Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a wild weekend in Daytona to wrap up the regular season and set the 16-driver field for the Playoffs, the NASCAR Cup Series heads to one of the crown jewels on the circuit, Darlington Raceway, for Sunday’s running of the Cook Out Southern 500.

A staple of the Cup Series since 1950, there are many elements to Darlington that make it a special track.

From the egg-shape of the track that features one end narrower than the other as a result of building the track around the old minnow pond located next to the facility. As well as the preferred line around the track being next to the wall, resulting in the infamous “Darlington Stripe” being plastered along nearly every car in the field by the time the race is complete.

Since the track “Too Tough to Tame” regained its Labor Day Weekend slot for the Southern 500 in 2015, the Cup Series has paid tribute to years gone by during that race, but with Darlington earning two race dates starting last season, the Throwback Weekend moved to the track’s spring race, with the Fall dedicated to the Playoffs.

That continues this season with Sunday being all about kicking off the 10-race run to the championship in a Sunday night showdown on the treacherous 1.366-mile track.

By the Numbers

What: Cook Out Southern 500, NASCAR Cup Series race No. 27 of 36

Where: Darlington Raceway – Darlington, South Carolina (Opened: 1950)

When: Sunday, September 4

TV/Radio: USA Network, 6:00 pm ET/MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size:  1.366-mile egg-shaped oval

Banking: Turns 1-2: 25 degrees; Turns 3-4: 23 degrees; Straights: 6 degrees

Race Length: 367 laps, 501.3 miles

Stage Lengths: First two stages – 115 laps each, Final stage – 137 laps

May 2022 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started on pole, 107 laps led)

September 2021 Race Winner:  Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota (Started second, 146 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Aric Almirola – No. 43 Ford (184.145 mph, 26.705 secs – 4/11/2014)

Top-10 Highest Driver Ratings at Darlington Raceway:

  1. Kyle Larson – No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 109.0
  2. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 107.6
  3. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 103.7
  4. Martin Truex, Jr. – No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 103.6
  5. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 100.3
  6. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 94.6
  7. Erik Jones – No. 43 Petty GMS Racing Chevrolet – 92.1
  8. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 91.6
  9. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.1
  10. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 86.0

NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings

  1. Chase Elliott – 2040 points
  2. Joey Logano (+18 over cut-off)
  3. Ross Chastain (+13)
  4. Kyle Larson (+12)
  5. William Byron (+7)
  6. Denny Hamlin (+6)
  7. Ryan Blaney (+6)
  8. Tyler Reddick (+5)
  9. Kevin Harvick (+5)
  10. Christopher Bell (+4)
  11. Kyle Busch (+3)
  12. Chase Briscoe (+2)
  13. Daniel Suarez (-2 under cut-off)
  14. Austin Cindric (-3)
  15. Alex Bowman (-3)
  16. Austin Dillon (-4)

From the Driver’s Seat

“For me, you have to find the balance of the fast lane being around the wall – which is a difficult place to live all night for 500 miles – and the sun sets in a really awkward place there in turn three right in your face. It becomes hard to see the corner entry,” said Chase Elliott.

“To me it becomes a tale of two races the more I’ve done it and the more I’ve been a part of the race. In my opinion, it almost feels longer than the 600 for some reason. It feels like you’ve been racing for two days. You start in the daytime and end late at night. Balancing the event is probably the most important piece of going to Darlington; then making sure you have a car that’s put together that you haven’t bounced off the wall a bunch for those last 100 miles.”

Last Time at Darlington

Leading with two laps to go at Darlington, William Byron was in for a fight with Joey Logano filling up his rear-view mirror. He was either going to bring home his third win of the season or see it snatched from his grasp in the waning moments of the race.

As Byron and Logano entered Turn 3 on the penultimate lap of the Goodyear 400, we got our answer.

Following closely in Byron’s tire tracks, Logano charged into the corner and slammed into the rear bumper of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet, shooting him up the track and into the wall, leaving the door wide open for Logano to take over the race lead and break a winless streak dating back to March 2021.

Meanwhile, the disappointing end to the race for Byron ended with him crossing the line in 13th place – a far cry from what would have at least been a top-two finish for him.

As expected, Byron was none too pleased with Logano’s on-track actions and had a few choice words for him afterwards.

“He’s just an idiot,” Byron said. “He does this stuff all the time. I’ve seen it with other guys. I mean, he drove in there 10 mph too fast. With these Next Gen cars, he slammed me so hard, it knocked the whole right side off the car with no way to make the corner. So, yeah, he’s just a moron.

“He can’t win a race, so he does it that way. I don’t know. It was close racing on the restart. We were faster than him. Obviously, at the end, the right rear was starting to go away and he didn’t even make it a contest.”

Of course, there’s always two sides to a story as Logano alluded to in his frontstretch winner’s interview with FOX Sports.

“You’re not going to put me in the wall and not get anything back. That’s how that works,” Logano said.

Logano’s comments seemed to point back to the final restart with 26 laps to go in which he held the lead, but as he and Byron battled for the lead, Logano made contact with the wall, after which Byron took over the lead.

After losing the lead, Logano was a man on a mission to catch back up to Byron during the final run down the stretch to the finish. As they say, the rest is history.

“Just an incredible race there at the end with William. I don’t know if he meant to get into me and fence me, but he did and at that point I felt like it was game on and was able to get back to him there the last few laps, pushing really hard, and just knew that was my shot to win the thing and I had to take it.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Saturday, September 3
    • NASCAR Cup Series Practice (12:05 pm – USA Network)
    • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (12:50 pm – USA Network)
  • Sunday, September 4
    • Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (3:30 pm – 293 laps, 400.2 miles – USA Network)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.