The NASCAR Cup Series Playoff begins with the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday, with the race scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET at Darlington Raceway.
The 1.366-mile egg-shaped track is among the favorites for many drivers as they run close to the outside walls and tire management is an important factor.
The Playoff field is unprecedentedly tight in terms of starting points positions. Only 20 points separate second-place Joey Logano from 16th-place Austin Dillon, and position Nos. 5-16 are covered by a nine-point spread.
Four drivers will be eliminated from the Playoffs every three races leading up to the championship, where four drivers will compete for the title in Phoenix.
COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500
The Place: Darlington Raceway
The Date: Sunday, September 4, 6 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,823,733
TV: USA, 5 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 501.3 miles (367 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 115),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 230), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 367)
Kyle Larson (+600 at BetMGM)
The defending series champion is the pre-race favorite despite lacking a win at Darlington in his Cup career. Larson does have five top-five and seven top-10 finishes in nine starts.
Denny Hamlin (+700)
Hamlin leads all active drivers with four career wins at Darlington. His average finish of 7.8 in 20 career starts at the track also leads the field. He has won the Southern 500 three times and is the defending event champion.
Chase Elliott (+800)
Elliott begins the playoffs with 40 Playoff points in the bank and is 15 points clear of Joey Logano. “We’ve never been in that position before,” said Elliott. “It also means you’re trying to hedge your bet. Nothing is guaranteed, but it can certainly help. That’s the big one … we want to hedge that bet and better our odds as much as possible.”
Joey Logano (+800)
Logano won the spring race at Darlington from the pole. He enters the Playoffs on a good roll with four consecutive top-six finishes before wrecking last week.
Tyler Reddick (+800)
He was second to Logano in the spring and has five top-20 finishes in six career starts at Darlington.
Martin Truex Jr. (+1000)
Truex Jr. was bumped out of the Playoffs in the final race and crashed during the spring race. He does have an excellent track record at Darlington with six top-10s, including a pair of wins, in 20 starts. Truex finished in the top-five in both races at Darlington last year.
Austin Dillon (+6600)
Dillon forced his way into the Playoffs with last week’s dramatic victory and is trying to become the first 16th seed to qualify for the Championship 4 race since the introduction of the elimination format in 2014.
“I’m happy to be in this spot, and I think we’re the dog,” Dillon said. “Some people are already putting us out, which is just fine with me, because it takes pressure off, and we’ll go have fun and try to upset some of these guys and take it as survive-and-advance mode from here on out.”
–By Field Level Media (NASCAR NewsWire contributed to this story)