Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL — August 28, 2022
The checkered flag had not finished waving at Daytona International Speedway in the Coke Zero 400, and social media was already abuzz with the controversy that Austin Dillon’s win created.
It started earlier in the week when Kurt Busch announced his team had informed NASCAR that they were withdrawing their waiver request that would have allowed Busch to compete in the Cup Series Playoffs despite not having driven in the series since his accident at Pocono.
Still suffering from concussion-like symptoms, Busch admitted he would not be competitive in the car and did not want to diminish the integrity of the postseason by accepting the waiver when another team could benefit from the position. Suddenly there were two open slots left to fill in the 16-car playoff field. Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. held those spots based on points. However, a driver in the top 30 who had not one in 2022 could grab one of the positions with a win Saturday night at Daytona.
Rain, Rain, Rain
Qualifying was washed out at the Speedway as Mother Nature decided more drama was needed at the final race of the NASCAR regular season. The lineup was set according to points as stated in the NASCAR rule book. Rain Saturday night postponed the event until 10 am Sunday morning. And rain played a significant part in the outcome of the race.
Hendrick Motorsport teammates Chase Elliott(9) and Kyle Larson(5) lead the pack to green. Larson speeds out front into turn one. Elliott gets some assistance from Joey Logano(22) with a big push, and by turn three, Elliott is the leader.
The scramble for positions starts early as they raced four-wide behind the leaders. Larson and Christopher Buescher(17) bumped, but everyone stays in control, and the “big one” is avoided. For now.
Larson develops an engine problem and drops to the bottom of the track. He takes his car to the garage after just 14 laps.
Michigan’s Erik Jones(43) moves to the lead with a push from Denny Hamlin(11). With Stage One set for 35 laps, the guys at the front of the pack get anxious to make moves, and with five laps to go, trouble erupts.
The incident collects the cars of Ryan Blaney(12), Christopher Bell(20), and Kevin Harvick(4). Bell is done for the day. Blaney and Harvick make repairs and can continue.
Most of the field pits to prep for Stage Two, and the running order is scrambled. The restart with one lap to go in the Stage sees Logano take the green and white checkered flag with Elliott running second.
Stage One Results
|5||19||Martin Truex Jr.||6|
|8||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||3|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Lead changes continue as drivers pick up helpers to push them to the front. Stage Two is 60 laps, so a pit stop is required to complete the distance. Green flag pit stops begin at lap 78, and teams pit in groups by manufacturer to assure themselves drafting partners.
Good racing culminates Stage two with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates finishing one-two-three. Martin Truex Jr. picks up valuable stage points in his battle with Ryan Blaney for points that could determine the final playoff position.
Stage Two Results
|2||9||Martin Truex Jr.||9|
|9||43||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
The Final Stage
Stage Three runs for 65 laps, taking the race to 160 laps or 400 miles. Kyle Busch is caught speeding on pit road and sent to the rear of the pack for the restart. It does not take long for the action to pick up and the cars to start dropping out.
With 59 laps to go, Tyler Reddick(8) turns McDowell into the outside wall. Truex gets caught in the mess along with William Byron(24), Ross Chastain(1), and LaJoie. Cars scatter everywhere to avoid serious damage. Austin Dillon(3) ends up driving backward down pit lane as he spun to avoid major contact. Only Truex is able to continue after repairs. The other three cars end up in the garage.
The playoff implications for Truex are huge.
The Big One finally arrives with 23 laps to go as the pack races into turn one. Raindrops can clearly be seen on the television camera following the action. NASCAR is slow to throw the caution flag, even though drivers complained the track was getting wet. Only Austin Dillon is able to squeeze through among the leaders to avoid the chaos.
The accident resulted due to a loss of grip from the Goodyear Racing slicks that are not meant for use in wet conditions. Nearly half the field is taken out due to the incident that many felt could have been avoided.
A deluge soaks the track, the red flag is posted, and jet dryers must be deployed to dry the racing surface before the event can be resumed hours later. Only 10 cars are on the lead lap for the finish as most of the race favorites and playoff drivers are involved.
After an incredible drive through the junkyard created by the accident, Austin Dillon becomes the new race leader.
Coming to the closing laps, Austin Cindric(2), the Daytona 500 Champion, is leading with Dillon on his bumper. With three laps to go, Dillon gives Cindric a shove going into turn one. Cindric gets loose, but with an incredible effort, he saves the car from crashing. Dillon takes the lead with his teammate Tyler Reddick, who already qualified for the playoffs, running second and blocking for the grandson of team owner Richard Childress.
Just as predicted, Daytona was a playoff wild card. Dillon’s good fortune is the equivalent of a walk-off home run to win the pennant in baseball.
The individual booted out of the playoffs as a result of Dillon’s improbable victory was Martin Truex Jr.
Truex missed his chance at the postseason by finishing three points behind Ryan Blaney, who qualified based on points.
Standings Heading into the Round of 16 for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs
|Position||Car No.||Driver||Ponts||Playoff Points|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Results of the Coke Zero 400 from Daytona International Speedway
|8||19||Martin Truex Jr.||160||running|
|22||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||138||accident|