Larson leads playoffs after first place win in Darlington 

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Kyle Larson racing the No. 5 car. Larson won Cookout Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Photo courtesy of Zach Catanzareti.

The first weekend of NASCAR playoffs kicked off in Darlington, South Carolina at the Darlington Raceway. Kyle Larson made it to victory lane this weekend and currently holds the No. 1 spot in the playoffs after his first place finish at the Cook Out Southern 500.

An intense last 100 laps on the track nicknamed “The Lady in Black”, earning this name because track maintenance crews would cover the track in asphalt sealant, the night before race days, making the track appear a dark black color. Larson found himself leading the last 50 laps of the race while being hunted by drivers Tyler Reddick and Chris Buescher. 

No. 45 Reddick finished today’s race in second.

“Maybe just a little bit longer run, it’d just gotten short enough to where we don’t have to say a whole lot I think,” Reddick said. “Kyle and I were pretty close for a majority of the day… all in all this is the day we needed to have.” 

Reddick led 90 laps of the race but had struggled early in the race to keep Chris Buescher in his rear views after the restart in the race. Reddick had a strong start to the playoff season and scored some big points in his Toyota Camry for 23XI racing. 

No. 17 Buescher finished the first race of playoffs following behind Reddick and claiming his best finish he’s had in Darlington in the duration of his career. 

This top 3 finish puts Buescher in 4th place in the playoff standings following behind Larson, William Byron, and Reddick. “ Good for Darlington, good for the 7500,” Buescher said.  “I’m proud of that. But um, it also hurts just a little bit to be that close.” 

In the first round drivers tried to correct their initial mistakes, trying to survive, and just try to keep out of that 13-16 position finish. The 13-16 position drivers will be eliminated for the second round. 

In Stage 3 contact between No. 99 Daniel Suarez and No. 48 Alex Bowman was made, ruining any chance for either of these drivers to finish anywhere near the top 10 at the CookOut. Bowman finished 33rd after crashing on lap 319.

The Chevrolet Camaro of Bowman blocked Suarez two times during the race, on the second block contact was made between the two cars and sent Suarez spinning into the No. 21 car of Harrison Burton. 

William Byron squeaks out a top 5 place finish, after starting at the back gates, Larson moved up 17 positions during the race. Starting on the grid 21st and ending the race 4th. Hendrick Motorsports tightened up its No. 24 car in Stage 1 of the race, Byron found pace in the car afterwards and took the steps to change his fate in the playoffs. After the restart Byron started 9th and drove his Chevrolet Camaro up to that 4th place position. Bryon finds himself currently 2nd in the playoffs. 

Bubba Wallace spun out of the race but still managed to finish the race in seventh. He is 13th in the playoff standings. Bubba Wallace won the Kansas race last year and is looking for a one year anniversary tour at race two of the 16 races in playoffs. 

No. 11 driver Denny Hamlin, takes the fifth place position in the payoffs standings after winning Stages 1&2. Hamlin led 177 laps in the race but finished 25th. 

“I really just want to win the race. I want to win as many majors, as many races as I can,” Hamlin said. “I don’t really care about the points. I hate losing.” 

Despite Hamlin finishing way back in the field, he managed to score the ninth most points for him and his team Joe Gibbs racing.  

Four drivers did not quite make it above that elimination line, Bubba Wallace, Kevin Harvick, Ricky Steinhouse Jr., and Micheal Mcdowell are all in risk of not making it to round 2 of playoffs.

These drivers need a better race finish this upcoming weekend in Kansas if they have a chance at making it above the cut for the rest of the 2023 season. 

No. 34 Mcdowell started this weekend’s race ninth and finished in the 32nd in his Ford Mustang. Despite his excellent first place finish a few weekends ago at The Brickyard, Mcdowell finds himself 19 points in last place at the beginning of playoffs 

With two races left before round 1 of playoffs ends, the teams and their drivers pack up their gear and head out to Kansas for the Hollywood Casino 400, on the Kansas City Speedway. The second race of the playoffs, another great opportunity for drivers to earn their spot in the top 12 and second round. 

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