The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs began Sunday night with the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, but the night’s big star wasn’t a playoff participant.
Erik Jones took the lead late in the evening and outran Denny Hamlin to win one of stock car racing’s oldest and biggest prizes — the Southern 500 trophy.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers at Darlington:
Erik Jones — The race winner upstaged the 16 playoff drivers on a night filled with a wide range of issues for many of the favorites. The victory returned the famous No. 43 to one of the sport’s most cherished victory lanes.
Joey Logano — Logano had a steady race, coming home fourth after leading 64 laps. He was disappointed he didn’t get more, but the night’s circumstances boosted him into the point standings lead after the first race of Round 1.
Christopher Bell — Bell had a relatively quiet race, but his fifth place finish gave him a six-position gain — to fourth — in the playoff standings.
William Byron — Byron finished eighth, leading 50 laps and moving to second in the standings.
Chase Elliott — Elliott’s point lead entering the playoffs looked impressive. Now it looks invisible. His last-place finish Sunday dropped him from first to ninth in the standings.
Kevin Harvick — No one was more disturbed about Sunday night’s results than Harvick, who rode a flaming car to a stop on the track apron and later lashed out at NASCAR for what he called bad car construction.
Martin Truex Jr. — It was another promising but ultimately disappointing race for Truex, who remains winless this year. This time a failed water pump apparently led to engine issues, robbing Truex of a shot at the win.
Justin Haley will drive Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 car in Monday morning’s scheduled NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Haley replaces Cup Series regular Kyle Busch, who was scheduled to drive for Kaulig in the 300-miler. The race was postponed from Saturday to Monday because of weather, giving NASCAR a 900-mile doubleheader at the track.
Busch decided to concentrate on the Coca-Cola 600 Cup race, scheduled for a 3 p.m. start.
Haley also will race in the 600.
Ty Gibbs is scheduled to run in both races.
CONCORD, N.C. — All-day rain Sunday forced the postponement of the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR Cup Series race to Monday.
The postponement means that Charlotte Motor Speedway is scheduled to host 900 miles of stock car racing Monday. A 300-mile Xfinity Series race, originally scheduled Saturday and first postponed to noon Monday, has been rescheduled for 11 a.m. ET Monday (FS1, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Cup race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. (Fox, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Sunday’s Cup race was scheduled to start at 6:21 p.m. ET, but light rain was still falling at that time in the speedway area near Charlotte. Rain intensified a few minutes later and, despite an evening forecast that showed slight improvement, officials decided at 6:30 p.m. to postpone the race.
Monday’s forecast calls for a 34% chance of rain at the start of the Xfinity race and a 30% chance at the start of the Cup race.
William Byron will start the race from the pole after qualifying was washed out Saturday night.
CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR racing and submarines? Yes.
RFK Racing announced Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that it has entered a partnership with BlueForge Alliance, which is involved in securing workers for the U.S. Navy’s Submarine Industrial Base (SIB) program. BuildSubmarines.com will be a primary sponsor for RFK drivers Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher in 10 Cup Series races this year and in 18 races per season beginning in 2024.
The sponsorship will showcase the careers related to the submarine-building program across the nation.
“I’m proud to support a cause of such vital significance to our country with this new partnership,” Keselowski said. “The synergies between a NASCAR team and our military’s needs to stay on track fast are countless. We hope to inspire the workforce of the next generation across the country when they see RFK race and hear our message.”
The sponsorship will support the mission to recruit, hire, train, develop and retain the SIB workforce that will build the Navy’s next generation of submarines, the team said.
“We are excited and grateful to be teaming with RFK Racing to drive awareness of the thousands of steady, well-paying manufacturing jobs available across the nation. Innovation, working with purpose and service to others are hallmarks of both of our organizations,” said Kiley Wren, BlueForge chief executive. “Together, we aim to inspire NASCAR fans and all Americans to pursue career opportunities that will support our national defense.”
Former NASCAR champion Kyle Larson, who is scheduled to run the Indianapolis 500 in 2024 as part of an Indy-Charlotte “double,” visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway garage area Sunday on Indianapolis 500 race day.
Larson said he wanted to familiarize himself with the Indy race-day landscape before he becomes immersed in the process next year.
Larson later returned to Charlotte, where was scheduled to drive in the Coca-Cola 600 Sunday night. Next year, he’s scheduled to run both races.
“I love racing,” Larson told NBC Sports. “I love competing in the biggest races. In my opinion, this is the biggest race in the world. I wanted to be a part of it for a long time, and I finally feel like the timing is right. It’s pretty cool to have a dream come true.
“I wanted to come here and kind of experience it again and get to experience how crazy it is again before I’m in the middle of it next year. I kind of want as little surprise as possible next year.”
In the 2024 500, Larson will be one of four drivers with the Arrow McLaren team.
Earlier this month, Larson and Hendrick Motorsports vice chairman Jeff Gordon attended an Indy 500 practice day.
Larson said Sunday he hasn’t tested an Indy car.
“I don’t know exactly when I’ll get in the car,” he said. “I’ve had no sim (simulator) time yet. I’ve kind of stayed back. I didn’t want to ask too many questions and take any focus on what they have going on for these couple of weeks. I’m sure that will pick up after today.
“I look forward to the challenge. No matter how this experience goes, I’m going to come out of it a better race car driver.”