Winless Harvick, Hamlin still have a chance at Southern 500

Sep 3, 2021, 9:46 PM | Updated: Sep 4, 2021, 10:03 am

DARLINGTON, S.C. (AP) — So you’re saying there’s a chance.

That’s certainly the mindset of Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, who enter NASCAR’s playoff chase at the Southern 500 without once celebrating in Victory Lane this season. It was Harvick and Hamlin who dominated in 2020, and the pair swept the three events at Darlington Raceway a year ago.

“There’s no time like Darlington to get back to winning,” track president Kerry Tharp said.

Harvick and Hamlin hope to break their droughts this week. That could be difficult with the seasons put together by Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr.

Harvick won the Southern 500 a year ago, part of his series-best nine victories, and finished fifth in the final standings.

“You obviously want to win, but some years just don’t go exactly how you want them to go and I think those are the years that you’ve got to dig down and do the things that our guys have done this year,” said Harvick, seeded last in the 16-driver playoff field. “So, got to be in it to win it, and we’ve given ourselves a chance and see where it all falls in the end.”

Hamlin was close behind Harvick with seven victories a year ago. Unlike Harvick, Hamlin was part of the final four for the championship but came up short of the title.

Hamlin put himself in position for victories several times this season, finishing with 13 top-fives. It left him seeded seventh and confident he can again make his way into the final four when the season closes at Phoenix in two months.

“Things haven’t fallen our way,” Hamlin said. But “we’re not going to continue to be up front and not win races. That’s going to be a very short-lived story.”

The rest of the field will have a difficult time surpassing Larson. He is one of the top contenders for the series championship after a resurgent performance in his first year with Hendrick Motorsports. Larson has won five times and has 18 top-five finishes.

Larson believes he’s got the consistency necessary to win a championship.

“Even when we weren’t winning, we were still up front and that’s what you’ve got to do these next 10 weeks,” Larson said.

___

Things to watch at the Southern 500:

WHO’S THE FAVORITE?: Kyle Larson is a 3-1 favorite to take the Southern 500, according to FanDuel. Martin Truex Jr., the winner of Darlington’s May race, is second at 11-2. Two-time series champ Kyle Busch is 13-2 while Denny Hamlin is 8-1 and defending NASCAR champion Chase Elliott is 19-2.

LARSON’S GROWTH: It was a year ago when Larson was on the outside in NASCAR and wondering what his future in the sport might be after he was dismissed from Chip Ganassi Racing for using a racial slur. Larson apologized and vowed to be more mindful of his words. He was hired by Hendrick Motorsports and been part of a dominant season. “I think through all the experience of growing up ultimately made me a better person all around,” Larson said. “It’s been a crazy couple of years, but I’m thankful I’m in the opportunity I am now.”

CHASE’S CHASE: Defending series champion Chase Elliott doesn’t feel much different entering these playoffs. Elliott said he’ll remember how he handled certain situations in the 10-race playoffs when he came out on top. But he hopes to keep the same outlook he’s always had in NASCAR. “To me the message is really no different than what it was last year and that’s enjoying those big moments,” Elliott said. “If you don’t enjoy them, you’re not going to thrive in them.”

HOT BLANEY: Ryan Blaney had his Penske race car locked into the playoffs for a while. But his team enters on a tear after winning the past two weeks at Michigan and Daytona. The stretch has his team sky high looking to keep things going at the Southern 500, where Blaney will start on the pole. “We start off Darlington with a bunch of momentum and our heads held high,” Blaney said.

WELCOME BACK: This will be the first race at Darlington without restrictions on crowd size since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. The track hosted NASCAR Cup Series races that May without fans. The last Southern 500 and the event this past May had limitations on fans due the virus. Raceway president Kerry Tharp said fans have been waiting for this return for some time and he expects a big crowd Sunday night.

REPAVED TURN TWO: Since Cup drivers raced here in May, turn two has been repaired and repaved after water seepage had led to continuing issues with the surface. There’s no practice or qualifying so most of the field won’t know how it drives until starting Sunday night.

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

FILE - Brooklyn Nets' Kevin Durant (7) looks to drive against Chicago Bulls' Coby White (0) during ...
Associated Press

Reports: Suns get All-Star Kevin Durant in trade with Nets

PHOENIX (AP) — The Phoenix Suns pulled a midnight blockbuster on Wednesday, acquiring 13-time All-Star Kevin Durant from the Brooklyn Nets, according to multiple reports. The outlets, citing unnamed sources, said the Suns added Durant to a starting lineup that already includes an All-Star backcourt of Chris Paul and Devin Booker, along with center Deandre […]
1 day ago
Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, left, dribbles around Golden State Warriors forward An...
Associated Press

Lillard has triple-double, Blazers beat Warriors 125-122

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Damian Lillard had 33 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds as the Portland Trail Blazers rallied past the Golden State Warriors 125-122 on Wednesday night. It was just the second triple-double of Lillard’s career, and first this season. “I didn’t shoot the ball very well. But I think I approached the […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving smiles as he warms up prior to an NBA basketball game against t...
Associated Press

Irving scores 24 in Dallas debut, leads Mavs over Clippers

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kyrie Irving came out charging in his Dallas debut, keying a big run to open the game and sparking his new teammates in front of a cheering Luka Doncic on the bench. Irving scored 24 points and the Mavericks never trailed in beating the Los Angeles Clippers 110-104 on Wednesday night. […]
1 day ago
Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson (00) goes to the basket as Minnesota Timberwolves forward Jaden McD...
Associated Press

T’wolves top Jazz in matchup of teams trading with Lakers

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Anthony Edwards scored 31 points and Jaylen Nowell added a career-high 30 to lead Minnesota to a 143-118 win over Utah on Wednesday night amid word the Timberwolves, Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers were part of an eight-player swap hours ahead of the NBA trade deadline. “It was crazy, the […]
1 day ago
Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn (14) is congratulated after scoring during the second period of t...
Associated Press

Benn breaks scoreless tie early in 2nd, Stars top Wild 4-1

DALLAS (AP) — Captain Jamie Benn broke a scoreless tie 23 seconds into the second period of his 1,001st career game, and the Dallas Stars beat the Minnesota Wild 4-1 on Wednesday night. Benn’s 20th goal on a perfect feed from 19-year-old rookie Wyatt Johnston started a three-goal second for the Western Conference-leading Stars. Radek […]
1 day ago
Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) signals after making a 3-point shot, next to Sacramento Kings...
Associated Press

Fox’s late FTs gives Kings 130-128 win over Rockets

HOUSTON (AP) — De’Aaron Fox had 31 points, including three free throws with less than a second left, to lift the Sacramento Kings to a 130-128 win over the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night. Fox missed a 3-pointer with .3 seconds left. But Eric Gordon fouled him to set up the game-winning free throws. “I […]
1 day ago
Winless Harvick, Hamlin still have a chance at Southern 500