16 Drivers, 3 Manufacturers, 1 Championship Trophy

The NASCAR Cup Series heads to Darlington Raceway this weekend for the first race of the 2023 Playoffs with 16 drivers representing three different car manufacturers. This diverse group of competitors will tackle the Track Too Tough To Tame with one goal in mind – win to contend for the championship trophy.

The eligible drivers met with the media Friday to discuss their perspective heading into the final 10 races of the season.

Hendrick Motorsports driver, William Byron, leads the series with five wins in his No. 24 Chevrolet as he heads into the postseason with 2,036 points.  

“Yeah, I don’t want to think about that until we get to that point,” he said. “I feel like we have to work our way through the rounds and do the best job we can at all the opening tracks. It’s nice to have good bonus points and it’s nice to have that in our back pocket. But I’ve seen how the Playoffs have played out over the last few years, and you can’t get ahead of yourself. We have to do a good job in each round and take it one race at a time.”

Kyle Larson, Byron’s teammate, enters the Playoffs in sixth place with 2,017 points. He emphasized the importance of consistency and avoiding errors as crucial factors for advancing in the postseason.

“You know, I think I have had the same mindset my whole career that I have ever made the playoffs,” he said, “and that is just being consistent, finishing and not making mistakes. If you remember last year, I had a mistake at the Roval, and it bit me and cost us a chance to win the championship.  So, if you can finish and be consistent and get good stage points, you can help yourself out quite a bit. So, that is the mindset for me.”

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. is second in the driver standings heading into the Playoffs with 2,036 points and three race wins in the No. 19 Toyota during the regular season.

When asked if starting at the top of the standings changed his approach to the Playoffs, Truex said, “None, none at all. You just have a little bit more of a safety net with those bonus points. So just thinking back to the last time that we had that amount, things were just more relaxed. You weren’t so nervous about every single point. You had a little bit of a cushion, and you could be smart about things.

“The field is the closest it has ever been,” he added. “It’s just parity. Everything is so close now; there is just no room for error. If you have bad races, you are out. That is what we’ve seen.”

“Ever since we went to the Next Gen car, everything has been closer and that is just another example of that. It is harder to find an advantage. It’s harder to run at the front every week consistently. Everything is tighter, closer together, less room for error – and you really have to be on top of things. The points situation is the same as every other race. It’s really, really hard to be at the front all of the time.”

Denny Hamlin, still looking for his first championship, is optimistic that his Joe Gibbs Racing team is prepared for the challenge ahead.

“I think the team has got better all-around speed than what they’ve had in a while,” he said. “I think that first year Next Gen we knew that we were good on the big tracks, we weren’t good on the short tracks and road courses were awful, right? We’ve shown we can win and have speed at all tracks this year so that’s something we haven’t had, even though we’ve made it to the final four so many years. We still have more overall speed at all types of race tracks where honestly you can get to the final four, but if you don’t have speed in Phoenix it doesn’t matter, and I think we will.”

The NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway is scheduled for Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on the USA Network with radio coverage on MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

William Byron, No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, 2036 points
Martin Truex Jr., No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, 2036 points
Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, 2025 points
Chris Buescher, No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford, 2021 points
Kyle Busch, No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, 2019 points
Kyle Larson, No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, 2017 points
Christopher Bell, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, 2014 points
Ross Chastain, No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet, 2011 points
Brad Keselowski, No. 6, Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford, 2010 points
Tyler Reddick, No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota, 2009 points
Joey Logano, No. 22 Team Penske Ford, 2008 points
Ryan Blaney, No. 12 Team Penske Ford, 2008 points
Michael McDowell, No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford, 2007 points
Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, 2005 points
Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, 2004 points
Bubba Wallace, No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota, 2000 points

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

Angela Campbell
Angela Campbell
A native of Charlotte, NC, Angela (Angie) was first introduced to racing by her father. An avid fan of NASCAR, she found a way to combine her love of racing with her passion for writing. Angie is also an award-winning member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow her on Twitter @angiecampbell_ for the latest NASCAR news and feature stories.


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