The NASCAR Playoffs kick off this weekend at Darlington for the Southern 500. When does the race start, what is the grid and what are the stage lengths?

Southern 500 starts championship push

The Southern 500 is NASCAR’s eldest crown jewel race.

What became known as the Cup Series started racing in 1949. The Southern 500 joined the calendar the following year.

When it debuted at the at then 1.25-mile ‘oval’, it was the only 500-mile event. Daytona would not join until the end of the decade.

After moving around on the schedule in the 2000s and 2010s, the Southern 500 returned to its place on the calendar of the first Sunday in September in 2015.

Since 2020, the now 1.366 mile circuit has played host to the first race in the NASCAR Playoffs.

The points standings for the 16 qualifying drivers have been adjusted.

Those who did make it through to the Playoffs have received a 2,000 point boost – plus their Playoff points from the regular season.

This ranges from regular season champion Kyle Larson on 2,052 to Kevin Harvick’s 2,002.

The Southern 500 will use the 750bhp high power/low downforce car package.

Will the race have practice/qualifying?

The Southern 500 is not one of the events in the 2021 that will feature practice or qualifying.

Series bosses decided that events such as the Daytona 500, Championship 4 race and new events will feature them.

As a result, the grid has been set by the formula NASCAR uses.

It involves a driver’s fastest lap and finishing point from the last event, their position in points and the car owner’s as well.

The 16 Playoff drivers fill out the first eight rows on the grid.

Due to his win at Daytona in the regular season finale, Penske’s Ryan Blaney will start on pole.

NASCAR 21: Ignition | Trailer

NASCAR 21: Ignition | Trailer

The #12 will be joined by runner-up in the regular season Denny Hamlin on the front row for Joe Gibbs.

Reigning series champion Chase Elliott rolls off in fourth, alongside 23XI Racing-bound Kurt Busch.

Regular season champion Kyle Larson joins Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman on the third row.

Defending race winner Kevin Harvick goes in search of his third NASCAR Southern 500 win from ninth.

Harvick’s #4 will be kept company by the #19 Gibbs car of Martin Truex Jr.

Truex Jr dominated the regular season race at Darlington in May to become the first repeat winner of the 2021 season.

Brad Keselowski (Penske) is the last of the Playoff drivers, due to roll of from 16th in the #2 Mustang.

Bubba Wallace of 23XI Racing is the first non-Playoff driver in 17th on the 37 car grid.

When is the Southern 500?

The race is due to begin when the flag drops at 18:18pm ET on Sunday evening. That’s 23:18pm in the UK.

As a result, it will be run under the lights at Darlington.

NASCAR’s Southern 500 will be a 367 lap affair, split as ever into three stages.

The stage lengths will be 115-115-137.

Owing to the fact there is no practice or qualifying, there will be a competition caution on Lap 25.

NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

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