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NASCAR Starting Lineup for Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

NASCAR Starting Lineup for Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

NASCAR Starting Lineup for Sunday's Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs have arrived with a historic trip to Darlington Raceway. One of the sport's crown jewels, the Southern 500, is scheduled to kick off the festivities on its traditional Labor Day weekend date. Drivers hope the third time's the charm as it's the first time in the sport's 71-year history Cup has three Darlington races on the schedule.

The Track To Tough To Tame is called that for a reason; the treacherous 1.366-mile, egg-shaped oval is a one-groove racetrack with two unique sets of turns. It's one of the toughest tracks on tires and drivers will have their hands full trying to avoid the dreaded "Darlington stripe" by driving in a little too hard into the corners and scraping the wall.

NASCAR remains in a no-practice, no on-track qualifying mode during the COVID-19 pandemic. That means the starting lineup for Sunday night’s race (Sept. 6) was set during the metrics outlined below.

25 percent of the metric will be the driver's finishing position from the previous race.

25 percent of the metric will be the owner's finishing position from the previous race.

35 percent of the metric will be the owner's current position in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings.

15 percent of the metric will be their fastest lap during the previous race.

There's one small and one big change to the formula this week. After listening to criticism from the garage area, NASCAR adjusted its finishing metric to include a mix of owner and driver points. That allows teams who make driver changes week-to-week to still get rewarded by a strong finish from the previous race.

But the major adjustment going forward is that all 16 drivers eligible for the championship automatically start each race up front. That number will reduce itself over time; for example, only the 12 drivers remaining in the playoffs will start up front in the next round. (Making the postseason doesn't guarantee a top-16 start all 10 weeks).

Still, for guys like Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and others who just missed out, earning a 2020 victory to salvage their seasons will be that much harder every week. They're guaranteed to start no better than 17th in a year where track position has become increasingly important.

Thirty-nine teams entered the event this week for 40 spots on the grid. That means no one failed to qualify as the three open teams this week included the two full-time entries of Gaunt Brothers Racing (No. 96) and MBM Motorsports (No. 66) along with one part-timer: Tommy Baldwin Racing's No. 7.

1. Chase Elliott (P)

2. Denny Hamlin (P)

3. William Byron (P)

4. Alex Bowman (P)

5. Brad Keselowski (P)

6. Martin Truex Jr. (P)

7. Ryan Blaney (P)

8. Kevin Harvick (P)

9. Clint Bowyer (P)

10. Aric Almirola (P)

11. Matt DiBenedetto (P)

12. Austin Dillon (P)

13. Joey Logano (P)

14. Cole Custer (P) (R)

15. Kyle Busch (P)

16. Kurt Busch (P)

17. Bubba Wallace

18. John Hunter Nemechek (R)

19. Michael McDowell

20. Chris Buescher

21. Christopher Bell

22. Jimmie Johnson

23. Brennan Poole (R)

24. Tyler Reddick (R)

25. Ty Dillon

26. Matt Kenseth

27. Corey Lajoie

28. Daniel Suarez

29. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

30. Erik Jones

31. Ryan Newman

32. Quin Houff (R)

33. Timmy Hill (i)

34. Reed Sorenson

35. Ryan Preece

36. James Davison

37. JJ Yeley (i)

38. Josh Bilicki (i)

39. Joey Gase (i)

(R) – Rookie

(P) – Playoff driver

(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points


  • Chase Elliott (pole) starts up front for the second time in the last four races. He’s seeking his first career win at Darlington after leading 28 laps here back in May.
  • Denny Hamlin (2nd) has finished outside the top 10 at Darlington just three times in the past 14 years. He won the second race held here back in May.
  • William Byron (3rd) has his best start since starting on the pole at Charlotte Motor Speedway at the end of May.
  • Alex Bowman (4th) has his best starting spot since Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4th weekend.
  • Cole Custer (14th) is the highest-qualifying rookie in the field. He’s guaranteed the 2020 NASCAR Rookie of the Year award as the only first-year driver to make the playoffs.
  • Erik Jones (30th) is the defending race winner.
  • Reed Sorenson (34th) returns to the No. 77 of Spire Motorsports, replacing Ross Chastain. Sorenson typically runs this car when no driver is providing sponsorship for the race.


Race: Cook Out Southern 500

Track: Darlington Raceway (Darlington, S.C.)

Date: Sunday, September 6

TV: NBC, 6:00 p.m. ET


Distance: 367 laps (500 miles)

Stage 1: 115 Laps

Stage 2: 115 Laps

Final Stage: 137 Laps


Justin Haley reflects on his NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Daytona with Kaulig Racing before Frontstretch podcast hosts Dustin Albino and Mike Neff turn to the NASCAR playoff opener at Darlington Raceway.