The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin on Sunday evening, and a big question is on the mind of racing fans: Will Kyle Larson continue his winning ways during the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina?
Larson leads the Cup Series with five wins on the season. Those victories helped him vault into first place in the regular-season standings and contributed to his early lead in the playoff standings. He has 2,052 points to his name, while Ryan Blaney is in second place with 2,024.
Now, Larson will look for his most important win yet. A victory at Sunday’s Southern 500 would clinch him a spot in the Round of 12, as it would for any of the 16 playoff drivers. So too would a victory in either of the next two first-round races, the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond and Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol.
Five drivers in this year’s playoff field have won the Southern 500 before: Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have all won the event once, while Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have won it twice apiece, including a victory during the 2020 playoffs for Harvick. Additionally, 2019 Southern 500 winner Erik Jones will be in the 37-car field, though he isn’t one of the 16 drivers that qualified for the playoffs.
Still, Larson will have some stiff competition in the race, which will last 367 laps on Darlington’s 1.366-mile oval track. It will run a total of 501.322 miles.
Sporting News is tracking live updates and lap-by-lap highlights from NASCAR’s playoff race at Darlington on Sunday night. Follow for complete results from the Southern 500.
NASCAR at Darlington live updates, highlights from Southern 500
(All times Eastern).
6:48 p.m. —We’re out of caution now. Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are leading the field right now on the 37th lap.
6:45 p.m. — Four playoff drivers have already suffered some sort of crash. Alex Bowman, William Byron and Chase Elliott have had minor incidents. Michael McDowell had a big crash that has knocked him out of the race. We’re through 34 laps.
6:42 p.m. — Caution 3 (Lap 32). Michael McDowell has crashed. The No. 34 car lost control and crashed into the outside wall before coming back across to crash into the inside wall. He didn’t hit any other cars. McDowell is done for the day.
6:41 p.m. — Chase Elliott had to go down pit road a second time after suffering some minor fender damage after a minor collision with a tire carrier. That has knocked him down the leaderboard a bit.
6:39 p.m. — Coming out of the pit, Kevin Harvick has taken the lead from Kurt Busch. Harvick won the 2020 Southern 500 and has won the event twice overall.
6:37 p.m. — Caution 2 (Lap 26). We’re at a competition caution now. Kurt Busch is still out in front. Michael McDowell has moved up to the eighth spot after pitting for new tires following the 17th lap. His new tires helped him climb up the standings.
6:34 p.m. — Bowman is back on the race track now. His car doesn’t look to be in the best shape, but he’s back out there, nonetheless.
6:33 p.m. — The caution is now over. Kurt Busch, who passed Ryan Blaney just before Bowman’s accident, is in the front of the field.
6:28 p.m — Caution 1 (Lap 17). Alex Bowman crashed into the wall a bit amid some issues with electrical systems. He also brushed William Byron’s right rear tire.
6:25 p.m. — Through 10 laps, Ryan Blaney remains in the lead. He has led for all 10 laps as the pole-sitter.
6:24 p.m. — Alex Bowman is dealing with some electrical issues. He’s still in the top five, but that could cause him some issues. It will be interesting to see if he can fix that when he heads to pit row.
6:22 p.m. — Michael McDowell (14th in the playoff standings) got close to hitting another car during the first turn. He managed to control his car just enough to avoid it.
6:20 p.m. — We are underway at Darlington. Pole-sitter Ryan Blaney leads after one lap.
6:17 p.m. — The cars are working their ways around the track behind the pace car. Ryan Blaney is on the pole, followed by Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman.
6:11 p.m. — The engines have been started. It won’t be long until the race begins.
6:09 p.m. — Two playoff drivers, Tyler Reddick and Denny Hamlin, ran in yesterday’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington. Reddick finished in seventh place while Hamlin finished 12th.
6:00 p.m. — The pre-race ceremonies are now underway!
5:58 p.m. — We’re almost ready to race. NBC’s pre-race coverage is ongoing and the Southern 500 is officially set to begin in 20 minutes, at 6:18 p.m. ET.
5:52 p.m. — Speaking of Elliott, he is the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion. He raced from the pole at last year’s Southern 500, but he finished in 20th place during the race.
5:45 p.m. — Chase Elliott is driving the No. 9 car at Darlington. The design was chosen as part of the Chase Elliott Foundation’s “Desi9n To Drive” competition that benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. IT features a paint scheme designed by Mary Frances Webb, a 15-year-old who receives cancer treatment at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
5:36 p.m. — Bad news for Austin Dillon: he’ll start the race at the back of the pack after failing multiple pre-race inspections. Dillon finished 17th in NASCAR’s regular-season standings and was the first driver out of the 16-car playoff field.
5:35 p.m. — Larson is well ahead in the playoff standings at this point. His five wins have given him a big leg up in NASCAR’s playoff standings.
5:33 p.m. — Kyle Larson was just asked what it was like coming into the playoffs as a favorite. “I haven’t thought about it,” he told NBC Sports.
5:30 p.m. — The 72nd running of the Southern 500 is nearly here, and Darlington Raceway is looking sharp and ready to race.
NASCAR start time today
The green flag for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race on Darlington Raceway’s 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval is scheduled to drop at 6:18 p.m. ET.
Ideal weather conditions are expected. The National Weather Service’s Sunday forecast for Darlington, S.C., is for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 80s during the daytime, and clear skies with lows in the mid-to upper 60s at night.
NASCAR starting lineup at Darlington
Here is the complete NASCAR starting lineup for Sunday’s playoff race at Darlington Raceway, the Cook Out Southern 500.
(Playoff drivers are denoted by “p-” next to their names.)
NASCAR playoff standings
The Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington is the first of three races in the Round of 16. The other races are the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond on Sept. 11 and the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol on Sept. 18. The playoff field will be cut down to 12 drivers after Bristol.
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