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September 4, 2022

ADVANCING through the Playoffs: Analyzing the field after Darlington

After the opening race of the Round of 16 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race at Darlington, here’s a look at the updated playoff picture. There are two races remaining in the Round of 16 before the field is whittled to 12, with four drivers eliminated from the postseason following the Sept. 17 race at Bristol Motor Speedway.


Erik Jones. Jones played the role of spoiler Sunday night, winning his second career Cook Out Southern 500 as playoff drivers faltered around him. Jones is the first non-playoff driver to win the postseason opener in the elimination era, and he is the 17th NASCAR Cup Series winner this year.

RELATED: Unofficial results

Who’s hot

Denny Hamlin. Hamlin is one of the best in the business at Darlington, and he finished second to Jones on Sunday – and therefore was the highest-finishing playoff driver. A late strategy to pit later in the run seemed like it may have been a misfire initially, but a late caution put Hamlin running at the very front of the field in the closing laps.

Joey Logano. Logano won the Busch Light Pole on Saturday and then nabbed fourth place Sunday, leading 64 laps in the process. He was able to avoid any potential payback by William Byron following their incident at Darlington in the spring, and he exited the race as the new series points leader.

Who’s not

Chase Elliott. The Regular Season Champion and prohibitive title favorite had the worst start imaginable to his 2022 postseason. Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet snapped into a spin on Lap 113, riding up the track and into the wall and then being smashed by Chase Briscoe’s No. 14. The end result? A last-place finish, a one-point night and plenty of worry for the remaining two Round of 16 races.

Kyle Busch. The close of the Southern 500 was an absolute gut-punch to Busch and the No. 18 team. “Rowdy” led a race-high 155 laps and had the most dominant car remaining in the field following the last caution of the night. Stunningly, the No. 18’s engine appeared to blow up during the ensuing caution laps prior to the final restart of the race. He finished 30th.


Rank Driver Cutoff
9. Chase Elliott +14
10. Alex Bowman +10
11. Kyle Busch +8
12. Daniel Suárez +2
13. Austin Cindric -2
14. Austin Dillon -4
15. Chase Briscoe -10
16. Kevin Harvick -13

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 on Sept. 11 (3 p.m. ET, USA Network, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). This is the first time Kansas will be the second race in the Round of 16.

Who it favors

Denny Hamlin. In the last 10 races at Kansas, only one driver has more than one victory – and that’s Hamlin with two. In fact, he has four top-five finishes in the last six races at Kansas, including a fourth-place run earlier this year in the Next Gen car’s debut at the track.

Who it hurts

Chase Briscoe. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver has just three starts at Kansas in the Cup Series level, and his average finish is 21.0. His best finish is 19th last fall, and he did not finish on the lead lap in two of those three races.