The Playoffs Begin At Darlington

From a NASCAR Fan’s View

What better place to start the playoffs for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Championship than at the track affectionately called “The Track Too Tough to Tame.” Well… maybe “affectionately” is the wrong word to describe the way the drivers look at the track that is one of the toughest tracks on the NASCAR Cup circuit. I think “respectfully” might be a better choice. If there’s one thing all the drivers have for the Darlington South Carolina track, it is respect.

Everybody knows how tough this track is and everyone knows you have to have respect for such a tough track. If you do anything at this track, you take what it will give you or it will grab hold of you and let you know whose boss. Many a driver has tried to tame this track and the list is relatively short of those that have.

So, as a fan I have to ask this question. Do the Chevys have a chance at winning the Cookout Southern 500? The last two weeks have shown them to be missing from the top ten in qualifying. In fact, the first Chevy to show up in the starting lineup is Kyle Bush in the eleventh qualifying position. The problem with that is he will be moving to the rear of the field for the start of the race this evening. That means that the first Chevy in the lineup for the start is Chase Elliott in thirteenth.

There are several playoff drivers starting much further back than I thought they might, at least for this first playoff race. I find it surprising that the two at the top of the playoff points are starting so far back in the field. Of course, that would be William Byron and Martin Truex Jr. William starts back in twenty-third and Martin way back in thirty-first. As strong as both have been running, it surprises me to see them so far back in the field, at least to start the race.

Personally, I don’t expect either one of them to stay that deep in the field. Well, that is unless something happens to either keep them there or worse.

Once again, the Toyotas have shown up with fast cars off the truck and in the practice and qualifying sessions. I guess it remains to be seen whether or not they continue to lead the way or if there is something else going on. Since I don’t put a lot of stock in qualifying as to how the race may go, I’m not sure that the Chevys won’t move up to the front as the race progresses. They might have a different agenda which I will get back to shortly.

The same goes for the Fords. They also showed up with good speed off the truck and qualified strong which means they will also have better choices of pit stalls – which is really what qualifying is good for these days – but still, I question is how they will fare as the race progresses. I admit the Fords have shown a great deal of improvement over the way they started the season.

Probably the one of the biggest surprises for this fan is the way the RFK Fords of Chris Buescher and Brad Keselowski have performed in the last several weeks. Buescher has won three out of the last five races and, last weekend, he and his boss finished one-two at Daytona. If that isn’t making some kind of statement for how they might do in the playoffs, I’m not sure what does. The RFK Fords look to have momentum going into the Cookout Southern 500 and that could spell trouble for those driving the Toyotas and the Chevys as the playoffs move forward. If they run well tonight, that could be a sign of what might be to come.

Just a quick look at the starting lineup shows Christopher Bell on the pole, Denny Hamlin outside pole and Tyler Reddick starting third. That’s half of all the Toyotas. Admittedly, either Bell or Hamlin could have dominating performances and just run away with the whole race from beginning to end. If this weren’t Darlington, I might believe that but, it is Darlington and a lot can happen to keep that from taking place.

That brings me back to what I mentioned earlier about the Chevys and a different agenda. Normally, the Chevys perform well at Darlington and yes, I know the other makes do also. It just makes me wonder if, seeing how poorly all of the Chevys qualified, they might have decided sacrifice short run speed in qualifying for long run speed in the race or if they just totally missed the setups for this race at Darlington. I admit the latter choice is more likely but, since this is the first round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs, they very well could have the strategy of setting up for the long runs. And that my friends is what we won’t know until the race is over and there is a Chevy sitting in Victory Lane…

Hey, this is Russ and that’s my view… See ya next time…
All views expressed are strictly the opinion of the writer
© September 3, 2023 – all rights reserved
Rusty Norman, and
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