Playoff Pulse: Analyzing the field after the postseason opener at Darlington

After the first race of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, here’s a rapid look at the playoff picture. There are two races left in the Round of 16 — at Kansas Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway.


Kyle Larson led the final 55 laps to score the victory in the Cook Out Southern 500. The victory secures Larson’s spot in the Round of 12 regardless of the results of the next two races. It was an impressive effort for Larson and the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports team, which rallied from an 18th-place starting spot and into the top five during the second round of green-flag pit stops. Larson capitalized on the track position and overcame wall contact to earn his third win of 2023 and first at Darlington.

RELATED: Updated playoff standings


Tyler Reddick. Reddick turned a strong Saturday that saw his No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota qualify third into quite the night. Reddick led 90 laps and was stalking Larson’s tire tracks in the final moments in his hunt for the Darlington win. At the checkered flag, Reddick was second, 0.447 seconds behind the race winner.

Chris Buescher. An incredible stretch of races continues for the No. 17 RFK Racing team. Buescher stormed to a third-place finish at the track “Too Tough to Tame,” his best result at the historic 1.366-mile track. Buescher entered as the winner of three of the last five races of the regular season.


Denny Hamlin. Hamlin seemed destined to end up in the “Who’s Hot?” section of this week’s Pulse until the final 100 laps. After leading 177 laps, Hamlin pitted for a believed loose wheel at Lap 274, miring him in 30th place and off the lead lap. Stuck in traffic, Hamlin was later involved in a Lap 331 crash and ultimately finished 25th, one lap down.

Michael McDowell. The Front Row Motorsports driver battled a tight No. 34 Ford all evening long and fell off the lead lap early. The Indy Road Course winner was getting better late, but a late crash at Lap 331 involving Hamlin and Christopher Bell resulted in a 32nd-place finish.


9Ryan Blaney16
10Ross Chastain13
11Joey Logano3
12Christopher Bell1
13Bubba Wallace-1
14Kevin Harvick-2
15Ricky Stenhouse Jr.-4
16Michael McDowell-19