• Tue. Mar 28th, 2023

2022 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Darlington 2

ByBrenden Martin

Sep 4, 2022
Southern 500 2021

Photo courtesy of Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series has reached the playoffs. 26 races equated to 16 different winners, 15 of which will be represented in the first round of the Playoffs. The Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will mark the first of three races in the Round of 16.

23XI Racing No. 45 driver Kurt Busch, who won at Kansas Speedway in May, will not be in the Playoffs after retracting his medical waiver before last week’s regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, rendering him ineligible for the postseason.

Busch will miss his seventh consecutive race under concussion protocol for a qualifying crash at Pocono Raceway. Ty Gibbs will once again assume duties for 23XI Racing. However, his car will look a little different.

The No. 45 car is still eligible for the Owner’s Championship thanks to Busch’s win, but with Busch out, the driver within the car is not in the Driver Championship battle. The team decided to swap its drivers and their cars, putting Gibbs in the No. 23 car and putting Bubba Wallace in the No. 45.

The move was made to put the more experienced driver in the car that is still racing for an owner title.

Playoff drivers will have three races to avoid being in the bottom four on points and being eliminated in the first round. Trackhouse Racing No. 99 driver Daniel Suárez, Team Penske No. 2 driver Austin Cindric, Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 driver Alex Bowman and Richard Childress Racing No. 3 driver Austin Dillon start the playoffs below the cutline. Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 driver Chase Briscoe is the first driver above the cutline, two points above Suárez.

The spring race at Darlington earlier this year brought a dramatic finish where Team Penske No. 22 driver Joey Logano turned Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 driver William Byron into the Turn 3 wall with two laps to go.

Logano locked himself into the playoffs with his first of two wins this season and Byron fell back to 13th after nearly winning a third race this season.

Logano won the spring Darlington race from pole position and he will start in the same place on Sunday, earning his second pole of the season and second at Darlington.

Byron will start third right behind Logano on Row 2. Byron was mad at Logano for the move, calling him a “moron”, but with a race for the championship on the line, it will be interesting to see if he retaliates.

A driver that will have a tough time ensuring he can advance to the Round of 12 will be Suárez. Already starting below the cutline, the Sonoma Raceway winner failed pre-race inspection three times.

Suárez lost his car chief and pit stall selection for the race after failing inspection the second time. The third failure resulted in the team forgoing a qualifying time, putting him last to start the race, and he will need to do a pass-through penalty at the start of the race.

The pass-through will likely put him a lap down when he comes back on the track but 500 miles is a long time to make up for the penalty, especially if he can get the free pass on an early caution.

Live Fast Motorsports No. 78 driver BJ McLeod also failed inspection twice and will lose his pit stall selection and an engineer.

Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 driver Denny Hamlin won last year’s Southern 500 and was the first driver to advance to the Round of 12. The win was his first of the season. He held off Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 driver Kyle Larson who used the wall to try and pass him on the final turn.

Larson ran the Xfinity race at Darlington on Saturday in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 17 car where he went door-to-door with Richard Childress Racing No. 2 Sheldon Creed on the last lap.

Larson got into the playoff hopeful in a similar way he got into Hamlin in last season’s Southern 500. The battle led to the two limping across the finish line after JR Motorsports No. 9 driver Noah Gragson won his fourth race of the Xfinity season.

Larson will start seventh on Sunday and Hamlin will start 11th.

The Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway will be 367 laps with stage breaks on Laps 115 and 230. TV coverage of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff opener will begin with NASCAR Countdown to Green at 2:00 p.m. ET. The race will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET on USA Network and the NBC Sports App and can be listened to on Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Starting Lineup:

Starting Grid Darlington Cup

Practice Results:

Practice Times Darlington Cup

Pit Stall Selection: