NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Frontstretch 2-Minute Drill: Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs zoom into action on Sunday (Sept. 5) both under the sun and under the lights at Darlington Raceway. A 6 p.m. ET start will encompass the entire evening for the Cook Out Southern 500.

The “Lady in Black” hosts its second race of the year and the first race of the postseason, with 16 championship eligible drivers attempting to lock themselves into the next round with a victory.

Ryan Blaney, on a hot streak of two consecutive victories, rolls off from the pole position while three-time Darlington winner Denny Hamlin starts alongside. Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman round out the top five while Kyle Larson, Tyler Reddick, Aric Almirola, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. fill out the top 10. All 16 playoff drivers make up the top 16 starting spots.

Everyone except Austin Dillon passed inspection cleanly on the first or second attempt. The No. 3 car will start at the rear of the field due to failing tech twice.

Truex dominated the Goodyear 400 at Darlington back in May, leading 248 of 293 laps and beating Larson by 2.5 seconds for his second win at the track. That was the most recent time the No. 19 visited victory lane in 2021, though: he’s gone nearly four months without a win and has six finishes outside the top 15 since.

Eight of the top 10 finishers at Darlington in the spring were eventual playoff drivers. The furthest down in the running order from that race were Almirola and Kurt Busch, both of whom crashed out, and Michael McDowell, who finished 27th.

Harvick and Hamlin both have three wins at Darlington to their name, while Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Erik Jones have one apiece. No rain is forecasted for the duration of the race, but the cool post-Hurricane Ida weather means temperatures will drop to around 70 degrees by the time the checkered flag falls.

Earlier in the day, Sheldon Creed won the Camping World Truck Series’ In It To Win It 200 at the track, while Noah Gragson secured his first Xfinity Series triumph of 2021 there on Saturday (Sept. 4).

See also
Sheldon Creed Dominates Darlington, Scores Second Straight Win

Across the pond, Max Verstappen dominated the Dutch Grand Prix to win his seventh race of 2021 and retake the championship standings lead over Lewis Hamilton.

Tune in at 6 p.m. ET for the first race of the 2021 playoffs. Green flag is set for 6:18 p.m. and coverage will air on NBC Sports Network.

RACE WEEKEND CENTRAL: DARLINGTON (SOUTHERN 500)

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