2023 NASCAR Playoffs Begin at Darlington Raceway with the Cook Out Southern 500

Start of the 2022 Cook Out Southern 500
Start of the 2022 Cook Out Southern 500 (Photo credit: YouTube)

The 2023 NASCAR Playoffs will begin with a race and track that is a part of the heritage of the sport.

Before everything included a sponsor name, one of the most anticipated races of the year was the Southern 500. One of the most exciting tracks to watch racing on was Darlington Raceway. The first Southern 500 took place at Darlington Sept. 4, 1950.

They may have added Cook Out to the name, but the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is still tradition to fans and a challenge to drivers and teams.

Racing at Darlington is much like racing a short track, even though the track is more than a mile around. There is banking in the turns. However, when you are running at 150 mph 23 to 25 degrees of banking is not much.

The best groove to race is around the top of the track. That puts cars just inches from the wall. A little slip or loss of focus and the car will slide across the wall. This gives the car what is called the “Darlington Stripe.” It is just a cosmetic scrape on the car and really does no damage to it. However, if a driver over-reacts to scraping the wall a bigger incident can occur.

If a driver’s car is not handling well enough to run around the top, they have to race lower on the track. This can also result in an incident if the driver loses control and slides or spins. Hitting the wall after sliding from lower on the track typically results in more than a “Darlington Stripe.”

The race will start in the daylight and transition to the night. That creates a challenge for the teams to make sure the cars are handling well when the track cools down when the sun goes down.

Here is what the drivers and teams will be dealing with at the track and in the race.

Darlington Race Data:
Track Length: 1.366-Miles
Turns 1 & 2 Banking: 25 degrees
Turns 3 & 4 Banking: 23 degrees
Banking on Straights: 6 degrees
Frontstretch Length: 1,229 feet
Backstretch Length: 1,229 feet

Cook Out Southern 500 Data:
Race Length: 501.32 Miles (367 laps)
Stage 1 & 2 Length: 115 Laps (each)
Final Stage Length: 137 Laps

The 16 drivers that are in the Playoffs really want to win this race. If a Playoff driver wins, they automatically advance to the next round and lessons the pressure on themselves for the next two races. Below are the drivers in the Round of 16 in the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs.

Playoff Standings headed to Darlington
Drivers below the red line are in danger of being eliminated.

The drivers below the red cut line are currently in danger of being eliminated after the first round of three races. A win would vault them to the top of the standings for this round. They need to at least earn enough points to move above that line. The 12 drivers above that line need to win to advance or earn enough points to remain above the line.

Here are the active drivers who have won a Cup Series race at Darlington in the careers.

Denny Hamlin4 Wins2021, 2020, 2017, 2010
Kevin Harvick3 Wins2020, 2020, 2014
Erik Jones2 Wins2022, 2019
Martin Truex Jr2 Wins2021, 2016
William Byron1 Win2023
Joey Logano1 Win2022
Brad Keselowski1 Win2018
Kyle Busch1 Win2008

Last year the winner of the Southern 500 was won by non-playoff driver Erik Jones. It was his second win at the track. Could he play spoiler to the Playoff drivers again this year?

Chase Elliott failed to make the Playoffs this year. He has been in the post-season the past seven years and won the championship in 2020. Could he make a statement by winning his first race of the season in the first Playoff race?

Kevin Harvick is in the Playoffs, but below the cut line currently. This is his final year as a full-time driver. That means this is his final appearance in the Playoffs. He has yet to win a race in 2023. Can he advance to the next round by winning his fourth race at Darlington?

There are plenty of other stories that could unfold in this weekend’s race. We will get to watch and see what does happen this weekend.

The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs being at 5 p.m. central time (6 p.m. eastern time) Sunday, September 3rd in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

By: Buck Stevens

Buck Stevens