NASCAR Cup Series: Darlington Preview, Predictions, and How to Watch

The start of the 2021 Goodyear 400 at Darlington Raceway
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The run to the championship begins this weekend as NASCAR heads to a historic track to kick off the playoffs.

The time has finally come. This weekend marks the beginning of the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs with the series heading to Darlington for the first of 10 playoff races.

The 16 drivers in the playoff field have the next three races to perform at their peak and accumulate enough points to advance into the Round of 12.

The Cook Out Southern 500 is the second race at Darlington this season, with the first, the Goodyear 400, occurring back in May. That race featured some late drama as Joey Logano moved William Byron out of the way and into the wall on the final lap to claim victory, a move that Byron felt crossed the line between hard racing and dirty racing.

Behind Logano, six other playoff drivers finished in the top 10 that day while Byron dropped down to 13th. It will be worth watching to see if Byron attempts to get revenge this time around, which wouldn’t be the first time Logano has been targeted in a playoff race. Whether those two come together or not, the intensity is sure to ramp up as every decision can either save or ruin a driver’s season.

 

The Track

Nicknamed “The Lady in Black” or “The Track Too Tough to Tame,” Darlington Raceway is a historic track and beloved among NASCAR fans and drivers alike. Located in Darlington, South Carolina, it first hosted a NASCAR race way back in 1950 and has since become a yearly tradition in the sport. Since 2015, NASCAR has used it as a throwback weekend, with drivers sporting paint schemes from NASCAR’s past in a fun celebration of the sport’s history. That tradition was fulfilled back in May, with the cars returning to their normal colors this weekend.

The track itself is a 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval. Turns 1 and 2 make up the larger side of the track, with a banking of 25 degrees. In Turns 3 and 4 things tighten up for the drivers on the smaller, shallower 23-degree banking.

Sunday’s race will be 500 miles long and consist of 367 laps. Stage 1 will run through lap 115. Stage 2 will also be 115 laps and it will end on lap 230. The final stage will then run until the end of the race on lap 367.

 

 

Map of Darlington Raceway, Oval course 1999 to date

 

Playoff Standings

Since there was a point reset after the regular season, let’s look at where all 16 drivers stand before the Round of 16. Drivers reset to 2000 points for the playoffs and earned five playoff points for each regular season win and one point for each stage win. Drivers in the top 10 in regular season points also earned playoff points on a 15-10-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scale from first place to tenth place.

  1. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports – 2040 points
  2. Joey Logano, Team Penske – 2025 points
  3. Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing- 2020 points
  4. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports – 2019 points
  5. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports – 2014 points
  6. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2013 points
  7. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske – 2013 points
  8. Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing – 2012 points
  9. Kevin Harvick, Stewart-Haas Racing – 2012 points
  10. Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2011 points
  11. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing – 2010 points
  12. Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing – 2009 points
  13. Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing – 2007 points
  14. Austin Cindric, Team Penske – 2006 points
  15. Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports – 2006 points
  16. Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing – 2005 points

 

Race Predictions – Cook Out Southern 500

This weekend I’m backing Kyle Larson. He’s the favorite heading into Sunday and there’s a good reason for it. Before an engine failure in May, he scored four consecutive top-3 finishes at Darlington. He is also heating up at the right time after his win at Watkins Glen (ignore Daytona where he had nothing to gain). He’s not coming in as hot as last year, but Larson is still a strong bet for both this weekend and the championship as a whole.

  1. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports
  2. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports
  3. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske
  4. Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing
  5. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing

 

How To Watch – NASCAR at Darlington (All Times EST)

  • Practice/Qualifying: Saturday, September 3 – 12:05 p.m. on USA (Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • Cook Out Southern 500: Sunday, September 4 – 6:00 p.m. on USA (Green flag at 6:15 p.m.)
Featured Image Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

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