Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — August 29, 2020
Credit NASCAR with adjusting the 2020 schedule to have the regular season conclude at Daytona International Speedway.
The World Center of Racing hosts the Coke Zero 400 tonight and 13 drivers have clinched a playoff spot. Clint Bowyer, Matt DiBenedetto, William Byron, and Jimmie Johnson are all battling for the final 3 spots in the postseason. If it comes down to points only 3 of the 4 will advance.
But, there are 13 other drivers who are in the hunt. Any driver in the Top 30 of the series points standings, that scores a win, can qualify for one of those final spots. If that happens only 2 of the four drivers mentioned will advance on points. Drama? Yes, especially for a place at which anything can happen and often does.
The race is 160 laps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Stages are 50/50/60 laps and Justin Haley is the defending champion. Justin who? That what we mean, anything can happen. Kevin Harvick starts on the pole, with Martin Truex Jr. beside him on the front row. Denny Hamlin, the driver chasing Harvick in series wins starts 10th.
Ryan Newman is back after his horrific crash in the Daytona 500, he would be a sentimental favorite to win. Jimmie Johnson, the 7-time Cup Champion, is retiring he would like to end his career in the playoffs with a win or by pointing in.
Erik Jones loses his ride with Joe Gibbs Racing(JGR), he has won this race before and would love to showcase his talents in the playoffs. If Bowyer and DiBenedetto can make the playoffs it would give Ford Performance 8 drivers in the final 16.
Bowyer will have to start from the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments. He only needs 3 points to clinch a spot so expect him to hang back and stay out of trouble until at least 3 cars go to the garage.
Harvick, Truex, and Byron swapped the lead at the start of the race. Most of the field ran two-wide for the first 15 laps. Occasionally a group would move to the middle and make it three-wide, everyone managed to survive the opening laps.
Kevin Harvick caught some paper debris on his front air vent and began to overheat the engine. He dropped to the rear of the field and found Ryan Newman, another Ford Mustang driver, to pull up close to Newman’s bumper and change the airflow over his grille to remove the paper.
William Byron stretched the top line out to a sizeable lead and everyone fell into a single file line awaiting the competition caution after lap 20.
On the restart, Byron and teammate Alex Bowman came to the green on the front row. Bowman dropped in behind Byron and pushed the #24 car to the lead. As they drove around the high side of the track, Erik Jones led the inside line. His teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin lined up behind Jones and pushed him to the lead.
Byron drove back to the front five laps later, two laps after that Joey Logano got a push to the lead and the field again began to string out single file. With 10 laps to go in Stage 1, the battle for positions and Stage points began back in the Top 15.
With five laps to go, Tyler Reddick was moving towards the front leading a pack on the inside. With two laps to go the scramble for points got intense, Logano held on for the Stage win, Jones finished second and Reddick grabbed the 3rd position.
Stage 1 Results
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Johnson gained 2 points on Byron and 6 points on DiBenedetto, improving his playoff chances. Clint Bowyer clinched his playoff spot, leaving only 2 more positions to be gained on points. The Ford’s all pitted together just before the restart, taking advantage of the few extra laps to give them an opportunity to finish the Stage without making another stop.
Christopher Bell and Jones led the field back to the green flag. Bell is the driver who will be taking over Jones’ ride at JGR. With a push from Jimmie Johnson, Jones moved to the lead. The field quickly lined up, content to turn laps during the early portion of Stage 2. The Fords are content to stay in line at half throttle to conserve fuel and make sure their end of Stage strategy works.
Some of the non-Ford drivers pitted between 16 and 18 laps into the Stage, assuring them that they will make it to the end of Lap 100. Kyle Busch and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. stayed out and inherited the lead.
Kyle Busch allowed Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, Bubba Wallace to pass so he could drop in behind and attempt to save gas as well. It will be interesting to see how the fuel strategy plays out.
The leading trio pitted with 12 laps to go in the Stage, giving the lead back to Kyle Busch. With 10 laps to go, the Fords got organized and Joey Logano led them to the front. The pack formed up with 5 laps to go and the fight for Stage points was on.
Logano, again, pulled off the Stage win. Jimmie Johnson got another 6 points, DiBenedetto got 4 points and Byron did not finish the Stage in the Top 10. If the end of the stage was the end of the race, Johnson and DiBenedetto would be in and Byron would be out.
Stage 2 Results
|2||19||Martin Truex Jr.|
|8||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Logano and Truex lead the field back to the restart with Bowyer and Johnson on the row behind them. Logano and Truex swapped the lead at the head of a two-wide and sometimes three-wide pack. The Big One can’t be far away, it’s amazing there has not been an accident-related caution to this point in the race.
It seems the playoff picture changes every lap, Jimmie Johnson gets pushed out of line and drops back in the pack. At the same time, he drops out of the Top 16 in points.
Green flag pit stops began with 34 laps to go. The Fords choose to stay out and the first 13 positions are held by Mustangs. The Blue Oval drivers pitted with 28 laps to go, when they merged back into the pack Logano was 9th. Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin ran 1-2 at the front.
As the pack organized it was back to two-wide racing. With 17 laps to go, James Davison hit the wall and brought out the first accident caution of the evening. William Byron gave up the 3rd position to pit for four tires and fuel. Johnson and a number of the cars at the back of the pack pitted as well.
The Big One
Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin are the front row heading back to the green. Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon are on the 2nd row. DiBenedetto restarts 12th, Byron 14th, and Jimmie Johnson in the 18th position. It’s three-wide behind leader Kyle Busch and the Big One erupts with nine laps to go.
Tyler Reddick triggers the big accident when he passes Kyle Busch and pulls up in front of him too soon. Kyle can’t check up quick enough and hits the outside wall, Erik Jones runs into the rear of Busch and loses control, the melee is on in Turn 4.
In addition to Kyle Busch and Jones, the cars of Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Truex, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, and Ryan Preece are collected in the incident. Somehow, DiBenedetto, Johnson, and Byron drive their way through the mess unscathed. Unlike Indy Car officials at the end of the Indianapolis 500, NASCAR officials displayed the red flag with 8 laps to go. The track crews clean up the mess and the fans will see an exciting sprint to the checkered flag.
The Big One #2
Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick are on the front row heading to the restart with 5 laps to go. Chris Buescher and Logano are right behind. But really, it’s anyone’s race. Logano pushes Hamlin to the lead and then Logano drops low through the tri-oval to take over the top spot.
Into Turn 1 Bubba Wallace gets a huge run on the outside and get’s even with Logano. Hamlin bumps the rear of Logano, Joey gets loose and bangs into Wallace who scrapes the outside wall. As Logano and Wallace separate, William Byron drives between them to make it four-wide. Logano spins and the Big One #2 is on.
Matt Kenseth, Christopher Bell, Tyler Reddick, Cole Custer, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, John Hunter Nemechek, and Jimmie Johnson were also involved. Johnson’s car suffered major damage, but his crew was able to get him back on the track after cutting away some of the damaged sheet metal.
The red flag was displayed again, as the race was extended into overtime. Hamlin and Byron were followed by Bowyer and DiBenedetto on the restart. It looked like Hamlin would continue his dominance at Daytona, but Byron would not be denied. Winning the first Cup race of his career he locks down his spot in the playoffs with a win. DiBenedetto takes the final spot with his 12th place finish as Jimmie Johnson is shut out of the postseason finishing 17th.
Playoff Point Standings
The point standings reflect how each driver sits going into Race 1 of the NASCAR Playoffs. The difference between DiBenedetto and Johnson for the final spot was just 6 points. Was it a false positive Covid-19 test that caused Johnson to miss the Brickyard 400? Missing that race could easily be blamed for Johnson not making the playoffs.
Eight Ford Mustang drivers are a part of the 16 driver playoff field. All four drivers from Stewart-Haas, all three from Team Penske and 1 from the Woods Brothers (who have a technical relationship with Team Penske). Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin have a virtual pass into the 2nd round with 57 and 47 playoff points earned respectively.
The Playoffs open next Sunday night with the traditional throwback weekend at Darlington Raceway, continue with two Saturday night races, the first at Richmond, and then the first elimination occurs after racing at Bristol concludes Round 1.
|6||Martin Truex Jr.||2014||1|
|Playoff Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Coke Zero 400 from Daytona International Speedway
|4||19||Martin Truex Jr.||0.313||164|
|11||38||John Hunter Nemechek||1.537||164|
|32||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-9||155|