TV channels, where to stream, schedule, standings, best bets, weather and more for playoff opener

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs begin this weekend with one of the traditional jewels of its calendar, the Southern 500 in Darlington, South Carolina.

Regular-season champion Martin Truex Jr. enters the 10-week chase for the championship as the betting favorite – having been the model of consistency throughout the 2023 campaign – sporting three wins, 15 top-10s and completing 99.7% of all laps run. Truex Jr. starts the Round of 16 tied with William Byron – who won five races in the regular season – with 2,036 points, 11 ahead of Denny Hamlin and 15 in front of suddenly surging Chris Buescher.

Here’s what else to know ahead of the Southern 500:

Southern 500 TV/streaming schedule

All times Eastern

12:30-1:20 p.m.: Practice (USA, NBC Sports app)
1:20-2:30 p.m.: Qualifying (USA, NBC Sports app)

5:30-6 p.m.: Pre-race show (USA, NBC Sports app)
6-10:30 p.m.: Southern 500 (USA, NBC Sports app)

Southern 500 race details

Track: Darlington Raceway (1.366-mile egg-shaped oval), Darlington, South Carolina
Length: 367 laps for 501.322 miles
Banking: Front straight – 3 degrees | Turns 1-2 – 25 degrees | Back straight – 2 degrees | Turns 3-4 – 23 degrees
Stage lengths: Stage 1 – 115 laps | Stage 2 – 115 laps | Stage 3 – 137 laps
2022 winner: Joey Logano

Opened in 1950, the track they’ve dubbed “too tough to tame” is one of the oldest on the circuit and one of its most celebrated. The unique, egg-shaped, 1.366-mile oval features wide, sweeping Turns 1 and 2 but has tighter third and fourth turns in order to preserve the pond that the original owner of the farmland stipulated must stay in place when the speedway was built. On the track famous for multiple racing grooves, drivers enjoy finding what works for them on long runs, and in-race adjustments are crucial.

Top drivers and best bets for the Southern 500

In addition to being the betting favorite to claim the championship, Truex Jr. enters the Southern 500 weekend with the best odds to win the race (+500) as well, according to BetMGM. Byron (+750) and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kyle Larson (+525) are sandwiched between Truex and his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin (+800).

In all, the top eight drivers with the best odds are all playoff drivers and 14 of the top 15 are in the postseason.

Best odds to win
Martin Truex Jr. +500
Kyle Larson +525
William Byron +750
Denny Hamlin +800
Christopher Bell +1100
Kyle Busch +1100
Ross Chastain +1100

Yahoo Sports’ Nick Bromberg wrote earlier in the week on the betting landscape for the race and suggests finding good mid-tier value in defending series champion Joey Logano (+1800) and Buescher (+2200), who has won three of the last five races. Bromberg also recommends taking a flier on Erik Jones, who incredibly enters at 40-to-1 odds despite two wins in this very event, including last year.

DARLINGTON, SOUTH CAROLINA - SEPTEMBER 05: Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 Offerpad Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 05, 2021 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jared East/Getty Images)

Denny Hamlin has by far the best average Darlington finishing position of any driver in the field, at 7.7. (Photo by Jared East/Getty Images)

Playoff standings entering Southern 500

1. Martin Truex Jr. – 2,036
2. William Byron – 2,036
3. Denny Hamlin – 2,025
4. Chris Buescher – 2,021
5. Kyle Busch – 2,019
6. Kyle Larson – 2,017
7. Christopher Bell – 2,104
8. Ross Chastain – 2,011
9. Brad Keselowski – 2,010
10. Tyler Reddick – 2,009
11. Joey Logano – 2,008
12. Ryan Blaney – 2,008
____________________ Cut line
13. Michael McDowell – 2,007
14. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – 2,005
15. Kevin Harvick – 2,004
16. Bubba Wallace – 2,000

Southern 500 entry list

Ross Chastain (1), Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet
Austin Cindric (2), Team Penske Ford
Austin Dillon (3), Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Kevin Harvick (4), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Kyle Larson (5), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Brad Keselowski (6), RFK Racing Ford
Corey LaJoie (7), Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
Kyle Busch (8), Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Chase Elliott (9), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Aric Almirola (10), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Denny Hamlin (11), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ryan Blaney (12), Team Penske Ford
Chase Briscoe (14), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
J.J. Yeley (15), Rick Ware Racing Ford
A.J. Allmendinger (16), Kaulig Racing Chevrolet
Chris Buescher (17), RFK Racing Ford
Martin Truex Jr. (19), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Christopher Bell (20), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Harrison Burton (21), Wood Brothers Racing Ford
Joey Logano (22), Team Penske Ford
Bubba Wallace (23), 23XI Racing Toyota
William Byron (24), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Justin Haley (31), Kaulig Racing Chevrolet
Michael McDowell (34), Front Row Motorsports Ford
Todd Gilliland (38), Front Row Motorsports Ford
Ryan Preece (41), Stewart-Haas Racing Ford
Carson Hocevar (42), Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet
Erik Jones (43), Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet
Tyler Reddick (45), 23XI Racing Toyota
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (47), JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet
Alex Bowman (48), Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Ryan Newman (51), Rick Ware Racing Ford
Ty Gibbs (54), Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota
Ty Dillon (77), Spire Motorsports Chevrolet
BJ McLeod (78), Live Fast Motorsports Ford
Daniel Suárez (99), Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet

Southern 500 weather

The forecast calls for warm temperatures in the lower 80s for Saturday’s practice and qualifying, while race day will be hot, with a high of 89 degrees. With the race running in twilight and nighttime conditions, that forecasted high shouldn’t have as big an impact on tire degradation as the race wears on, but the load that goes through right-side tires – particularly in the long, sweeping turns 1-2 – makes for some interesting pit strategies.

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