PREVIEW: 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs at Darlington Raceway
DARLINGTON, S.C. – The 16-driver field for the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs is now set, and now the stars of the NASCAR Cup Series will dance with the Lady in Black.
NASCAR launched the NASCAR Playoffs back in 2004; however, the current format has been implemented since the 2014 season, and it focuses on winning. For the first time in this current format’s history, there were 16 winners, the max number of drivers allowed to compete for the Championship.
This past weekend at DAYTONA was intense as drivers rotated in and out of Playoff contention throughout the entire race. After a lengthy rain delay, Austin Dillon won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 to become the 16th different winner in only 26 races. Now, the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs will kick off at Darlington Raceway. The NASCAR Cup Series Cookout Southern 500 will broadcast live on USA and MRN at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday.
1.) #9 Chase Elliott | 2,040 points
Elliott is certainly a favorite heading into Darlington. In 11 Darlington starts, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has accumulated three top-five and five top-10 finishes at the track. His best finish is fifth (2018 summer & 2022 spring). Elliott has celebrated in Victory Lane before at Darlington; he won in the NASCAR Xfinity Series back in 2014. The Dawsonville, Ga. native qualified for this year’s Championship by winning at Dover International Speedway, Nashville Superspeedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway after Denny Hamlin was disqualified. He also won the Regular Season Championship as well.
2.) #22 Joey Logano | 2,025 points
Logano won the Goodyear 400 back in May at Darlington. He led 107 laps throughout the 293-lap race. In his 17 starts at Darlington, Logano has finished in the top-five on five occasions and the top-10 on nine occasions. Aside from winning at Darlington on Mother’s Day weekend, the Team Penske driver also won at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, as well.
3.) #1 Ross Chastain | 2,020 points
Chastain is making his debut appearance in the NASCAR Playoffs this season. The Trackhouse Racing Team driver won at Talladega Superspeedway, and he has also finished inside of the top-10 in more than half (14) of the races so far this season. Chastain only has six NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington. He finished third in last year’s Cook Out Southern 500 and in May of this season, he crashed out of the Goodyear 400 while battling for the lead.
4.) #5 Kyle Larson | 2,019 points
Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion, Larson is once again competing for another Championship. He won at Auto Club Speedway and Watkins Glen International. He has finished inside of the top-10 in 50% of the races this season. Darlington Raceway has been a fantastic track for Larson. In fact, he’s one of the leading favorites heading into the Cook Out Southern 500. In nine starts at Darlington, he finished outside of the top-10 in only two races. One of the poor finishes came in the spring of this year when he had a mechanical failure while battling inside of the top-10.
5.) #24 William Byron | 2,014 points
The Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet is synonymous with Darlington Raceway; Jeff Gordon performed quite well in the car. Byron will be making only his ninth start at the track, Too Tough To Tame come this weekend. Throughout the past years, Byron has earned two top-five finishes (2020 summer & 2021 spring) at Darlington. He did win the pole for the Southern 500 back in 2019. In the spring of this season, he finished 13th. Byron qualified for this year’s NASCAR Playoffs by winning at the first superspeedway-style race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He also won at Martinsville Speedway, too.
6.) #11 Denny Hamlin | 2,013 points
Hamlin is arguably the favorite heading into this year’s Cook Out Southern 500. In 20 Darlington starts, he has finished inside the top-10 in 75% of the races he has competed in. He won the Southern 500 in 2017 and 2021. He also won a spring race in 2020. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver has led 786 laps in the NASCAR Cup Series at Darlington, and he has won on five occasions in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at the track. Earlier this season, Hamlin won at Richmond Raceway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also crossed the finish line first at Pocono Raceway but was later disqualified after his car failed post-race tech inspection.
7.) #12 Ryan Blaney | 2,013 points
Blaney hasn’t faired too well at Darlington; however, he did win the pole last year for the Cook Out Southern 500. In 11 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington, the Team Penske driver has only finished inside the top-10 on one occasion, and that effort came back in the spring of last year, when he placed eighth. Blaney is the only Championship contending driver who hasn’t won a race this season. He qualified for this year’s NASCAR Playoffs due to Kurt Busch dropping out of contention due to a brain injury; however, that being said, Blaney is deserving as he currently sits seventh in the regular points standings.
8.) #8 Tyler Reddick | 2,012 points
Reddick is having an absolute breakout season. He won at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. The Richard Childress Racing driver only has six NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington. He finished seventh in the spring of 2020, and this past May, he finished runner-up. Reddick is a driver to watch during Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500.
9.) #4 Kevin Harvick | 2,012 points
Harvick and his team are coming to life late in the season. He has won two (Michigan & Richmond) of the last four races. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is extremely competitive at Darlington Raceway. In 29 starts, he has won on three occasions (2014 spring, 2020 spring & 2020 Southern 500), and he has finished inside of the top-10 in 62.1% of the races he has competed in. Harvick has also led 813 laps at Darlington and has clocked 9,663 laps in the NASCAR Cup Series at the Lady In Black.
10.) #20 Christopher Bell | 2,011 points
Bell is making his second appearance in the NASCAR Playoffs. He won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July. In six NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver has finished inside of the top-10 in only one race, and that was a sixth-place effort that he earned his past Mother’s Day weekend.
11.) #18 Kyle Busch | 2,010 points
Busch is having a season that he’d like to forget. Due to sponsorship challenges, it’s looking like Busch’s return to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023 is in great jeopardy; however, no news has been announced, so there’s still a chance. Busch qualified for this year’s NASCAR Playoffs by winning the Bristol Dirt Race. Busch has been very competitive at Darlington throughout the years, but oddly enough, in 21 starts, he has only earned one victory (2008), but he has led 744 laps and has finished inside of the top-10 in 61.9% of the races he has competed in.
12.) #14 Chase Briscoe | 2,009 points
Briscoe is making his debut appearance in the NASCAR Playoffs. He won at Phoenix Raceway in March. He only has three NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington. He finished 11th and 19th in 2021 and 20th this past May. He won a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Darlington in the spring of 2020.
13.) #99 Daniel Suarez | 2,007 points
Mexican-born driver, Daniel Suarez is also making his debut in the NASCAR Playoffs. The Trackhouse Racing Team driver earned his first-ever NASCAR Cup Series victory at Sonoma Raceway in June. In nine Darlington starts, he has only led a lap and finished inside of the top-10 once (10th spring 2022); however, look for Suarez to potentially be a contender on Sunday. Despite the statistics, his team has been stout this season.
14.) #2 Austin Cindirc | 2,006 points
Cindric is competing in his first full season in the NASCAR Cup Series. He kicked off the year with a bang, when he won the prestigious Daytona 500. In his only Darlington start, he finished 18th back in the spring. The Team Penske driver was competitive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Darlington prior to this season. He finished inside of the top-10 in 50% of his NASCAR Xfinity Series starts (6) at Darlington.
15.) #48 Alex Bowman | 2,006 points
Bowman qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs by winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. In 10 NASCAR Cup Series starts at Darlington Raceway, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has accumulated two top-10 finishes. His best finish is a second that he captured in the spring of 2020. He finished 29th (crash) this year on Mother’s Day weekend after starting fifth.
16.) #3 Austin Dillon | 2,005 points
With last weekend’s DAYTONA win, Dillon will compete for this year’s Championship. Darlington has been a great track for Dillon over the years. In 12 starts, he has captured five top-10 finishes at Darlington Raceway. His best finish was a second-place effort in the 2020 Southern 500. This past Mother’s Day weekend, Dillon finished ninth in the Goodyear 400.