DARLINGTON, S.C. — There was fire and there was rain. And venerable Darlington Raceway, which hosted its first Cup race in 1950, showed it is still as difficult as ever.
The result is a jumbled playoffs standings — featuring a former champion first and another last — with two races left in the first round.
Sunday’s Southern 500 victory by Erik Jones, who is not in the playoffs, means that no one advanced to the second round after 4 hours, 9 minutes of racing Sunday night.
Former champion Joey Logano leads the playoff standings after placing fourth. He has 2,065 points heading into this weekend’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.
Former champion Kevin Harvick is last among the 16 playoff drivers after his car went up in flames. That could mildly compare to the heat that came from him when he lashed out at NASCAR and the Next Gen car.
“I’m sure it’s just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times,” Harvick said of the fire’s cause. “They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going
He wasn’t the only playoff driver to have a bad night. Former champion Chase Elliott crashed and his team was unable to repair it before the 10-minute Damaged Vehicle Policy clock expired.
Elliott entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed after winning the regular season. His last-place finish Sunday puts him ninth in the playoffs standing. He’s 24 points from the lead and 25 points from last place heading to Kansas.
Asked what he’ll have to do the rest of the first round to advance, Elliott said: “Run better than we did today.”
Kyle Busch, who has not announced where he’ll race next year, seemed headed for the win until his engine failed shortly after teammate Martin Truex Jr., who is not in the playoffs, also suffered a mechanical issue.
A spokesperson for Toyota said after the race that the reason Truex’s engine overheated was because it lost the water pump belt. A preliminary evaluation was that the valve train failed on Kyle Busch’s engine.
Busch led a race-high 155 laps before his engine quit after 345 of 367 laps.
“You can’t pass, so that right there, leading, being No. 1 off of pit road with 20 to go is a certified five points (for the win) and an automatic ticket to the next round,” he said.
Instead, Busch remains 11th in the playoff standings. He is six points ahead of Daniel Suarez, who holds the final transfer spot.
Suarez had to start at the rear and do a pass-through penalty at the start because his car failed inspection three times before qualifying Saturday. An early caution for rain got him back on the lead lap.
He ran toward the front until a pit road speeding penalty doomed his top-10 hopes and left him with an 18th-place finish.
Others took advantage of their situation. William Byron, who had one top-10 finish in the last 18 races, finished eighth. That moves him to second in playoff standings, six points behind Logano.
“We stayed confident,” Byron told NBC Sports. “We knew what not to do over the summer. We know what wasn’t working, so we came here knowing what not to do and applied the things that worked and not surprised that we had the speed we did. … A tough summer but we really kind of came together this week.”
Denny Hamlin, who finished second to Jones, moved to third in the playoff standings. He’s two points behind Byron and eight points behind Logano.
Christopher Bell placed fifth. That moved him to fourth in the playoff standings. He’s two points behind Hamlin.
“Overall, good day and it’s a good way to start this playoff stretch and hopefully we can continue the momentum,” Bell said.