Larson wins wild last-lap battle to win Shriners Children’s Hospital 200 at Darlington Raceway

As Kyle Larson (10) heads to the finish line, smoke from John Hunter Nemechek’s race car is seen covering the Darlington Raceway track on Saturday afternoon. Photo by David Barks

Larson, Nemechek fight to the finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race in South Carolina

DARLINGTON, SC – ‘The Track Too Tough To Tame’ lived up to its nickname after a thrilling showdown on the final lap of Saturday’s Shriners Children’s Hospital 200 NASCAR Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway.

NASCAR Cup driver Kyle Larson raced to the win, his 14th in the Xfinity Series and first of any kind at Darlington.

But not before a crazy final lap battle with Xfinity regular John Hunter Nemechek.

John Hunter Nemechek (20) slides into the wall on the final lap of Saturday’s Shriners Children’s Hospital 200 at Darlington Raceway. Photo by David Barks

The pair had been the class of the field all afternoon, between them leading 103 of the 147 laps over the historic 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval with the result coming down to the final few feet.

On that last lap, the two first made contact in the middle of turns 3 and 4.

Coming into the final straightaway, Larson pulled even with Nemechek with Larson on the outside.

Nemechek sideswiped Larson, sending the Cup driver into the wall – but he bounced right off and back into Nemechek, the impact sending Nemechek’s Toyota spinning, eventually hitting the inside SAFER barrier.

The collision also straightened out Larson’s Chevy and he was able to stay on the throttle, beating Justin Allgaier to the finish line with a 1.337-second margin of victory.

“We had a really, really good car the whole race, and I made a mistake on pit road,” said Larson. “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.”

“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…

“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.”

Justin Algaier crosses the finish line in second place at Saturday’s Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway. Photo by David Barks

Cole Custer finished third with Austin Hill fourth.

“We had a really fast race car today,” said Allgaier. “I feel a lot worse than I thought I would because I didn’t get a Darlington Stripe today.”

“It would have taken about 10 more laps to catch them,” said Custer. “We wanted to get to Victory Lane but we still had a good finish.”

“Our Chevy was really good on the long runs but on the short runs it just wasn’t there,” said Hill. “It was good to rally back after spinning (on lap 68) on Turns 3-4. I really thought my race was done so it’s awesome to finish in the top five.”

That spin on lap 68 was part of a 12-car pileup – the biggest Xfinity wreck over the last four years.

It happened on the first lap of a restart and appeared to be caused after Mayer had to back off the throttle, causing several cars to check up and a chain reaction followed, knocking four of the 12 out of the race.

Nemechek had enough momentum to cross the line in fifth place followed by Carson Hocevar, Josh Berry, Sam Mayer, Kaz Grala, and Corey Heim.

Nemechek sat on the pole to start the race with Larson starting third.

Nemechek started well but Sam Mayer, who started fourth, had good early speed, passing Nemechek on lap 7 and holding off Nemechek, Ryan Truex, and Larson for the next 34 laps.

But caution, when Jeb Burton spun in Turn 3, sent most of the leaders to the pits, moving Mayer out of the lead.

Larson took the lead on the restart and beat Nemechek to the line to win Stage 1.

Larson led every lap in Stage 2 but was dogged the entire time by Nemechek, just one or two car lengths back.

Kyle Larson celebrates in Victory Lane after winning Saturday’s Shriners Children’s Hospital 200 NASCAR Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway. Photo by David Barks

Larson led everything but the final few inches, that is, because Nemechek pulled up alongside Larson and nipped him by 0.005 seconds for the stage win.

Larson wasn’t just speeding on the track. He was also speeding on Pit Road.

When everyone stopped for tires and fuel at the end of Stage 2, Larson was hit with a pit road speeding penalty, sending him back to 30th place.

While Nemechek controlled the race, it didn’t take Larson long to get back in the mix, quickly moving up to 25th, 20th, and 15th.

In 40 laps, Larson was up to seventh place.

With five laps to go, it was back to a two-man race that ended with that thrilling bang-bang finish.

NASCAR wraps up its Darlington weekend Sunday with the Goodyear 400 Cup Series race.

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