Cup series Playoff driver performances at Darlington

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It is time for the best of the best in the NASCAR Cup Series to shine as the Playoffs have arrived. The top 16 drivers will battle it out over the next 10 weeks in an ‘elimination-style’ postseason format all kicking off this Sunday at Darlington Raceway at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

This season’s Playoff field is full of talent. Six former series champions have qualified for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series postseason – Kyle Busch (2015, 2019), Joey Logano (2018), Martin Truex Jr. (2017), Kevin Harvick (2014), Brad Keselowski (2012) and Kurt Busch (2004). Plus, for just the third time in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Era (2004-Present) a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate has made the postseason – Stewart-Haas Racing’s Cole Custer; he joins Denny Hamlin (2006) and Chase Elliott (2016) as the only rookies to accomplish the feat.  

Below is a look at the 2020 Playoff Top 16’s career performances at Darlington Raceway heading into this weekend’s postseason event (In order of seeding):

Kevin Harvick (No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet) heads to Darlington ranked first in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,057 points. This is the California native’s 14th appearance in the postseason. Harvick has won seven races this year – series-most – including the first stop earlier in the season at Darlington Raceway. Harvick has posted two wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s and two poles in 25 starts at Darlington. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 11.235, sixth-best. He also is ranked in the top five in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 10.948 (fifth-best), Driver Rating of 103.5 (third-best), 363 Fastest Laps Run (series-best) and 4,785 Laps in the Top 15 (79.5%, third-most).

Denny Hamlin (No. 11 Joe Gibs Racing Toyota) goes to Darlington ranked second in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,047 points. This is the Virginia native’s 14th appearance in the postseason. Hamlin is right behind Harvick, winning six races this year – second-most – including the second stop earlier this season at Darlington Raceway. Hamlin has posted three wins, nine top fives, 13 top 10s and one pole in 16 starts at Darlington. His average finish at the egg-shaped track is 7.188, second-best. He also is ranked in the top three in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 8.131 (series-best), Driver Rating of 106.7 (series-best), 304 Fastest Laps Run (third-best), and 5,025 Laps in the Top 15 (88.9%, second-most).

Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Team Penske Ford) heads to Darlington ranked third in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,029 points. This is the ninth time he has competed in the series’ Playoffs. This season is the fifth consecutive year he has put up three or more wins in the series. Keselowski is no slouch at Darlington either. He has posted one win, five top fives, seven top 10s and one pole in 13 starts. His average finish at the historic track is 10.385, fourth-best. He is also ranked in the top 10 of several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 10.685 (fourth-best), Driver Rating of 99.9 (fifth-best), 190 Fastest Laps Run (seventh-best) and 3,330 Laps in the Top 15 (73.2%, ninth-most).

Joe Logano (No. 22 Team Penske Ford) rides into Darlington ranked fourth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,022 points. The 2020 Playoffs mark the seventh time Logano has participated in the postseason. He has two wins and six top fives on the year. He has made 13 starts at Darlington amassing three top fives and six top 10s. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 15.769, 13th-best. He is also ranked in the top 12 of several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 12.695 (eighth-best), Driver Rating of 89.5 (eighth-best), 89 Fastest Laps Run (11th-best) and 3,215 Laps in the Top 15 (70.7%, ninth-most).

Chase Elliott (No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) arrives at Darlington ranked fifth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,020 points. This is the fifth time he has competed in the Playoffs. Elliott has put up two wins and 10 top fives this season. At Darlington, Elliott has collected two top fives, three top 10s in seven starts. His average finish at the egg-shaped track is 18.286, 16th-best. Plus, he is ranked in the top 15 of several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 12.513 (seventh-best), Driver Rating of 87.8 (12th-best), 80 Fastest Laps Run (13th-best), 1,659 Laps in the Top 15 (71.0%, 12th-most).

Martin Truex Jr. (No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota) lands in Darlington ranked sixth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,014 points. The 2020 season marks the eighth time Truex has competed in the Playoffs. Truex has grabbed one checkered flag and 11 top-five finishes this season. Last year, Truex became just the fourth driver in series history to win the first two events of the Playoffs; joining Greg Biffle (2008), Tony Stewart (2011) and Matt Kenseth (2013). Truex has made 16 starts at Darlington posting one win, two top fives and eight top 10s. His average finish at the historic track is 11.125, fifth-best. He is also ranked in the top 10 of several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 11.138 (sixth-best), Driver Rating of 99.6 (sixth-best), 287 Fastest Laps Run (fifth-best) and 4,049 Laps in the Top 15 (71.7%, fifth-most).

Ryan Blaney (No. 12 Team Penske Ford) heads to Darlington ranked seventh in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,013 points. This is the fourth time Blaney has made the Playoffs. The driver from North Carolina, has put up one win and eight top fives this season. At Darlington, he has posted two top 15s in seven starts. His average finish at the 1.366-mile raceway is 19.857, 20th-best. Plus, he is ranked in the top 25 in key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 20.654 (21st-best), Driver Rating of 72.5 (19th-best), 34 Fastest Laps Run (16th-best) and 523 Laps in the Top 15 (22.4%, 21st-most).

Alex Bowman (No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) arrives in Darlington ranked eighth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,009 points. The 2020 season marks the third time in his career he has made the postseason. This year, Bowman has collected one win and eight top 10s. At the ‘track too tough to tame’ he has made six starts posting one top-five finish. His average finish at Darlington is 19.0, 18th-best. In addition, he is ranked in the top 20 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 18.799 (18th-best), Driver Rating of 76.0 (16th-best), 107 Fastest Laps Run (10th-best), 766 Laps in the Top 15 (38.8%, 17th-most).

William Byron (No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet) clinched his spot in the 2020 Playoffs by winning the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway last weekend and pulls into Darlington this weekend ranked ninth in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,007 points. This is the second time Byron has made the Playoffs. The youngster from North Carolina has put up one win and nine top 10s this season. At Darlington he has made four career starts posting one top-15 finish. His average finish of 25.750 is 25th-best. Byron is ranked in the top 20 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 15.176 (13th-best), Driver Rating of 78.7 (14th-best), 19 Fastest Laps Run (17th-best), 823 Laps in the Top 15 (66.6%, 16th-most).

Austin Dillon (No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) heads to Darlington ranked 10th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,005 points. This is Dillon’s fourth time competing in the postseason. The driver from North Carolina had to miss a race due to testing positive for COVID-19 this season but had already locked himself into the Playoffs with a win. With a Playoff waiver, Dillon now sets his sights on Darlington, a track he has made eight starts accumulating one top five and two top 10s. His average finish at the egg-shaped track is 13.250, 10th-best. On top of that he is ranked in the top 20 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 16.854 (15th-best), Driver Rating of 75.3 (17th-best), 18 Fastest Laps Run (18th-best), 1,046 Laps in the Top 15 (38.6%, 14th-most).

Cole Custer (No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) rides into Darlington this weekend as just the third different Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate in the Playoff Era (2004-Present) to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs joining Denny Hamlin (2006) and Chase Elliott (2016). Custer is ranked 11th in the Playoff standings with 2,005 points. The Californian has one win and six top 10s this season. At Darlington, he has one top-25 finish in two starts. His average finish at the historic raceway is 26.500, 28th-best. His limited experience at the ‘track too tough to tame’ has him ranked in the top 25 of just two key Loop Data categories: Average Running Position of 22.242 (23rd-best) and Driver Rating of 59.8 (25th-best).

Aric Almirola (No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) arrives in Darlington this weekend ranked 12th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs with 2,005 points. The 2020 season marks the fourth time he has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. The driver from Tampa, Florida has put up five top fives and 14 top 10s this season – the highest ranked driver entering the postseason without a win. Almirola has made 10 starts at Darlington posting one top-10 finish. His average finish at the raceway is 17.600, 15th-best. In addition, he is ranked in the top 25 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 18.404 (17th-best), Driver Rating of 72.7 (18th-best), 13 Fastest Laps Run (22nd-best), 915 Laps in the Top 15 (26.6%,15th-most).

Clint Bowyer (No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford) roles into Darlington ranked 13th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,004 points. This is his ninth time competing in the Playoffs. The Kansas native has amassed two top fives and seven top 10s this season. Looking to Darlington, where Bowyer has posted two top 10s and a pole in 16 starts. His average finish at the 1.366-mile track is 21.313, 22nd-best. He is also ranked right around the top 15 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 17.845 (16th-best), Driver Rating of 77.4, (15th-best), 153 Fastest Laps Run (ninth-best) and 2,816 Laps in the Top 15 (49.8%, 11th-most).

Kyle Busch (No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), the defending series champion, enters the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs ranked 14th in the standings with 2,003 points. This is Busch’s 13th appearance in the Cup Series postseason. In comparison to years past, 2020 was a bit rough for Busch and the No. 18 JGR team, it is the longest into a full season the two-time champ has gone without a win. Busch has posted 11 top fives and 13 top 10s this year. But Darlington could be the track that breaks his 26-race winless streak. He has made 17 starts at the famed raceway collecting one win, five top fives and 11 top 10s. His average finish at Darlington is 11.412, seventh-best. Much like Harvick and Hamlin, Busch ranks in the top five in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 9.405 (third-best), Driver Rating of 102.9 (fourth-best), 320 Fastest Laps Run (second-best), 5,070 Laps in the Top 15 (84.2%, series-most).

Kurt Busch (No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet) heads to Darlington this weekend ranked 15th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff standings with 2,001 points. The 2020 season marks the 14th-time he has competed in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. This season the Las Vegas native has gathered four top fives, 14 top 10s and a pole.  At Darlington, Busch has made 25 starts collecting four top fives, 10 top 10s and two poles. His average finish at the egg-shaped track is 15.647, 12th-best. He is also ranked right around the top 10 in several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 13.177 (10th-best), Driver Rating of 88.4 (11th-best), 235 Fastest Laps Run (sixth-best), 4,361 Laps in the Top 15 (72.4%, fourth-most).

Matt DiBenedetto (No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford) clinched the final NASCAR Cup Series Playoff spot (16th) on points last weekend in a wild finish at Daytona International Speedway earning his first ever postseason career berth. The Californian heads to Darlington with 2,000 points. DiBenedetto has made seven series starts at Darlington Raceway accumulating two top 10s. His average finish at the historic raceway is 21.0 (21st-best). He also falls right in the top 25 of several key Loop Data categories at Darlington: Average Running Position of 22.461 (24th-best), Driver Rating of 60.7 (24th-best), 7 Fastest Laps Run (25th-best), 551 Laps in the Top 15 (23.6%) (20th-most).

“The way I look at it is, I was pumped that we made it in and wanted it bad for the whole team because we know that we could be a Playoff contender, not just making it and being there,” said Matt DiBenedetto at Playoff Media Day. “I would say the most stressful part was making it in the Playoffs. Now I feel like we are the most put together as a team and most prepared and ready to go and execute to make some hay and pick some guys off and try to make it through and do a really good job. I would say it is less stressful now and more exciting that it is a clean slate where we are all grouped together in points and can show the strength of our team now.”

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