Darlington Raceway is often referred to as the track “Too Tough To Tame” due to many factors. For starters, in order to get the most speed out of the car, drivers typically run within inches of the outside wall. This usually results in the car either getting loose and spinning or getting too close and scraping the wall, earning what is known as a “Darlington Stripe” on the right side of the car. The nickname also comes from the worn-out racing surface that is hard on tires and causes quick fall-off in terms of speed and lap times.

However, despite the difficulties of the track, the bigger challenge for drivers seemed to be the reliability of their cars as 9 of the 16 playoff drivers struggled during the first race of the first round. In the end, it was a non-playoff driver that managed to tame the track.

LAP 1: Joey Logano won the first-place starting spot during qualifying and led the field to the green flag beside the #20 of Christopher Bell. The two drivers got equal starts and remained door-to-door for the opening 4 laps before Logano was able to pull away.

CAUTION – LAP 6: In an effort to be overly cautious, NASCAR displayed the yellow flag for a few drops of rain that came from a pop-up sunshower.  The field completed pace laps while waiting for the sprinkling to pass, which ensured the racing surface did not get wet. After roughly 12 laps, the race resumed with the #22 of Joey Logano in the lead.

CAUTION – LAP 35: The yellow flag was displayed once again for the Competition Caution so teams could check tire wear due to the worn-out nature of the track. Logano maintained P1  the lead on pit road and continued to lead after the restart.

LAP 66: As Logano’s car started to fade, the #24 of William Byron was able to catch and pass the #22 to take over the top spot.

CAUTION – LAP 112: Chase Elliott, who was top of the playoff board coming into Darlington, got loose and his #9 Chevrolet Camaro shot into the wall in Turn 2. Elliott spun back down the track where he collected the #14 of Chase Briscoe, another playoff driver. The #9 team tried to fix the bent toe link on the right rear, but ultimately ran out of time on the 10-minute Damaged Vehicle Policy clock and had to retire from the race early. Briscoe returned to the track and continued racing, though he was several laps down to the leaders.

STAGE 1 END – LAP 115: The stage ended under caution following the Elliott/Briscoe incident, which allowed the #24 of William Byron to pick up the stage win and the playoff point. Behind Byron – Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell, and Martin Truex Jr rounded out the Top 5 and also collected points. Kyle Busch picked up the lead on pit road and pulled away in P1 after the restart.

CAUTION – LAP 179: The #38 of Todd Gilliland spun by himself in Turn 2, bringing out the 4th yellow flag of the night.

CAUTION – LAP 191: Similar to last week, Kyle Larson radioed to his team that he was experiencing engine issues. Larson’s #5 Chevrolet Camaro erupted in smoke on the front stretch before coasting to pit road where the team went under the hood to make repairs. Despite their efforts, Larson continued to struggle periodically throughout the rest of the race causing him to go on to finish 12th.

CAUTION – LAP 217: Cody Ware in the #52 brought out the caution when he spun by himself in Turn 4, leaving a large cloud of smoke in his wake.

STAGE 2 END – LAP 230: Kyle Busch dominated the stage, going on to win it and collect the valuable playoff point. Finishing behind Busch were Martin Truex Jr, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, and William Byron respectively. Kyle Busch and his #18 Toyota Camry continued dominating after the restart to begin the final stage.

CAUTION – LAP 275: The #4 of Kevin Harvick experienced a mechanical failure went a faulty part in his Ford Mustang caught fire. Flames erupted from the right front of the car before spreading across the hood and coming through the dash. Harvick pulled to the apron of the track before quickly jumping out of the burning vehicle. Luckily, Harvick was unharmed.

LAP 294: Kyle Busch’s teammate, Martin Truex Jr, was able to pass him and take the lead with a solid pace. Truex, who missed the playoffs by only 2 points, was a favorite to win at Darlington.

LAP 336: The #19 of Martin Truex Jr pulled off the track and onto pit road with an apparent mechanical issue. Truex radioed to his team that the car was overheating and had lost power steering.  This allowed Busch to reclaim the lead.

CAUTION – LAP 339: For the third time of the night, the #51 of Cody Ware got loose and slid up the track in Turn 2, making heavy contact with the wall which brought out the caution. While under the yellow flag, then-leader Kyle Busch’s #18 began smoking from under the hood as the engine expired. Busch drove to the garage and retired from the race with just 20 laps remaining in the race. The #43 of Erik Jones inherited the lead and restarted beside the #11 of Denny Hamlin.

CHECKERED FLAG – LAP 367: Erik Jones managed to hold-off Denny Hamlin to claim the victory and become a “spoiler” in the first race of the playoffs. Ironically, the last time the iconic #43 car was in Victory Lane at Darlington was 55 years ago to the day (September 4, 1967).


  1. Erik Jones
  2. Denny Hamlin
  3. Tyler Reddick
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Christopher Bell
  6. Michael McDowell
  7. Brad Keselowski
  8. William Byron
  9. Bubba Wallace
  10. Alex Bowman
  11. Aric Almirola
  12. Kyle Larson
  13. Ryan Blaney
  14. Cole Custer
  15. Ty Gibbs
  16. Austin Cindric
  17. Austin Dillon
  18. Daniel Suarez
  19. Justin Haley
  20. Ross Chastain
  21. Harrison Burton
  22. Ty Dillon
  23. Daniel Hemric
  24. Corey LaJoie
  25. Landon Cassill
  26. Chris Buescher
  27. Chase Briscoe
  28. Todd Gilliland
  29. BJ McLeid
  30. Kyle Busch
  31. Martin Truex Jr
  32. Cody Ware
  33. Kevin Harvick
  34. JJ Yeley
  35. Ricky Stenhouse Jr
  36. Chase Elliott