spirited battle, Truex Jr. was able to maintain the lead with Busch keeping pace in second. Austin Dillon played pit strategy and came to the pits for service, splitting the stage. More lead lap cars followed in Dillon’s footsteps as Truex Jr. continued to pace the field.
The remaining lead lap cars that had yet to pit began coming down for service with less than 65 laps in the race. Denny Hamlin missed his entry to pit road and had to go around for one additional lap. With 46 laps left in the race, the caution came out for debris on the track. With the varying strategies in play, all lead lap cars came to the pits for their final scheduled stops. Chase Elliott exited with the lead, followed by Harvick in second.
Chase Elliott took the outside line with Truex Jr. to his inside as the race resumed with 41 laps remaining. Elliott maintained the lead wit Truex Jr. keeping up in second. Truex Jr. made a move to pass Elliott on the inside with 15 laps left. Truex Jr. moved up in front of Elliott with both cars making contact and slamming the inside wall. Due to the damage, Truex Jr. suffered a flat tire and had to pit with 12 laps left in the race.
Harvick was able to overtake the lead from Elliott as Austin Dillon trailed in second. Maintaining Harvick’s pace, Dillon kept the gap between them to under one second. Despite a hard charge from Austin Dillon, he fell one position short as Kevin Harvick took the 2020 Southern 500.
The annual Southern 500, the third race at the track of the year, provided a race reminiscent of NASCAR’s past. With long, green flag runs and the cream rising to the top, it’s no wonder on ‘Throwback Weekend’ that the race played out the way it did. What were your thoughts on tonight’s Southern 500 race?
Next week, the stars of NASCAR make their way to the short track at Richmond for the second race of NASCAR’s playoffs.