The Cup Series Start’s It’s Version of The Post Season This Weekend In Darlington

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For the first-time in its 70-year existence (1950-Present), the historic Darlington Raceway will host the opening event for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs Schedule
TrackDates
DarlingtonSunday, September 6, 2020
RichmondSaturday, September 12, 2020
BristolSaturday, September 19, 2020
Las VegasSunday, September 27, 2020
TalladegaSunday, October 4, 2020
Charlotte RCSunday, October 11, 2020
KansasSunday, October 18, 2020
TexasSunday, October 25, 2020
MartinsvilleSunday, November 1, 2020
PhoenixSunday, November 8, 2020

Darlington Raceway is the fourth different track to host the first race of the NASCAR Cup Series postseason. New Hampshire Motor Speedway hosted the first race of the Playoffs from 2004–2010, then Chicagoland Speedway held the first race of the Playoffs from 2011–2017 and Las Vegas Motor Speedway hosted the first race of the Playoffs from 2018-2019. 

Prior to the 2020 season, Darlington Raceway had hosted just one other Playoff race, the penultimate event in the inaugural Playoffs in 2004. The race was won by seven-time series champion and Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson.

Darlington Raceway will become just the second track in the NASCAR Cup Series Modern Era (1972-Present) to have the series compete in points-paying races more than twice in a single season; joining Riverside International Raceway in 1981. Darlington hosted its first two events of 2020 on May 17 (won by Kevin Harvick) and May 20 (won by Denny Hamlin). Darlington Raceway has hosted 118 NASCAR Cup Series races producing 51 different pole winners and 51 different race winners. Jimmie Johnson (2004 sweep, 2012), and Denny Hamlin (2010, 2017, 2020) lead all active drivers in victories at Darlington with three wins each. Eight former Darlington Cup winners are entered this weekend – Johnson (three), Hamlin (three), Kevin Harvick (two), Erik Jones, Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. (each have one).   

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. (2016, 2017, 2019) and Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski (2012, 2014, 2018) lead the series in Playoff opener wins with three each.

First Race Of The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs – Race Winners
TrackPlayoff Race WinnersDate
New HampshireKurt BuschSunday, September 19, 2004
New HampshireRyan NewmanSunday, September 18, 2005
New HampshireKevin HarvickSunday, September 17, 2006
New HampshireClint BowyerSunday, September 16, 2007
New HampshireGreg BiffleSunday, September 14, 2008
New HampshireMark MartinSunday, September 20, 2009
New HampshireClint BowyerSunday, September 19, 2010
ChicagoTony StewartMonday, September 19, 2011
ChicagoBrad KeselowskiSunday, September 16, 2012
ChicagoMatt KensethSunday, September 15, 2013
ChicagoBrad KeselowskiSunday, September 14, 2014
ChicagoDenny HamlinSunday, September 20, 2015
ChicagoMartin Truex JrSunday, September 18, 2016
ChicagoMartin Truex JrSunday, September 17, 2017
Las VegasBrad KeselowskiSunday, September 16, 2018
Las VegasMartin Truex JrSunday, September 15, 2019

The winner of the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has gone on to win the title four times. In 2004 (inaugural Cup Playoffs), Kurt Busch won the opening race of the Playoffs at New Hampshire and went on to win the title. In 2011 (race was delayed until Monday due to rain) Tony Stewart won his first race of the season at Chicago to open the Playoffs. Stewart went on to set the record for the most wins in a Playoff run with five victories and the title. In 2012, Brad Keselowski won the Playoff race at Chicago and went on to win the title. And in 2017, Martin Truex Jr.won the Playoff race at Chicago and went on to win his first championship.

The worst finish in the opening race of the Playoffs by a driver that went on to win the title was Jimmie Johnson’s 39th-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the 2006 postseason. The worst finish in the opening Playoff race at Chicago for a driver that went on to win the title was Jimmie Johnson’s12th-place finish in 2016. The worst finish in the opening race of the Playoffs at Las Vegas by a driver that went on to win the title was Kyle Busch’s 19th-place finish last season.

No non-Playoff driver has ever won the opening race of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Since the inception of the elimination-style format of the Playoffs in 2014, entering the Playoffs as the No. 1 seed has been the most successful seeding, producing three championships among two drivers – Kyle Busch (2015, 2019) and Martin Truex Jr. (2017). The deepest seed an eventual champion has started the Playoffs was seventh by Kevin Harvick (2014) and Joey Logano (2018).

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