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).
7:57 p.m. — Ross Chastain has climbed into fifth place. He continues to be the highest-running non-playoff driver in the field.
7:56 p.m. — Tyler Reddick very nearly lost control of his car after the restart. His car got loose and had to slow while he was in a pack of cars. Incredibly, nobody crashed and the race continued.
7:55 p.m. — Kyle Larson leads in lap 130 after the restart. Now, Kurt Busch is in second place after his brother crashed out.
7:48 p.m. — Caution 6 (Lap 126). Well, that didn’t last long. Kyle Busch crashes into the wall after brushing Austin Dillon’s car, and Busch’s day is done. He was fourth place in the playoff standings entering the night. He joined Michael McDowell as playoff drivers that won’t finish the race.
7:46 p.m. — The fifth caution is over and Stage 2 of the race begins. Kyle Larson is at the front of the pack after passing Denny Hamlin coming out of caution. We’re on lap 123 of 367, so we’re about a third of the way through the race.
7:41 p.m. — Denny Hamlin comes out of the pit as the race’s leader. Ross Chastain moved up to eighth while Chase Elliott moved into the top 10 coming off pit road.
7:37 p.m. — Caution 5 (Lap 116). Stage 1 is over, and Denny Hamlin is the winner. He staves off Kyle Larson as the race enters a competitive caution. Here’s a look at the race’s top 10 after stage one. Of the group, only Ross Chastain is not in the playoff hunt.
1. Denny Hamlin
2. Kyle Larson
3. Kurt Busch
4. Ryan Blaney
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Martin Truex Jr.
7. Tyler Reddick
8. Aric Almirola
9. Ross Chastain
10. Joey Logano
7:34 p.m. — Five laps left in the stage. Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick are battling for the fourth spot as we reach the end of the stage. Playoff points are on the line here.
7:32 p.m. — There are 10 laps to go in the first stage. It looks like Denny Hamlin’s stage to lose. He’s up 3.3 seconds on Kyle Larson. Kurt Busch is close behind at 3.8 seconds. No other driver is within six seconds.
7:30 p.m. — Chase Elliott has worked his way back into the top 10. He dealt with a tire issue earlier but he is very much in the race now.
7:29 p.m. — We’re through 100 of 367 laps at Darlington. Denny Hamlin has a 4.1-second lead on Kyle Larson. There are 15 laps to go in Stage 1.
7:27 p.m. — The sun is just about to set, meaning it will have less of an impact on drivers soon. It’s still shining on them off Turn 2 right now.
7:23 p.m. — Is there another playoff driver dealing with car issues? Tyler Reddick, who is running in seventh place, is dealing with a bit of vibration on his car.
7:21 p.m. — Kyle Larson has moved into second place after the pit stops. He is just about three seconds off Denny Hamlin’s pace during the 86th lap.
7:18 p.m. — Drivers are starting to head down to pit road at lap 82. Leader Denny Hamlin is among those that have gone into the pit. He maintains the lead as the other drivers cycle through their pit stops.
7:15 p.m. — We’re through 78 of 115 laps in Stage 1. Denny Hamlin is maintaining a lead that he has had since exiting pit road during the last caution. This is the longest consecutive stretch without a caution during the race.
7:11 p.m. — Chase Elliott is climbing back up after an early tire issue. He just passed Brad Keselowski and has worked his way back to 13th place. He is 8.8 seconds off the lead.
7:07 p.m. — Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are having a fierce battle for the fourth spot in the race. Larson is keeping a high line on the outside and Harvick has nearly passed him a couple of times, but ultimately backed off just a bit.
7:04 p.m. — Once again, we are out of caution. The top five are Hamlin, Harvick, Blaney, Kurt Busch and Larson.
7:03 p.m. — Michael McDowell has spoken about his crash and how it changes his goals for the next two races.
7:01 p.m. — Alex Bowman’s car had a small fire on pit road. The No. 48 car is still running, but it has taken a beating through 52 laps.
6:58 p.m. — Denny Hamlin takes the lead after the latest caution. He is in first coming off pit road.
6:55 p.m. — Caution 4 (Lap 48). We have another crash. James Davison hit the outside wall. Cody Ware comes out with a right flat tire and he now has some damage to his right front. Davison is out of the race. Neither Davison nor Ware are playoff drivers.
6:52 p.m. — Kyle Larson has climbed into the top five. He’s about 3.5 seconds behind Kevin Harvick, who is leading the field through 44 laps.
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.
Chase Elliott’s paint scheme designed by 15 y.o. Mary Frances Webb from Athens, Ga.
Elliott’s scheme and uniform designed by cancer patients from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta in support of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. pic.twitter.com/AcMyzMonZY
— Alex Andrejev (@AndrejevAlex) September 5, 2021
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
- Time: 6 p.m. ET (TV time)
- TV channel: NBCSN (TSN5 in Canada)
- Live stream: NBCSports.com | fuboTV ( 7-day free trial )
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.)
|Start pos.||Driver||Car No.||Team|
|1||p-Ryan Blaney||12||Team Penske|
|2||p-Denny Hamlin||11||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|3||p-Kurt Busch||1||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|4||p-Chase Elliott||9||Hendrick Motorsports|
|5||p-Alex Bowman||48||Hendrick Motorsports|
|6||p-Kyle Larson||5||Hendrick Motorsports|
|7||p-Tyler Reddick||8||Richard Childress Racing|
|8||p-Aric Almirola||10||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|9||p-Kevin Harvick||4||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|10||p-Martin Truex Jr.||19||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|11||p-Joey Logano||22||Team Penske|
|12||p-Kyle Busch||18||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|13||p-Christopher Bell||20||Joe Gibbs Racing|
|14||p-William Byron||24||Hendrick Motorsports|
|15||p-Michael McDowell||34||Front Row Motorsports|
|16||p-Brad Keselowski||2||Team Penske|
|17||Bubba Wallace||23||23XI Racing|
|18||Ryan Preece||37||JTG Daugherty Racing|
|19||Ryan Newman||6||Roush Fenway Racing|
|20||Justin Haley||77||Spire Motorsports|
|21||Austin Dillon||3||Richard Childress Racing|
|22||Erik Jones||43||Richard Petty Motorsports|
|23||Ross Chastain||42||Chip Ganassi Racing|
|24||Chase Briscoe||14||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|25||Corey LaJoie||7||Spire Motorsports|
|26||Daniel Suarez||99||TrackHouse Racing|
|27||BJ McLeod||78||Live Fast Motorsports|
|28||Josh Bilicki||52||Rick Ware Racing|
|29||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||47||JTG Daugherty Racing|
|30||Matt DiBenedetto||21||Wood Brothers Racing|
|31||Cole Custer||41||Stewart-Haas Racing|
|32||Anthony Alfredo||38||Front Row Motorsports|
|33||Cody Ware||51||Petty Ware Racing|
|34||Chris Buescher||17||Roush Fenway Racing|
|35||Joey Gase||15||Rick Ware Racing|
|36||James Davison||53||Rick Ware Racing|
|37||Quin Houff||00||StarCom Racing|
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.
|1||Kyle Larson||5||Hendrick Motorsports||2052|
|2||Ryan Blaney||12||Team Penske||2024|
|3||Martin Truex Jr.||19||Joe Gibbs Racing||2024|
|4||Kyle Busch||18||Joe Gibbs Racing||2022|
|5||Chase Elliott||9||Hendrick Motorsports||2021|
|6||Alex Bowman||48||Hendrick Motorsports||2015|
|7||Denny Hamlin||11||Joe Gibbs Racing||2015|
|8||William Byron||24||Hendrick Motorsports||2014|
|9||Joey Logano||22||Team Penske||2013|
|10||Brad Keselowski||2||Team Penske||2008|
|11||Kurt Busch||1||Chip Ganassi Racing||2008|
|12||Christopher Bell||20||Joe Gibbs Racing||2005|
|13||Aric Almirola||10||Stewart-Haas Racing||2005|
|14||Michael McDowell||34||Front Row Motorsports||2005|
|15||Tyler Reddick||8||Richard Childress Racing||2003|
|16||Kevin Harvick||4||Stewart-Haas Racing||2002|