NASCAR playoff field set after Daytona finale

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After the regular season finale in Daytona, NASCAR’s 16-driver playoff field is now set…and it wouldn’t be a pivotal NASCAR race without a whole lot of controversy. In the end, however, Austin Dillon won at Daytona, securing a ticket to the playoffs at the last second and Martin Truex Jr. under the line. Ryan Blaney survived a long, harrowing race, eventually becoming the only non-race winner to reach the 2022 NASCAR playoffs.

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 was delayed by 15 hours by the weather and red flagged due to more bad weather later in the race. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 was paused with 21 laps to go. But many drivers felt the race should have been stopped even earlier and complained that a track that was too slippery led to a major accident that thinned the field.

“They had about a whole lap to call a warning and tore up a lot of race cars,” Justin Haley said during a red flag break. “That was pretty unacceptable.”

“We knew the rain was coming,” said Daniel Suarez. “It was raining next door. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I don’t know. I’m a bit biased because I was in the front.”

Team Penske’s Blaney and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex entered Daytona and had to hold their positions as the last two drivers in the playoff grid, and the only ones without a win for Saturday. As long as a driver without a win didn’t jump up and capture the checkered flag, they would both make the playoffs… but unfortunately for Truex, that’s exactly what happened.

A few wrecks leading up to the final rounds distorted both Blaney and Truex’s playoff chances. Blaney was collected in a wreckage on Lap 31, in the closing laps of Stage 1, damaging his handlebars and plunging him deep into the field. Truex, who entered the race 25 points behind Blaney, finished second on Stage 2 to narrow Blaney’s lead to just 10 points. Shortly after the start of Stage 3, on Lap 102, Truex ran into another wreck, one that caused severe damage to his right front fender. But with Blaney six laps down, enough drivers were taken out of the race in wrecks for Truex to win position after position over Blaney, and from the red flag Truex was 12 points ahead of Blaney.

As the final stage drew to a close, the threat of weather set off some of the most frenetic races in recent history in Daytona. With 23 laps to go and the rain started to build up, the entire field lost traction on lap 138 heading into Turn 2, causing a massive 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 wreckage piled up enough to soak the entire track, forcing NASCAR to mark the race. Lightning strikes in the area raised even more concern, but after several hours, NASCAR determined the track was dry enough to continue.

When the race resumed, only 10 cars were left on the first lap, and Truex’s lead over Blaney disappeared when Blaney reversed the strategy Truex had used against him earlier in the race, “passing” several cars that were out of the race. the race had fallen. Austin Cindric tried to hold back Dillon in the closing laps of the race but failed, and Dillon took the win without a challenge in the final corner.

This weekend marks the third time Daytona will host the regular season finale, a role it has had since 2020. Before that, Indianapolis Motor Speedway held the final for two years, and before that, Richmond International Raceway hosted the final race en route to NASCAR’s postseason each year from 2004 to 2017.

NASCAR is in the third round of its playoffs. From 2004 to 2009, drivers only made it to the playoffs on points. Four years later, NASCAR filled a field of 12 drivers with a combination of points and wins. As of the 2014 season, the play-off field will have 16 drivers, with a win-and-you-in format and a four-stage “elimination” sequence running through the playoffs.

Coming into the race, the drivers around the cut-line were given an unexpected break when Kurt Busch, who was sidelined for several weeks with a concussion, decided to withdraw his request for a playoff waiver. He will at least miss the start of the playoffs, but more importantly for the bigger picture, his departure from the playoffs left a second potential spot open for a driver to enter without a win.

Fifteen different drivers won races that came Saturday night, but with Busch’s withdrawal, Blaney and Truex were at the high end of the cut-line. Another 13 drivers – those in the top 30 in points – had to win Daytona to make the jump to the playoffs. That number included Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell, all of whom have had success on superspeedways. But most of those drivers, and many more, were involved in wrecks that put an end to their playoff hopes.

The playoffs begin next weekend with the Cook Out Southern 500 in Darlington and run through early November with the season finale in Phoenix. After every three races, the four drivers with the lowest point totals will be eliminated from the playoffs, with the last four drivers competing in an all-or-nothing final.

August 28, 2022; Daytona Beach, Florida, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano (22) wins the first leg of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. Mandatory credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

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Contact Jay Busbee at [email protected] or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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