The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin Sunday – a 10-race battle among 16 title-eligible drivers for the championship. First up is the Round of 16, featuring Darlington Raceway, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Four contenders will then be eliminated before the Round of 12, which will include Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. After another four are cut, the Round of 8 will commence at Texas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. The Championship 4 will finally be determined and compete at Phoenix Raceway on Nov. 7. in a straight-up race for the ultimate Bill France Cup trophy.
Here are the 16 drivers (and how they qualified) vying for the title: Kyle Larson (five wins), Ryan Blaney (three wins), Martin Truex Jr. (three wins), Kyle Busch (two wins), Chase Elliott (two wins), Alex Bowman (three wins), Denny Hamlin (points), William Byron (a win), Joey Logano (a win), Brad Keselowski (a win), Kurt Busch (a win), Michael McDowell (a win), Christopher Bell (a win), Aric Almirola (a win), Tyler Reddick (points) and Kevin Harvick (points).
Now, a Round of 16 track-by-track breakdown:
(📅 Sunday | ⏰ 6 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)
Name: Cook Out Southern 500
Location: Darlington, South Carolina
Length: 1.366 miles
Distance: 367 laps, 501.3 miles
Previous winner: Martin Truex Jr. (2021)
Sunday will mark the NASCAR Cup Series’ second trip to Darlington Raceway this season. Martin Truex Jr. won the first race back in May. Playoff drivers Kyle Larson (second), Kyle Busch (third), William Byron (fourth), Denny Hamlin (fifth), Kevin Harvick (sixth), Chase Elliott (seventh) and Ryan Blaney (eighth) all finished within the top 10.
Kevin Harvick has yet to win a race in 2021, but he has the best stats line among all of the playoff drivers, taking the cake in four of the five categories listed below. Kyle Larson manages a better career average finish, Kurt Busch matches Harvick’s start tally, and Denny Hamlin ties Harvick for most wins.
(📅 Sept. 11 | ⏰ 7:30 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)
Name: Federated Auto Parts 400 Salute to First Responders
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Length: .75 miles
Distance: 400 laps, 300 miles
Previous winner: Alex Bowman (2021)
Richmond Raceway will also be a second-stop destination. Alex Bowman captured his first of three regular-season wins here. There were seven other playoffs drivers in the top 10 then, too – Denny Hamlin (second), Joey Logano (third), Christopher Bell (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth), Aric Almirola (sixth), William Byron (seventh) and Kyle Busch (eighth).
Busch statistically has a better history at Richmond than the rest of the postseason contenders, boasting the best marks in wins, top fives and average finish. Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick have the most experience, and Harvick holds the most top 10s.
BRISTOL MOTOR SPEEDWAY
(📅 Sept. 18 | ⏰ 7:30 p.m. ET | 📺 NBCSN | 📻 PRN, SiriusXM)
Name: Bass Pro Shops Night Race
Location: Bristol, Tennessee
Length: .533 miles
Distance: 500 laps, 266.5 miles
Previous winner: Kevin Harvick (2020)
The series did race at Bristol Motor Speedway earlier this season, but it did so on the dirt surface (FWIW, Joey Logano won), which basically made it a different track. The playoffs race – aka the classic Bristol Night Race – will take place on the normal concrete oval, which Kevin Harvick last won on in 2020. Kyle Busch (second), Tyler Reddick (fourth), Aric Almirola (fifth), Chase Elliott (seventh) and Michael McDowell (10th) also placed within the top 10 at the time.
Once again, Busch has the most wins and top-five finishes at Bristol. Elliott, though, has the best average finish. Harvick and Kurt Busch have tallied more starts, and that Busch has more top 10s than his younger brother.