The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will begin Sunday at Darlington Raceway with Chase Elliott on the pole.
“I’m excited about all of them,” Elliott said about the three races in the first round of the playoffs at Darlington, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. “This is an exciting part of the year, in my opinion. I really enjoy this time of the year. It’s fun. Its pressure packed, I feel like, in a lot of ways. It’s an exciting product for people to watch with the way these rounds eliminate people. I look forward to all of them, like I said. Richmond to me, has been a big time struggle since I’ve been in Cup, so I would really like to get better there. That one has been a problem. So, hopefully, we’re a little better there than we have been in the past because it’s not been pretty.”
Denny Hamlin will start in the second position, alongside Elliott on the front row.
“I think we need to continue what we’ve been doing all season,” Hamlin said. “I know my team will bring the best car possible, like they do every week, and we’ll do our best to go out and secure the win. Darlington is a great track for us, so I certainly think we’re capable of coming away with a win.”
With six wins in the 26-race regular season, Hamlin trailed only regular-season champion Kevin Harvick, and he heads into the playoffs trailing only Harvick in the driver points standings. While Hamlin starts on the front row, Harvick will be in the fourth row for Sunday’s green flag in the eight starting spot.
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron, who claimed his first-career Cup Series wins the previous weekend at Daytona International Speedway, and William Byron, will start in the second row. Former series champions Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. will start in the third row in the fifth and sixth positions.
Ryan Blaney will start seventh, next to Harvick in row four. Two of Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammates, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola, will round out the top-10 of Sunday’s starting grid.
The 16 playoff drivers will line up in the first eight row, or top-16 starting positions, Sunday. Reigning champion Kyle Busch will be among the back drivers of that top-16, starting in the 15th position.
“It’s a very narrow and challenging racetrack, especially for the speeds that we carry around there, now,” Busch said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge with our M&Ms Throwback Camry this weekend. You’ve really got to be able to get as close as you can to the wall in order to carry your momentum through the corners, because you’ve got to make the straightaways as long as you can. The track is very narrow on entries and exits, so you’re always trying to round the place as much as you can. It’s very one-groovish. You can’t really run side-by-side there. Any time you get alongside somebody, you basically have to let them go. It’s a very big give-and-take type of track. It’s a lot harder to pass now, with the fresh asphalt, than it used to be. It’s really aero-sensitive now, to where it used to be more about mechanical grip and getting your car to handle well and handle over the bumps well and keep the tires on it. Now, you’re restricted off the car in front of you and are trying to find some air, basically.”
Busch will share the eighth row with his brother Kurt Busch, the 16th-place starter among the 16 playoff drivers.
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