Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — August 28, 2021
The regular season started on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway and it will end there. With no shortage of drama for the last race before the NASCAR Playoffs begin next week at Darlington Raceway.
Since the inception of the Playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2004, Richmond Raceway held the regular-season finale from 2004 to 2017 (14 years), and then from 2018-2019, Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the final regular-season event.
The Coke Zero Sugar 400 will answer the final two questions relative to the 2021 season. Who will take the final playoff position, 15 drivers are currently locked in? And, who will win the Regular Season Championship battle between Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin?
Larson leads Hamlin by 28 points, he can clinch the championship by scoring 32 points regardless of what Hamlin does.
Those drivers that have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field are Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola.
Tyler Reddick is currently on the bubble in the 16th position in the points. He leads teammate Austin Dillon by 25 points. Reddick would clinch that final spot with 31 points in tonight’s race. Providing one of the guys, currently in the Top 30, without a win this year do not pull off an upset victory.
Any of these drivers would clinch the final spot with a visit to victory lane. Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Darrell Wallace Jr., Chase Briscoe, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Anthony Alfredo, or Corey LaJoie.
Ford Dominance on Super Speedways
Currently, six Ford drivers have clinched spots in the postseason: Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Aric Almirola, and Kevin Harvick. Ford has 38 all-time series wins on the oval at Daytona with Michael McDowell winning the Daytona 500 the last time the series raced on the oval.
Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Joey Logano, and Brad Keselowski also have oval wins at Daytona.
Michael McDowell will be going for a sweep on the Daytona International Speedway oval this weekend after capturing the season-opening Daytona 500 in February. The last driver to win both Daytona races in the same year was Jimmie Johnson, who did it in 2013, while only five have done it overall. The others: Bobby Allison (1982); Lee Roy Yarbrough (1969); Cale Yarborough (1968); and Fireball Roberts (1962).
Ford drivers looking for a win to join the playoffs and their records at The World Center of Racing:
- Anthony Alfredo: 1 start; Best Finish (32nd, 2021 Daytona 500)
- Chase Briscoe: 1 start; Best Finish (19th, 2021 Daytona 500)
- Chris Buescher: 11 starts; 3 Top 5s; Best Finish (3rd, 2020 Daytona 500)
- Cole Custer: 3 starts; Best Finish (11th, 2021 Daytona 500)
- Matt DiBenedetto: 12 starts; 3 Top 10s; Best Finish (7th, 2018 Coke Zero 400)
- B.J. McLeod: 4 starts; Best Finish (19th, 2019 Daytona 500)
- Ryan Newman: 39 starts; 6 Top 5s; Best Finish (1st, 2008 Daytona 500)
Daytona Winners in the Field
There are 14 drivers in the starting lineup who own wins at Daytona International Speedway.
|1||Denny Hamlin||3||2020 (Feb.), 2019 (Feb.), 2016 (Feb.)|
|2||Kevin Harvick||2||2010 (July), 2007 (Feb.)|
|3||Michael McDowell||1||2021 (Feb.)|
|4||William Byron||1||2020 (Aug.)|
|5||Justin Haley||1||2019 (July)|
|6||Erik Jones||1||2018 (July)|
|7||Austin Dillon||1||2018 (Feb.)|
|8||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||1||2017 (July)|
|9||Kurt Busch||1||2017 (Feb.)|
|10||Brad Keselowski||1||2016 (July)|
|11||Joey Logano||1||2015 (Feb.)|
|12||Aric Almirola||1||2014 (July)|
|13||Kyle Busch||1||2008 (July)|
|14||Ryan Newman||1||2008 (Feb.)|
Several drivers were sent to the rear of the field for pre-race inspection issues, including pole-sitter Kyle Larson(5). Corey LaJoie(7), Rick Ware(15), Kaz Grala(16), Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell(34), and Anthony Alfredo(38) will join Larson at the back of the pack
No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet of Joey Gase (starting 37th) and the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet of Kaz Grala (starting 38th) will also go to the rear after multiple pre-race inspection failures.
The 400 miles equal 160 laps around the famed 2.5-mile speedway. Stages are set for 50/50/60 laps.
At the drop of the green flag William Byron(24), with different drivers pushing him, drove off with the lead on Lap 1. Swapping lanes to stay in front, Byron was able to block the attempts to pass him until Kevin Harvick(4), with a push from Ryan Blaney(12), passed on Lap 7. Harvick could not hold the top spot as side-by-side racing, two and three wide, shuffled the front of the pack.
Byron and Hamlin swapped the lead until Austin Dillon(3) drove to the front. He was passed by Chase Elliott as the competition caution flew on Lap 20. The field pitted, most taking fuel only. Elliott returned to the track first, followed by Cole Custer(41).
The three-wide racing during the restart quickly merged into a single line as drivers seemed content to ride to the last few laps of the Stage with Elliott out front.
The excitement started with 10 laps to go to the green and white checkered flag, Joey Logano(22) drove to the front and two-wide racing quickly formed. Elliott passed back and retook the lead. With five laps to Logano tried to dive under Elliott but could not complete the pass.
With Elliott running the line at the top of the track, the inside line picked up Logano. Dillon tried to pass and he too failed, dropping in front of Logano. Hamlin moved in behind Elliott and pushed him to the flag.
Stage 1 Results
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||6|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Hamlin picked up 9 points on Larson with his 2nd place finish in the Stage. Larson was content to ride back in the pack and avoid the scramble upfront. Dillon, who could have grabbed those points if he had stayed in line, cost himself by dropping to 6th. He still picked up 5 points on Reddick who did not make it to a points-paying position in Stage 1.
Elliott held the lead coming off pit road, he was followed by Martin Truex Jr.(19), LaJoie, Ryan Preece(37), and Christopher Bell(20). The restart again caused a scramble at the front of the pack and this time Truex emerged with the lead.
Truex drifted high through the tri-oval on Lap 70. Bell took the opportunity to drive inside his teammate and, with a push from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47), he became the new leader. Kyle Busch(18), and Dillon also passed Truex who dropped to 5th.
Logano dropped down in front of the inside line that was stagnant and began to pull those cars towards the front. With a push from LaJoie, Logano took over the top spot and left LaJoie by jumping to the top lane. LaJoie checked up and mid-pack cars stacked up for the first accident of the evening.
Hamlin got the nose of his car blunted hitting the car of Preece, Aric Almirola(10), Alfredo, and Alex Bowman(48) were also involved. All suffered minor damage.
Logano and Bell raced side-by-side into Turn 1 on the restart, with Logano ultimately prevailing to take the top spot. Reddick moved into the second spot behind the 22 car erasing the gains made by Dillon in Stage 1.
The pack settled into single file racing as the laps in Stage 2 wound down. The challenge for the Stage win came when Blaney dropped low and Elliott followed. Logano was forced to alternate between the top and bottom lanes to maintain his hold onto the lead.
Blaney managed to get beside Logano, but could not hold onto the position as Logano went back to swapping lanes to block cars with big runs. Logano held on for the Stage win and Austin Dillon made an aggressive move on the final lap to move into second. Dillon picked up two more points on Reddick who dropped to 4th.
Stage 2 Results
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Larson scored 6 points in Stage 2 while Hamlin failed to make it into the Top 10 as their points battle swung back in Larson’s favor.
The Final Stage
Stage-ending pit stops shuffled the front of the field. Hamlin emerged from pit road with the lead, followed by Byron, Bubba Wallace(23), Bowman, and Harvick.
Things got crazy as everyone wanted to hold the lead at this point of the race. Logano was out front, then Harvick, Elliott led briefly, Logano resumed the top spot, Chastain led for a lap, Blaney moved to the front. The “big one” is coming, it’s just a matter of when.
No one can seem to hold the lead until Chastain gets back out front and with Bowman content to run in his tire tracks. Blaney and Harvick get hooked up in the low lane and Chastain is forced to swap lanes to stay out front.
With 38 laps to go, the Ford drivers pitted en masse with everyone taking fuel only. Bubba Wallace inherited the lead briefly until Chastain returned to the front. The two drivers swapped the lead repeatedly as two-wide racing dominated the lead pack.
On lap 137 a new leader emerged, Kyle Busch drove the high line around Wallace with a push from his teammate Bell. With 20 laps to go Garrett Smithley(53) spun in front of his teammates Joey Gase(15), and Cody Ware(51). The remainder of the field pitted as the Ford drivers moved to the front. Most of the stops were for fuel only.
Chase Elliott was one of the cars that took four tires, is there enough time left to make them work? He returned to the track in 22nd position. The Top 20 restart on old tires.
Austin Dillon made a huge mistake on his stop entering pit road too fast. He will have to start at the rear of the field.
The Big One
With 14 laps to go, it happened. Truex got turned by Stenhouse and he slammed into Byron hitting the outside wall on the backstretch. Brad Keselowski(2), Chase Briscoe(14), Byron, Alfredo, Landon Cassill(96), and Daniel Suarez(99) got caught in the mess.
Tyler Reddick caught some damage from the spinning cars and his #8 machine began smoking badly necessitating a trip to pit road. Austin Dillon was complaining of an electrical issue with his car. The final playoff spot may come down to a matter of attrition.
NASCAR brought out the red flag to allow track crews to clean up the mess and everyone will take a deep breath with just 13 laps to go in the race. The Fords of Logano, Blaney, Almirola, Chris Buescher(17), Cole Custer(41), and Matt DiBenedetto(21) are the Top 6 heading to the restart.
With the yellow displayed, Reddick returned to pit road for attention to his oil leak. Dillon’s crew swapped the battery on his car. Who will make it to the finish? The race resumed with 10 laps to go.
Blaney pushing Logano keeps the 22 out front. With six laps to go, Buescher gets a push from Elliott and he moves to the front. Elliott makes the pass and Logano blows a tire hitting the wall in Turn 4.
The Big One Number 2
The blocking at the front of the pack leads to a massive accident with four laps to go. Elliott, Bell, DiBenedetto, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Preece, Custer, Chastain, and Grala all are involved.
Buescher comes out of Turn 4 with the lead followed by Blaney. The cars circle the track waiting for overtime as track crews are again required to clean the track of junk cars and scattered parts.
It will take NASCAR Overtime to put a wrap on this one. Buescher starts out front with Blaney beside him. Corey LaJoie and Austin Dillon make up row two. Three of the four drivers are looking for the win that will put them into the playoffs.
Dead even across the start/finish line for Lap 1 of overtime. Blaney gets the lead into Turn 1. The pack somehow completes a lap and takes the white flag. Blaney pulls away to a four-car lead as drivers try to form up to make a run at the leader.
Trouble erupts again in Turn 3 as Harvick, Dillon, Suarez, Kurt Busch, Larson, Chastain, LaJoie, Bowman, and Erik Jones create another big pile-up. The yellow flag comes out and Blaney is assured to come across the line with the win. Back to back at Michigan and Daytona, the Team Penske driver enters the playoffs on a hot streak.
Reddick makes the playoffs as the last man to point in. Larson outlasts Hamlin to take the regular-season championship.
The points now reset with each driver starting the postseason with 2,000 points and the playoff bonus points earned from victories, stage wins, and regular-season final standings.
|3||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2024||3|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Coke Zero Sugar from Daytona International Speedway
|23||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||-1||164||171.815|
|30||19||Martin Truex Jr.||-2||163||127.526|