By: Ashley McCubbin

Darlington Raceway has grown a reputation as one of the best tracks on the NASCAR schedule, and the Lady in Black shined on Sunday night in all of her glory.

Kevin Harvick continued his stunning season en route to another victory, his eighth of the year, locking him into the next round of the playoffs. If there’s anyway you want to a make a statement to your fellow competitors, that is how you do it.

It wasn’t just clear domination this time around, though.

Austin Dillon was hard charging for him at the end of the event and got close to the rear bumper but unable to find his way around, even sliding off the final corner. As one of the darkhorses in the playoffs, that’s not a bad way to begin, either.

But if you continue going back, this race should have been decided between Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott as they had the quickest cars at the end, and were in the top-two with plenty of space between them and Harvick. It all changed when they made contact, as Truex slid up into the No. 9’s left front fender thinking he was clear, resulting in both drivers getting into the wall.

Truex stated afterwards in his post-race interview he thought Elliott would give him the spot, as “it’s Darlington and typically you don’t want to go in side-by-side.” News flash – drivers are racing for wins and a championship here. Do you see anybody laying over so they can just let their competitor win? Also, the day before, Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain were able to go through there side-by-side battling back and forth, while Chase Briscoe and Kyle Busch battled in the spring. What makes today different?

It marks another disappointment for Elliott at Darlington as the return to racing in May saw him and Kyle Busch clash late when it appeared he was headed to victory lane. However, you can’t totally fault Truex as they were both going for the win and sometimes when you’re racing that close, things happen – just like Elliott getting into Logano at Bristol. That doesn’t mean you can’t get mad as you certainly have a right to be.

The other factor is both of these competitors came in with a decent cushion given their playoff points, which is now erased with their finishes on Sunday night. They’ll both have to get through Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway cleanly if they want to advance.

Outside of the drama, the racing was actually pretty dry with the field strung out and passes difficult to make, ensuring strategy be the name of the game. You can’t fault the track, citing yesterday’s Xfinity Series race, so it’s another drawback with the intermediate rule package for the Cup cars.

Erik Jones is motivated to find a ride for next year, and it showed as he was the only non-playoff driver in the top-17 for much of the event, running inside the top-10 alongside the contenders. He’s certainly putting together a solid audition for any team looking.