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November 27, 2023

NASCAR Playoffs recap: Cup Series, Round of 16

Jared C. Tilton
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Editor’s note: With Champion’s Week in Nashville ongoing, will look back at every playoff round of the 2023 season in all three national series.

Race 1: Darlington Raceway, Sept. 3

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Winner: Kyle Larson

Key highlights: Adversity struck numerous contenders of the NASCAR Playoffs throughout the Cook Out Southern 500, including Regular Season Champion Martin Truex Jr. who scuffed the wall in practice and struggled to an 18th-place finish. Playoff driver Kevin Harvick was primed to leap-frog race leader Tyler Reddick with a dive to pit road at Lap 310, but Reddick slowed to attempt to make pit road at the same time and triggered a spin from Ryan Newman, bringing out the caution flag and ruining Harvick’s strategy. In the end, Kyle Larson stormed to his first Southern 500 triumph after leading 55 laps, ahead of Reddick who was out front for 90 circuits. Denny Hamlin dominated with 177 laps led but a loose wheel relegated him to 25th.

Full race recap: Kyle Larson streaks to Southern 500 victory in NASCAR Playoffs opener

At-track photos: Best pictures from Darlington

Kyle Larson celebrates Southern 500 win
James Gilbert | Getty Images

Race 2: Kansas Speedway, Sept. 10

Winner: Tyler Reddick

Key highlights: Martin Truex Jr.’s early playoff woes continued with a flat tire at Lap 4, sending his No. 19 Toyota sliding into the outside wall and relegating him to a last-place finish. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin led 63 laps and appeared on his way to a win until a late caution after Chris Buescher, a fellow playoff driver, contacted the outside wall and drew the caution flag. As pit strategy reshuffled the front of the field, Tyler Reddick stormed past Erik Jones and Joey Logano with a daring three-wide move on the overtime restart to lock his way into the Round of 12 with the win.

Full race recap: Tyler Reddick cashes in at Kansas, advances in Cup Series Playoffs

At-track photos: Best pictures from Kansas

Tyler Reddick, driver of the #45 23XI Racing Toyota, celebrates with a burnout after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway on September 10, 2023 in Kansas City, Kansas.
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Race 3: Bristol Motor Speedway, Sept. 16

Winner: Denny Hamlin

Key highlights: Defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano was ousted from the race and ultimately the 2023 playoffs after Corey LaJoie lost control on the backstretch, triggering a multicar crash that collected Logano’s No. 22 Ford. Martin Truex Jr.’s woes continued, sliding at Lap 363 which brought out the caution flag ahead of his 19th-place result. The other JGR cars combined to lead 431 of the 500 laps, with Denny Hamlin out front for 142 laps, Christopher Bell 187 and Ty Gibbs 102. After consecutive weeks of impressive performances, Hamlin finally cashed in to win his way into the Round of 12. Despite top-10 runs for both, Michael McDowell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. joined Logano and 2014 champion Kevin Harvick as those eliminated from title contention.

Full race recap: Denny Hamlin caps off strong night at Bristol, wins to conclude Round of 16

At-track photos: Best pictures from Bristol

Drivers eliminated: Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Denny Hamlin performs a burnout at Bristol in front of the fans after winning the NASCAR Cup Series race
Meg Oliphant | Getty Images