Darlington was a day all about time. A time when in 1950 the first Southern 500 was run. A time when some of the great names from the past were brought back to be saluted by their sport in the present. A time when 0.6 seconds can mean everything.
Just ask Brad Keselowski and Kyle Larson. At a time when 14 entered locked into the Playoffs, two were trying to stay there, and up to 14 others were hoping against hope to steal a spot away, it was Larson who sped away. By the time he finished the opening stage, we knew that Jimmie Johnson and Alex Bowman were not going to be putting up a fight to keep their places. Both had already been lapped by this time and things were not going to get better for either of them. Their fate on that day was now entirely in the hands of others.
The middle frame provided more of the same. It was all Larson all of the time. While members of the Big Three could always be counted to have a representative somewhere close by, Martin Truex Jr. was not that guy. An uncontrolled tire in the pits proved to be the pits for him and any hopes he might have had on Sunday. As for potential winners, it seemed by the time any of the stages concluded, we only had a dozen or so still on the lead lap. The rest, well the rest were participating, but they sure were not competing.
Down to the final half of the classic, and it remained the Kyle Larson Show. Even after Clint Bowyer ran over Ryan Newman as one was slowing down to pit while the other could not see through the slowpokes poking along in front of him, it was Larson who was at the front on the re-start. Then, with less than 30 to go, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun his car. The caution came out, and pit road was open.
Larson’s crew did a fine job. The broadcasters said so, but then there was Keselowski. Fifth after the opening stage, second after the next, his crew did a finer job than Larson’s band of brothers, 0.6 seconds better. Keselowski started up front and disappeared from view. Joey Logano, himself with stage finishes of fourth and third, moved into second by the time they hit the finish line. Larson salvaged third, Chase Elliott and Erik Jones were next, but it was the veteran and a stellar job by his service department that decided the Southern 500 on this particular Sunday.
That leaves one more Sunday to shake things up. Johnson needs to finish within nineteen positions of Bowman at Indianapolis to ensure he makes the playoffs. Bowman needs to either ruin Johnson’s plans or hope no one behind him in the standings claims victory. That is the only way he can be caught. Kasey Kahne won at Indianapolis last year. Newman, Paul Menard, and Jamie McMurray have done so in the past. Can one of them, or some other outsider, do it at the Brickyard this Sunday?
As for Keselowski, this past weekend marked his 25th career victory. It extended his string of seasons with at least one victory to eight. It earned him his first Southern 500, to go along with five Talladega wins, a pair at Bristol, and his 2012 championship in a career that will end in the Hall of Fame. However, that will come in time, sometime in the next dozen years or so. Right now, there is no time other than the present, and the memory of 0.6 seconds at Darlington.