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Cook Out Southern 500 Preview: NASCAR’s Playoffs Begin

Jay Arnold previews the first race of the 2023 NASCAR Playoffs – the Cook Out Southern 500 from Darlington, South Carolina.

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After 26 races, NASCAR’s regular season ended at Daytona with Chris Buescher securing his third victory of the season thanks to a massive push from teammate Brad Keselowski. Now, NASCAR prepares for the playoffs to begin at the Cook Out Southern 500. However, before we dive into the preview for Darlington, let’s talk about the playoff picture heading into the postseason.

In spite of a couple of scary incidents, including the one above featuring Ryan Preece, we avoided any injuries at Daytona. The racing kept viewers on the edge of their seats all night. Several drivers were vying for a win to lock them into the playoffs but with Buescher locking himself in, no changes to the 16 drivers happened. Check out the playoff list below.

Playoff Drivers Ahead of Cook Out Southern 500

  1. William Byron – 29 Points Above Cut Line
  2. Martin Truex Jr. – 29 Points Above Cut Line
  3. Denny Hamlin – 18 Points Above Cut Line
  4. Chris Buescher – 14 Points Above Cut Line
  5. Kyle Busch – 12 Points Above Cut Line
  6. Kyle Larson – 10 Points Above Cut Line
  7. Christopher Bell – 7 Points Above Cut Line
  8. Ross Chastain – 4 Points Above Cut Line
  9. Brad Keselowski – 3 Points Above Cut Line
  10. Tyler Reddick – 2 Points Above Cut Line
  11. Joey Logano – 1 Point Above Cut Line
  12. Ryan Blaney – 1 Point Above Cut Line
  13. Michael McDowell – 1 Point Below Cut Line
  14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 3 Points Below Cut Line
  15. Kevin Harvick – 4 Points Below Cut Line
  16. Bubba Wallace – 8 Points Below Cut Line

The first round of the playoffs sees the 16 drivers above competing for 12 spots over the course of three races. Darlington, Kansas, and Bristol will determine who moves on to the next round. McDowell and Stenhouse Jr. represent the two in the most danger for this round of the playoffs in my opinion. Stenhouse and McDowell both have victories in 2023, but they came on a superspeedway and a road course – neither circuit-type features in the first round.

I’d love to see Kevin Harvick make his way into the next round in his final season but SHR seems to lack speed recently and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bubba Wallace run well, especially at Kansas where he won in 2022. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see either of the Penske drivers fall below the cut line as their team speed hasn’t been great in ’23 either. For now, though, let’s focus on this Sunday’s race at Darlington.

Entry List

Earlier this year when NASCAR raced at Darlington, William Byron raced his way to victory lane. Byron has remained hot, and I’d expect him to be near the front on Sunday for the Cook Out Southern 500. Last year, Erik Jones shocked everyone when he managed to win this race. However, Legacy has fallen off a cliff in 2023 and I don’t expect the team to be much of a factor.

For a non-playoff driver, look for Chase Elliott to possibly play the spoiler. The driver of the #9 finished second in the spring race and will certainly be motivated after missing the playoffs. However, I think the hottest driver in NASCAR stays hot – I’m predicting another Chris Buescher victory on Sunday.

Check out the schedule below so that you don’t miss out on any on-track action this weekend from NASCAR at Darlington.

Saturday 09/02

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying – 10:05 a.m. CT on NBC Sports Streaming

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying – 12:20 p.m. CT on USA

Sports Clips Haircuts VFW Help A Hero 200 (NASCAR Xfinity Series) – 2:30 p.m. CT on USA

Sunday 09/03

Cook Out Southern 500 (NASCAR Cup Series) – 5:00 p.m. CT on USA

Stay locked into Apollo for more NASCAR and F1 Coverage throughout racing season! Follow @CoachJayArnold and @ApolloHOU on Twitter to stay up to date on the latest!

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