By Walker Polivka
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs kick off tonight with the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Read on below to see our prediction for who will win the race, as well as our top 10, dark horse, and driver to fade predictions.
Driver to Fade: Daniel Suarez- Making his first foray into the Playoffs, Suarez has put together a nice season for Trackhouse Racing, picking up his first career win at Sonoma Raceway earlier in the summer, and snagging 6 top 5’s and 10 top 10’s as well. Darlington has not been very kind to Suarez in his career, as he has just 1 top 10 and 3 top 20 finishes in 9 career starts. Suarez’s car failed pre-race inspection 3 times yesterday, which means he won’t have his crew chief for tonight’s race and he will have to make a pass through penalty on pit road at the start of the race. We predict that Suarez’s hole will be too deep to climb out of tonight and that he will start the Playoffs by finishing outside the top 20.
Dark Horse: Ty Dillon- Dillon has had a deceitful season, with 1 top 10 and 14 top 20 finishes in 26 starts, yet sits 29th in the points standings thanks to an L1 Penalty that the team received prior to the Pocono race. With all that said, there is hope for Dillon tonight. Darlington is a track that has spelled success for Dillon over the years, with 5 top 20 finishes in 7 career starts, including a 12th place finish here back in the spring. Dillon was 20th in Practice, but struggled in Qualifying, as he starts 29th tonight. Dillon has finished in the top 20 each of the last four weeks and we predict that he will make it five races in a row with another top 20 finish tonight.
Top 10: Kyle Larson- The defending Cup Series Champion, Larson has been having a stellar title defense campaign, with 2 wins, 10 top 5’s, and 13 top 10’s. Darlington is one of Larson’s best tracks, even though he has never won here. In his career, Larson has 3 runner-up finishes, 2 3rd place finishes, and 7 top 10’s in 9 Darlington starts. Larson also fared very well in yesterday’s Xfinity race, tangling with Sheldon Creed and Noah Gragson late in the race for the lead on the way to a 5th place finish. Larson showed solid pace in Practice yesterday and will start tonight’s race from the 7th position. Larson is going to be in the mix for the win by race end, but a top 10 finish is a lock.
Winner: Tyler Reddick- Reddick is in the midst of a breakout season, with 2 wins, 8 top 5’s, and 11 top 10 finishes. Reddick has impressed at Darlington in his brief career, with 2 top 10’s and 4 top 15’s in 6 starts, highlighted by a second place finish here in the spring. Reddick showed solid solid pace in Practice and Qualifying yesterday and will start tonight’s race from 4th place. Reddick is making his second straight appearance in the Playoffs for Richard Childress Racing and we predict that he will get his Playoffs started the right way by taming The Lady in Black tonight!