Ryan Blaney’s Hot Streak Continues With Busch Pole at Darlington

Ryan Blaney

Getty Ryan Blaney celebrates a win at Daytona International Speedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin on Sept. 5 with a trip to Darlington Raceway. Ryan Blaney will lead the field to the green flag as the Busch Pole winner, continuing the streak of big moments for the Team Penske driver after he won the final two regular-season races.

NASCAR released the starting order for the Cook Out Southern 500 on Wednesday, Sept. 1, also revealing that Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will join Blaney on the front row. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota Camry had the fastest lap during the Coke Zero Sugar 400 regular-season finale at Daytona on Aug. 28, a key part of the starting lineup formula.

Two former champions will make up the second row Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch and Hendrick Motorsports‘ Chase Elliott lining up next to each other. Two of Elliott’s teammates — Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson — will make up the third row while Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick and Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola will round out the top 10.

The Cook Out Southern 500 will take place on Sunday, Sept. 5, at 6 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Network will broadcast the action from Darlington Raceway while MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will provide audio coverage.

The Starting Lineup Formula Changed for the Playoffs

NASCAR determining the starting lineup through its unique formula is nothing new for the Cup Series drivers. Only a fraction of the 36-race schedule featured practice and qualifying sessions. However, the sanctioning body made a slight adjustment as the playoffs began.

The new version of the formula puts all of the playoff drivers at the front of the pack, regardless of where they finished in the previous race. For example, Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell finished 39th in the regular-season finale after engine failure, but he will line up on the eighth row next to Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski.

The rest of the NASCAR drivers will line up behind the playoff field based on starting order formula. 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace will be the first of the group after his second-place finish in the regular-season finale. JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ryan Preece will join him on the ninth row.

Former Darlington Winners Line Up Together

There will be two men facing extra attention when they head to Darlington Raceway. Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr., the two most recent winners at the 1.36-mile oval, will join each other on the fifth row.

Harvick kicked off the 2020 playoffs by winning the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. A collision between Elliott and Truex sent them both into the wall and opened up a path to victory for the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang. Harvick took the checkered flag and punched his ticket to the Round of 12.

Truex, on the other hand, won his third race of the 2021 season during Throwback Weekend. He and his fellow drivers headed to Darlington Raceway on Mother’s Day — May 9 — and faced off in a 293-lap shootout. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver dominated during the race, leading 248 laps and winning all three stages.

Both Harvick and Truex have considerable success at Darlington. The SHR driver has reached Victory Lane three times — twice in 2020 and once in 2014 — while Truex locked up wins in 2021 and 2016. Now they will fight for the win once again. Although they will have to make their way through the field early.

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