Ryan Blaney concluded the 26-race 2021 NASCAR Cup Series regular season as the hottest driver on the circuit with consecutive wins at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, the two most recent races. He begins the 10-race playoffs from the pole Sunday night in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Momentum and confidence are something that we have right now in the 12 group, because obviously, the last couple of weekends it really helps get that rolling,” Blaney said. “It’s good for everybody, not only for the driver but for the team, as well, when they have a lot of confidence in themselves and their abilities, and you can believe that you can do it and make a strong run at the championship. That’s part of the game. You’ve got to believe you can do it, and this team does believe in themselves and they have every right to. They’re a great group of guys. It’s been a pleasure to work with them, but it’s nice to end the regular season strong and have a good year. Three wins on the year, and you hope to keep that going throughout the playoffs and keep transferring and try to make it to Phoenix and have a shot at a championship. So it has been a fun year, and it has been nice to end the regular season out this way and start off Darlington here this weekend with a bunch of momentum and our heads held high, and we just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”
Blaney’s three wins, so far, in 2021 include the most recent Darlington race in May.
The 12 playoff drivers start Sunday’s race at Darlington in the first six rows, with three-time Darlington winner Denny Hamlin on the front row alongside Blaney.
“Every track we’re one of the top two to three favorites every week. If Vegas believes in us, more than likely everyone should,” Hamlin said. “I like our chances, simply because it’s been a very long time, I mean maybe never, other than the last two years where I show up every week and I love what I do, because I know I can win. I would say some years haven’t been like that, so I’m really happy with where we are as a team. Even though we don’t have that cushion that we would love to have going into the playoffs with playoff points, as long as we just perform the way we’ve been the last three years, we’re fine. And, then, we’ll make it to the Final Four, and we’re not going to not win. I’m very confident we’re going to win before the season is out, if not multiple times.”
Kurt Busch starts third, sharing row two with reigning Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. Three Hendrick Motorsports drivers start in the first three rows, with Elliott’s teammates Alex Bowman and 2021 regular-series champion Kyle Larson in row three.
Defending Southern 500 winner and three-time Darlington race winner Kevin Harvick starts ninth. Harvick’s three wins at the track monikered “Too Tough to Tame” includes two in the three races there last season.
COOK OUT SOUTHERN 500 STARTING LINEUP