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Playoff Update: What Just Happened At Darlington?

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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Well, the first race of the round of 16 in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is in the books and it was a wild one. While early on, it looked to be Denny Hamlin’s day, some mistakes on pit road in tandem with a late-race incident would hinder his chances to advance outright. So, what does the playoff situation look like right now? Let’s take a look:

Through To The Round of 12!

Finally, the Darlington ringer has scored a victory on one of his favorite tracks. But it wasn’t just any victory, it was the crown jewel of the Southern 500! This win punches Kyle Larson’s ticket to the round of 12. This means that he and his team can sit a little more easily in the coming weeks at Texas and Bristol and go exclusively for wins, the burden of points racing off his shoulders until the Round of 12 resets. This also means that Larson will have 5 extra bonus points heading into the other rounds which could play a big role in him making it all the way to the Championship 4 at Phoenix.

After the race, he spoke briefly about what it meant to win there. Well, that’s another one off his bucket list! Now, it’s time to try to win the Brickyard in 2024!

Sitting Pretty Good: The Winners

While only one driver was able to hoist the coveted Southern 500 trophy tonight, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t other winners in the field who benefitted greatly from a huge points night…and maybe capitalized off the issues of others.

The first driver in this camp is none other than the runner-up finisher, Tyler Reddick. Tyler Reddick had a strong showing all night, being in the top 5 for the majority of the race. With a 2nd place finish in Stage 1 and a 4th place finish in Stage 2, Reddick had the optimal points day. As of right now, Reddick is 30 points to the good of the cutline heading into Kansas. It’s a comfortable lead that should take some stress off the driver of the No. 45. Still, they have to be very careful and avoid mistakes as we continue through this Round of 16.

The third-place finisher, Chris Buescher, is riding the wave of momentum through these playoffs! He was right there in the mix all day along with his RFK teammate, Brad Keselowski and it would seem that the No. 17 team has found something in the last several weeks. Though we know he would’ve liked to win the race, a third-place finish to follow wins in three of the last five races is showing true championship form. He is currently tied for 4th in the playoff standings, +27 points over the cutline.

But just who is Chris Buescher tied with in the standings? None other than Denny Hamlin. Yes, I’m going to count Denny Hamlin as a winner here. Even though he certainly didn’t have the finish he wanted, he was still able to win the first stage and, because of his playoff points, he still sits pretty in the standings. That said, that No. 11 team needs to be very mindful of mistakes heading into Kansas, Bristol, and the Round of 12. They can’t afford too many more nights like tonight.

Some Costly Mistakes: The Biggest Losers

For the Biggest Losers section, I’m going to list 2 drivers. The first is Christopher Bell. While, yes, he’s still currently above the cutline (by 1 point, but still) slow pitstops and a late-race incident put him in the danger zone of falling out of the top 12. That means that he’s going to have to race hard for points over the span of the next couple of weeks and he can’t afford to make any more mistakes. The incident in which he was involved also worsened Denny Hamlin’s day, who had his own troubles on pit road. That’s proof of what a good-sized point cushion can do for a driver.

The other driver who I list as a loser (and he lost big in this race) is Michael McDowell. Given the tracks that are in the Round of 16, I don’t think many had him advancing through to the Round of 12 in their brackets. But still, I think most thought that he’d put up a better fight than this. The No. 34 team was slow all day, on the track and on pit road, and they were involved in the crash above with Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell. The incident would end the day of the No. 34 crew. He currently sits as the 16th seed, 19 points back from the cutline. That’s a steep hill for that little team that could climb.

On The Cutline

Lastly, let’s take a look here at the drivers around the cutline itself. Currently sitting in 13th place, just one position behind Christopher Bell, is Bubba Wallace who finished tonight’s race in 7th place. That was exactly what the driver of the No. 23 needed to do. If he can keep this up heading into one of his best tracks in Kansas Speedway, as others make horrendous mistakes, he could sneak into the Round of 12 with relative ease.

Kevin Harvick in his final Southern 500 didn’t have the best day…but it was far from the worst day either. Despite some issues with pitting while pit road was closed, he still sits at only 2 points below the cutline. Will the Closer be able to Close in his final season and make it into the Round of 12? Only time will tell.

Okay, Daily Downforce readers! What did you think of this race? Were you surprised at all by how it turned out? Who do you think is looking the best heading into the Round of 12? Let us know your thoughts on all of our socials! In the meantime, you can keep it right here at dailydownforce.com for all your latest news and stories in the world of NASCAR!

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
All Posts