The NASCAR The Cup Series opened its 10-race qualifier Sunday, September 4 at Darlington Raceway with the Cook Out Southern 500 running. Sixteen (16) drivers are eligible to compete for the championship, a number that will be reduced to four by Phoenix Raceway in early November.
Here are the 16 drivers who qualified for this year’s post-season, broken down by the team they’re driving for.
Hendrick Motorsports (4): Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson
Joe Gibbs Racing (3): Christopher Bell, Kyle Bush, Denny Hamlin
Penske Team (3): Ryan Blaney, Austin Cendrick, Joey Logano
Richard Childress Racing (2): Austin Dillon, Tyler Riddick
Stuart Haas Race (2): Chase Briscoe, Kevin Harvick
Trackhouse Racing Team (2): Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez
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In the Owner’s Championship playoff, the #45 car (now driven by Bubba Wallace for the last 10 races) replaces #12 for Team Penske and Ryan Blaney in the 16-car arena. Kurt Bosch, the 45th full-time driver, has relinquished his playoff eligibility after suffering a concussion at Pocono Raceway earlier this month.
Drivers had a rough start to the post-season in Darlington, the unique 1,367-mile oval that hosted the sport’s first 500-mile race in 1950. One of NASCAR’s crown jewel events, the Southern 500 is a true test of driver skill and tire management around . This path is egg-shaped.
The different ranges of turns 1, 2 versus 3 and 4 mean your car doesn’t handle perfectly here. Wall collision is almost certain over 500 miles. It’s only if you can stop the Darlington Strip from hindering the speed of your race car.
May Darlington winner Joey Logano took the lead in this race, his second of the season. Eight of the top nine qualifiers qualify for the tournament while the ninth, Bubba Wallace, is fighting for that owner’s title.
Only 36 showed up to try the Southern 500 this year, and each had a guaranteed place in the field. That left the fourth Cup Series below the max 40-car grid for the first time since the Richmond Raceway in mid-August.
1. Joey Logano (P)
2. Christopher Bell (PBUH)
3 – William Byron (peace be upon him)
4 – Tyler Riddick (P)
5 – Kyle Bush (Land)
6 – Austin Cendrick (R) (P)
7 – Kyle Larson (on the floor)
8. Bubba Wallace (Nominated for Malik)
9 – Ryan Blaney (peace be upon him)
10. Michael McDowell
11 – Denny Hamlin (on the floor)
12. Ross Chastain (PBUH)
13 – Austin Dillon (AT)
14. Justin Haley
15. Eric Jones
16. Alex Bowman (P)
17. Martin Truex Jr.
18 – Kevin Harvick (L)
19 – Chase Briscoe (P)
20. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
21 – T Gibbs (I)
22. Eric Almerola
23 – Chase Elliott (P)
24 – Daniel Hemrick
25. Brad Keselowski
26 – Landon Castle
27. Chris Bucher
28. Harrison Burton (right)
29. Ty Dillon
30. Cool Custer
31. Todd Gilliland (right)
33 – JJ Yili (i)
34. Cory Lagoy
35. PJ McLeod (i)
36. Daniel Suarez (P)
(R) – ascending
(1) – Not eligible to collect Trophy Series Points
(q) – playoff driver
- Joey Logano (1st) takes first place and is looking to sweep the season at Darlington Raceway. Logano has never won a Southern 500 race.
- Christopher Bell (second) was Toyota’s highest qualification. Bale was the only Toyota driver to finish in the top ten during the May Grand Prix in Darlington.
- William Byron (3rd) is chasing his first 5 spots since Martinsville in April. The top-qualified Chevrolet driver was ahead of the curve late during the May event before Lugano crashed into Byron’s #24 car away from the road for the win.
- Austin Cendrick (6th) was the highest-qualified rookie driver in the business. He is also the only new player to play the playoff this year.
- Kyle Larson (7th) has never won in Darlington despite finishing second in his last four matches on the track. He has 686 career laps in nine games.
- Bubba Wallace (eighth) replaces Kurt Busch in car #45 at 23XI Racing. Wallace switched numbers in order to run for the owner’s championship as the team’s only full-time driver remaining.
- Ty Gibbs (21st place) continues to replace injured Kurt Bosch at 23XI Racing but has his number changed to 23.
- JJ Yeley (33) replaces David Ragan behind the wheel of Rick Ware Racing Ford. Rajan scored ninth for the team at Daytona but has been working on a tight schedule this season.
- Daniel Suarez (36) was not allowed to qualify after failing his pre-race check three times. He must also perform a pass penalty kick at the start of the race for the foul, as head coach Eddie Dundt Jr. lost.
NASCAR race breakdown
a race: Cook Out South 500
a path: Darlington Racecourse (Darlington, South Carolina)
Date: Sunday 4 September
Television: USA Network, 6 p.m. ET
radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
distance: distance: 367 laps (500 miles)
level 1: 115 laps
The second phase: 115 laps
Stage 3: 137 laps
Adam Stern Sports Business Magazine stop Frontstretch podcast with Brian Nolen To talk about the latest NASCAR Silly Season rumors. Next, Dalton Hopkins joins host Brian Nolen to dissect Daytona and see which of the 16-Cup qualifier drivers has the most impetus to enter the post-season opener at Darlington Raceway.