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|
|Darlington||Sunday, September 6, 2020|
|Richmond||Saturday, September 12, 2020|
|Bristol||Saturday, September 19, 2020|
|Las Vegas||Sunday, September 27, 2020|
|Talladega||Sunday, October 4, 2020|
|Charlotte RC||Sunday, October 11, 2020|
|Kansas||Sunday, October 18, 2020|
|Texas||Sunday, October 25, 2020|
|Martinsville||Sunday, November 1, 2020|
|Phoenix||Sunday, 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|
|Track||Playoff Race Winners||Date|
|New Hampshire||Kurt Busch||Sunday, September 19, 2004|
|New Hampshire||Ryan Newman||Sunday, September 18, 2005|
|New Hampshire||Kevin Harvick||Sunday, September 17, 2006|
|New Hampshire||Clint Bowyer||Sunday, September 16, 2007|
|New Hampshire||Greg Biffle||Sunday, September 14, 2008|
|New Hampshire||Mark Martin||Sunday, September 20, 2009|
|New Hampshire||Clint Bowyer||Sunday, September 19, 2010|
|Chicago||Tony Stewart||Monday, September 19, 2011|
|Chicago||Brad Keselowski||Sunday, September 16, 2012|
|Chicago||Matt Kenseth||Sunday, September 15, 2013|
|Chicago||Brad Keselowski||Sunday, September 14, 2014|
|Chicago||Denny Hamlin||Sunday, September 20, 2015|
|Chicago||Martin Truex Jr||Sunday, September 18, 2016|
|Chicago||Martin Truex Jr||Sunday, September 17, 2017|
|Las Vegas||Brad Keselowski||Sunday, September 16, 2018|
|Las Vegas||Martin Truex Jr||Sunday, 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).