HomeSportsChristopher Bell takes pole for playoff opener at Darlington; full starting...

Christopher Bell takes pole for playoff opener at Darlington; full starting grid

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin this weekend with one of the calendar’s traditional jewels, the Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Regular season champion Martin Truex Jr. enters the 10-week championship hunt as a betting favorite. He has been the epitome of consistency throughout the 2023 season, taking three wins and 15 top-10s and completing 99.7% of all laps. Truex starts the Round of 16 tied with William Byron – who won five races in the regular season – with 2,036 points, 11 ahead of Denny Hamlin and 15 ahead of the suddenly rising Chris Buescher.

Here’s what else you need to know ahead of the Southern 500:

Southern 500 TV/streaming schedule

Always Eastern

12:30-1:20 PM: Practice (US, NBC Sports app)
13:20-14:30: Qualification (US, NBC Sports app)

5.30pm-6pm: Pre-Race Show (US, NBC Sports App)
6:00 PM-10:30 PM: Southern 500 (US, NBC Sports app)

Southern 500 race details

Track: Darlington Raceway (1,366 mile egg-shaped oval), Darlington, South Carolina
Length: 367 laps for 501.322 miles
Banking: For straight – 3 degrees | Rotates 1-2 – 25 degrees | Back straight – 2 degrees | Rotates 3-4 – 23 degrees
Stage lengths: Stage 1 – 115 laps | Stage 2 – 115 laps | Stage 3 – 137 laps
Winner 2022: Joey Logano

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Opened in 1950, the track they’ve dubbed “too tough to tame” is one of the oldest on the track and one of the most celebrated. The unique, 1,366-mile egg-shaped oval has wide, flowing turns 1 and 2, but has tighter third and fourth turns to preserve the pond that the original farmland owner said should be left in place when the speedway was built. On the track known for its many race grooves, drivers like to discover what works for them over long runs, and adjustments during the race are crucial.

Top drivers and best bets for the Southern 500

Truex is not only the betting favorite to claim the championship, but also enters the Southern 500 weekend with the best odds to win the race (+500), according to BetMGM. Byron (+750) and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson (+525) are sandwiched between Truex and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin (+800).

Overall, the top eight drivers with the best odds are all playoff drivers, and 14 of the top 15 are in the postseason.

Best odds of winning
Martin Truex Jr. +500
Kyle Larson +525
William Byron +750
Denny Hamlin +800
Christopher Bell +1100
Kyle Busch +1100
Ross Chastain +1100

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Yahoo Sports’ Nick Bromberg wrote about the pre-race betting landscape earlier this week and suggests finding good mid-range value in defending champion Joey Logano (+1800) and Buescher (+2200), who have won three of the past five races. Bromberg also recommends taking a kite on Erik Jones, who is competing at odds of 40 to 1, despite two wins in this event, including last year.

Denny Hamlin has by far the best average Darlington finishing position of any driver in the field, at 7.7. (Photo by Jared East/Getty Images)

Playoff standings go to Southern 500

1. Martin Truex Jr. – 2,036
2. William Byron–2,036
3. Denny Hamlin–2,025
4. Chris Buescher-2,021
5. Kyle Busch-2,019
6. Kyle Larson-2.017
7. Christopher Bell–2,104
8. Ross Chastain-2.011
9. Brad Keselowski-2010
10. Tyler Reddick-2009
11. Joey Logano-2.008
12. Ryan Blaney-2008
____________________ intrude
13. Michael McDowell-2007
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2005
15. Kevin Harvick-2004
16. Bubba Wallace – 2,000

Southern 500 entry list

Ross Chastain (1), Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet
Austin Cindric (2), Team Penske Ford
Austin Dillon (3), Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick (4), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kyle Larson (5), Hendrick Motorsports-Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski (6), RFK Racing Ford
Corey LaJoie (7), Spire Motorsports-Chevrolet
Kyle Busch (8), Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Chase Elliott (9), Hendrick Motorsports-Chevrolet
Aric Almirola (10), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Denny Hamlin (11), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ryan Blaney (12), Team Penske Ford
Chase Briscoe (14), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
JJ Yeley (15), Rick Ware Racing Ford
AJ Allmendinger (16), Kaulig Racing-Chevrolet
Chris Buescher (17), RFK Racing Ford
Martin Truex Jr. (19), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Christopher Bell (20), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Harrison Burton (21), Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Joey Logano (22), Team Penske Ford
Bubba Wallace (23), 23XI Racing Toyota
William Byron (24), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Justin Haley (31), Kaulig Racing-Chevrolet
Michael McDowell (34), Front Row Motorsports-Ford
Todd Gilliland (38), Front Row Motorsports-Ford
Ryan Preece (41), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Carson Hocevar (42), Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet
Erik Jones (43), Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet
Tyler Reddick (45), 23XI Racing Toyota
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47), JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Alex Bowman (48), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Ryan Newman (51), Rick Ware Racing Ford
Ty Gibbs (54), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ty Dillon (77), Spire Motorsports-Chevrolet
BJ McLeod (78), Live Fast Motorsports-Ford
Daniel Suarez (99), Trackhouse Racing-Chevrolet

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Southern 500 weather

The weather forecast calls for warm temperatures in the lower 80s for Saturday practice and qualifying, while race day will be hot, with a maximum temperature of 89 degrees. As the race is run in twilight and night conditions, the predicted altitude should not have such a big impact on tire degradation as the race progresses, but the load passing through the right tires – especially in the long sweeping corners 1-2 – makes for some interesting pit strategies.

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