After the regular season finale at Daytona, NASCAR’s 16-driver playoff field was set. It wouldn’t be a significant NASCAR race without a lot of controversy. Ultimately, though, Austin Dillon won at Daytona, hitting a last-minute ticket to the playoffs, knocking Martin Truex Jr. below the cutline, and Ryan Blaney surviving a long and disastrous race. , eventually making him the only non-racing winner to reach the 2022 NASCAR playoffs.
After being delayed 15 hours by bad weather and red flagged late in the race by bad weather, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 came to a halt with 21 laps to go. However, many drivers complained that the track was too slippery to drive, leading to a field-thinning wreck, and felt the race should have been abandoned sooner.
“They gave the caution and it took about a lap to tear up a lot of the race cars,” Justin Haley said during the red flag break. “It was pretty unacceptable.”
“We knew the rain was coming,” said Daniel Suarez. “It was raining next door.
Team Penske’s Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex will have to maintain their positions as the last two drivers on the playoff grid and entered Daytona as the only drivers without a win until Saturday. Both could make it to the playoffs unless the non-winning driver jumps up and takes the checkered flag, but unfortunately for Truex, that’s exactly what happened.
Two wrecks before the final lap ruined playoff chances for both Blaney and Truex. Blaney wrecked on lap 31 at the end of stage one, damaging his steering and plummeting deep into the field. Entering the race 25 points behind Blaney, Truex finished second in Stage 2, reducing Blaney’s lead to just 10 points. On his 102nd lap, shortly after the start of Stage 3, Truex found himself caught in another wreck, severely damaging his right front fender. However, with Blaney six laps down, many drivers were wrecked and taken out of the race, allowing Truex to gain position after position on Blaney, and at the time of the red flag, Truex was on Blaney. It was up 12 points.
As the final stage came to an end, the threat of weather made Daytona one of the most frenzied races in recent memory. With 23 laps to go it started to rain and on his 138th lap heading into Turn 2 the entire field lost grip, causing a wreck that changed the character of the entire race. Dillon was the only driver to survive the first carnage.
Shortly after, the rain that caused the wreck accumulated enough to wet the entire track, forcing NASCAR to red flag the race. A lightning strike in the area caused further concern, but after a few hours NASCAR decided the track was dry enough.
When the race resumed, with only ten cars left on the lead lap, Blaney reversed the strategy Truex had used earlier in the race and “passed” multiple cars who dropped out of the race. So the Truex lead over Blaney disappeared. Austin Sindrick tried to hold off Dillon in the closing laps of the race but was unable to do so and Dillon took the win without a final turn challenge.
This weekend is Daytona’s third time since 2020 to host the regular season finale. Prior to that, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted his two-year finale, and prior to that, Richmond International Raceway hosted NASCAR’s final race heading into the postseason. Annually from 2004 to 2017.
NASCAR is the third version of playoffs. From 2004 until 2009 he reached the playoffs on points only. For the next four years, NASCAR filled his 12-driver field with points and win combinations. Beginning with the 2014 season, the playoffs his field will be attended by his 16 drivers, and the playoffs will see his four-stage ‘elimination’ sequence run.
Going into the race, the drivers around the cutline got an unexpected break when Kurt Busch, who had been sidelined for weeks with a concussion, decided to withdraw his request for a playoff waiver. He’ll at least miss the start of the playoffs, but more importantly, his departure from the playoffs has opened up a second potential spot for drivers to enter without a win.
Fifteen different drivers won the race on Saturday night, but with the withdrawal of Busch, Blaney and Truex found themselves on the high side of the cut line. Another of his 13 drivers (those within the top 30 in points) needed to win Daytona to advance to the playoffs. That number includes Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell, all of whom have had superspeedway success. But most of those drivers, and many more, were involved in the wreck that ended their playoff hopes.
The playoffs begin next weekend with the Cook Out Southern 500 in Darlington, with the season finale in Phoenix through early November. Every three races, the four drivers with the lowest point totals are eliminated from the playoffs, and the last four drivers compete in an all-or-nothing finale.
Contact Jay Busbee (email@example.com) or Twitter (@jaybusbee).