The latest 'Big One' strikes just as the rains came; Martin Truex Jr. narrowly misses Playoff field.
- Austn Dillon passed Austin Cindric with three laps remaining to win the 160-lap, 400-mile full-distance race that (finally! whew!) put him in the Playoffs.
- Dillon’s fourth career victory inadvertently brought Ryan Blaney into the Playoffs with him.
- Five major incidents that sidelined or damaged 30 of the 37 starters, some of them multiple times.
At the start of Sunday’s rain-delayed and rain-interrupted Coke Zero 400 in Daytona Beach, winless Austin Dillon wasn’t among the 16 drivers eligible for NASCAR’s upcoming 10-race Cup Series Playoff series.
Then, after apparently winning the race under caution in the early afternoon, the Richard Childress Racing driver was in the field. Well, sort of in, that is.
Much later, after waiting out a 3-plus hour rain delay, Dillon was briefly out of the Playoffs again. Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric led most of the last 16 laps and looked capable of winning the afternoon’s “second race” to knock Dillon to the sidelines.
But in a “all’s well that ends well” drama, Dillon passed Cindric with three laps remaining to win the 160-lap, 400-mile full-distance race that (finally! whew!) put him in the Playoffs that begin next weekend at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Dillon’s fourth career victory inadvertently brought Ryan Blaney into the Playoffs with him. Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. went into the race winless, but high enough in regular-season points to be the only drivers eligible for the Playoffs based on points.
Team owner Richard Childress—his grandfather—suggested Dillon wait until the last lap to make his move on Cindric. Dillon, worried that a late caution might cost him—decided to go a bit earlier. “There was a lot going on there,” Dillon said. “I knew if we got to the white (one-to-go flag), I was afraid somebody would wreck behind us. I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. If I could, the 2 (Cindric) would not be able to hold onto the draft. We’ve done it in practice enough to know you’ll lose the tail and it’s hard to get it back.
Austin Dillon won his first race of the season at the right time and qualifies for the NASCAR Cup Playoffs.
Icon SportswireGetty Images
“I had a big run and had my teammate (Tyler Reddick), back there (drafting, but not challenging). I knew we were in good shape there to the end. He did a good job checking up any kind of run. Just a little too much push there (on Cindric) and got him loose.”
In all fairness, Dillon’s victory may have kept NASCAR from taking undeserved heat. He took the lead with a slick move seconds before the last caution when rain created mayhem at lap 138. Anticipating better weather late in the day, officials optimistically waited longer than usual. (After a couple of hours of rain, few would have complained if NASCAR had called it much sooner).
As it was, the regular-season finale was almost exactly what many Cup Series-insiders expected: a wild and crazy afternoon when aggressive driving was the rule and not the exception.
With more than a dozen “outsiders” scrapping for two Playoff spots, the prevailing attitude was, why hold anything back now? And so nobody did.
The result was five major incidents that sidelined or damaged 30 of the 37 starters, some of them multiple times.
Ryan Blaney, left, is congratulated after sneaking into the 16th and final NASCAR Cup Playoff spot.
Chris GraythenGetty Images
For the time being, as it turned out.
Those two began the 10 a.m. race the only drivers eligible to advance on points. If the winner had been among the 14 drivers already eligible (Kurt Busch excused himself, opening a spot), Blaney and Truex Jr. would have moved forward as the last two championship hopefuls.
Dillon led two times for 10 laps. He was running mid-pack toward the end of the original race, when rain in Turns 1-2 created mayhem. Leader Denny Hamlin slipped first, and turned directly into the wall. The rest of the jammed-up field piled into each other, blocking all three lanes. With few options, Dillon picked the right one. He went for the flat apron and drove past the wreckage on his right as the caution waved.
Much later, Hamlin placed the blame squarely on NASCAR for being slow to display the caution. “I ran into the rain in the middle of Turn 1 and lost it,” he said. “We had rain down the frontstretch, so it was raining about 10 seconds before we got into Turn 1. I’m sure the fans felt it, then they watched us all pile in there.
“I’m just shook mostly. The hit was massive; my first one in this Next Gen car and it was legit. I made the right moves at the right time and got in the lead at the right time. But it was also a bad time because we were the first ones to get to the rain.”
When asked what NASCAR could do to prevent similar accidents, the three-time Daytona 500 winner had a simple answer: “All we can do is better officiating.”
After reviewing timing, Dillon was called the leader—but not officially the winner at that point. Kevin Harvick, Landon Cassill, Cody Ware, Cindric, Kyle Busch, Truex Jr., BJ McLeod, David Ragan, and Noah Gragson were top-10 in the rain.
Among the handful of Playoff scenarios, a new winner was among the least expected. A repeat winner would move Blaney and Truex Jr. forward based on points. Few “experts” entertained the possibility that a new 2022 winner would make the Playoffs and thus eliminate Blaney or Truex Jr.
The 10-race Playoff Series opens next weekend at Darlington Raceway featuring Dillon, Harvick, Hamlin, Cindric, Blaney, Chase Elliott, Ross Chastain, Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, and Christopher Bell.
NASCAR Coke Zero Sugar 400
Daytona International Speedway
1. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 160.
2. (6) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 160.
3. (14) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 160.
4. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 160.
5. (37) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, 160.
6. (33) Cody Ware, Ford, 160.
7. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 160.
8. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 160.
9. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 160.
10. (22) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 160.
11. (30) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 159.
12. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 158.
13. (23) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 158.
14. (10) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 156.
15. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 154.
16. (15) Cole Custer, Ford, 153.
17. (11) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, DVP, 148.
18. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 144.
19. (29) Harrison Burton #, Ford, DVP, 140.
20. (7) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 139.
21. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 138.
22. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 138.
23. (32) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, Accident, 138.
24. (4) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
25. (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 137.
26. (28) Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
27. (8) Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 137.
28. (18) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
29. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
30. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 137.
31. (26) Chase Briscoe, Ford, Accident, 124.
32. (9) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 101.
33. (12) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
34. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
35. (24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, DVP, 31.
36. (5) Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 30.
37. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Engine, 14.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 138.942 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.128 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 39 among 19 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 0;C. Elliott 1-21;E. Jones 22-23;C. Elliott 24-26;E. Jones 27-30;C. Elliott 31-34;J. Logano 35-36;C. LaJoie 37-40;B. Wallace 41-42;E. Jones 43;C. LaJoie 44-45;E. Jones 46-50;C. Buescher 51;E. Jones 52-58;W. Byron 59;E. Jones 60-62;A. Bowman 63;D. Hamlin 64-76;J. Logano 77-78;B. McLeod(i) 79-80;C. Elliott 81;T. Reddick 82-85;C. Elliott 86-87;K. Busch 88-89;T. Reddick 90-91;K. Busch 92-96;M. Truex Jr. 97;T. Dillon 98;M. McDowell 99-100;J. Logano 101-106;T. Reddick 107-108;J. Logano 109;T. Reddick 110-114;A. Bowman 115-124;J. Logano 125-127;J. Haley 128-135;D. Suarez 136-137;A. Dillon 138-144;A. Cindric # 145-157;A. Dillon 158-160.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Chase Elliott 5 times for 31 laps; Erik Jones 6 times for 22 laps; Joey Logano 5 times for 14 laps; Austin Cindric # 1 time for 13 laps; Tyler Reddick 4 times for 13 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 13 laps; Alex Bowman 2 times for 11 laps; Austin Dillon 2 times for 10 laps; Justin Haley 1 time for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 7 laps; Corey LaJoie 2 times for 6 laps; BJ McLeod(i) 1 time for 2 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 2 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 2 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 2 laps; Ty Dillon 1 time for 1 lap; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap; Chris Buescher 1 time for 1 lap; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,9,21,18,19,7,23,47,43,34
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,19,11,22,23,38,8,4,47,3
Keyword: How Austin Dilllon Missed Mayhem to Win NASCAR Cup Regular-Season Finale at Daytona