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HomeClassic Car InvestAustin Dillon takes final playoff spot with chaotic Daytona win

Austin Dillon takes final playoff spot with chaotic Daytona win

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The Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway was always bound to be a wild conclusion to the NASCAR Cup Series regular season, but Sunday’s race really took things to another level. While not the late-night overtime wreckfest of the Xfinity Series race on Friday, the 400 was postponed to Sunday due to weather, saw multiple crashes highlighted by a thirteen-car pile-up with twenty laps remaining that eliminated much of the field, an hours-long rain delay, and a dash to the finish that propelled Austin Dillon into the sixteenth and final playoff slot over Martin Truex Jr. despite the latter’s sixth-place points standing.

Dillon was nineteenth in the standings entering Daytona and therefore needed a win to qualify for the playoffs, and two slots were still available after Kurt Busch withdrew his playoff waiverRyan Blaney, third despite being winless, was virtually assured a playoff spot provided he did not crash out; incidentally, he was involved in the first accident of the race on lap 32, and spent the rest of the day salvaging a finish of fifteenth, six laps down. Despite the day and Truex finishing eighth, Dillon’s win and Blaney’s points advantage were enough for the latter to clinch.

“Honestly, it’s been a good year for us, but the wins haven’t come,” commented Blaney. “I feel like we can be a big threat in the playoffs, it’s just a matter of putting races together. It’s been a good year, but a great year would be wins and I feel like this team can do it if we just continue to do what we know and we improve on the things that we can get better at.”

Truex, who got caught in a lap 126 crash, will miss the playoffs for the first time since the inaugural year of the format in 2014. 

“We just had too much damage at the end,” he explained. “We had a good spot on the restart and we got a good restart. We got the #2 (Austin Cindric) up front, which is what we were trying to do, but just couldn’t keep up. Just too much damage. It’s a shame. We knew it was going to be tough with so many cars out of the race and the distance between me and the #12 (Blaney). It was going to be hard to hang on to fourth or better with a car that torn up.”

The stage was set for Dillon and Blaney’s ticket punches when many of the leaders were taken out in a crash with twenty laps to go in turn one. The wreck was triggered by rain that some drivers began reporting long before the field reached the corner, but NASCAR elected to stay green until the wet surface on the high Daytona banking led to hell breaking loose.

As every lane collapsed into carnage, Dillon was able to slip by and take the lead as only a small handful of drivers who got away without much damage. When the race was resumed following a three-hour rain delay, only ten cars remained on the lead lap. The remaining sixteen laps were a battle of Austins as Dillon and Cindric, both Daytona 500 winners, drafted with their respective lines. Aided by Richard Childress Racing team-mate Tyler Reddick, Dillon reached Cindric’s rear bumper and got by him with three circuits left, and despite last-lap attempts by Cindric and underdogs Cody Ware and Landon Cassill, the RCR duo completed the 1–2 finish.

Dillon’s last win, at Texas in 2020, also saw him and Reddick occupy the top two spots. He is also the first RCR driver to win the Daytona summer race since Kevin Harvick in 2010.

“When I saw Tyler got there and they were all splitting up, I was like, ‘Man, I can’t let them go too big of a run,’” Dillon recalled in his post-race press conference. “I knew Tyler would have my back. He has been a good team-mate to me, and I enjoyed working with him.

“Hit the brake pedal. He got on my back bumper and from then on it was managing the gap to him in my mirror. We were able to bring it home.”

Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images

The calamity and swath of frontrunner retirements led to many surprising faces scoring strong finishes, which led to all thirty-six chartered teams finally securing at least one top ten in 2022. Ware notched his first top ten in sixth while Rick Ware Racing partner David Ragan was ninth, the latter of which enabled him to become the eleventh active Cup driver to finish in all forty positions of a race order at least once in their career.

“I think the big thing was just perseverance,” Ware stated. “There was a lot of attrition in this race and we made sure to be cautiously aggressive in the first part of this race, so to walk away from it and get the chance to race with the leaders and battle all the way up to third and try to fight for the win was really an awesome day.  I think this will give us a lot of positive energy and momentum heading into Darlington next weekend, another track where we’ve had some success this year already, so being sixth is a good day. I wish we could have got more. I think it just shows how good of a day we had and I’m definitely going to go to sleep tonight happy.”

Cassill settled for fourth, his first top five since placing in the same position at the 2014 fall Talladega race ahead of Noah Gragson, who scores Beard Motorsports‘ maiden top five. while B.J. McLeod enjoyed a career-best seventh.

McLeod described the race as a “crazy day but it was fun executing our plan and getting it to work in our favour because we’ve been doing this a lot, but it’s still hard to pull off. We’ve had small wrecks in the back take us out.  There’s really no safe spot, other than the front row or really conservative, and today we were able to put it all together and not lose a lap under that first green-flag stop and just made things work. There at the end, we had a couple cars behind us to help; (Joey) Logano helped us for a second and when they were helping me, I had a shot, but coming to three and four on the last lap I tried to get the right of the #62 (Gragson) and it stalled out a little bit and the #62 pulled up. When he pulled up, I had to wait until he went back down to even try to get another run and it was just too late. Still, an awesome day for a small team.

“I’m always thankful and always driven, but this series is tough. It can beat you up running every week and having an average of thirty-fourth-place speed in a series that rightfully so we’re still good, it’s just we’re thirty-fourth. There are thirty-three other better people out there. It gets hard and these finishes, like today we did earn it. It’s a superspeedway and, yes, we’ve got to work on our team a lot to be competitive at mile-and-a-half tracks and short tracks, but right now, we raced today, we put a plan together as a team, we built a car together as a team, and we come here and we got a top-ten finish. That’s what is so big for my guys because we’re away from people a lot and on the road a lot and it just means a lot to get them a good finish.”

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 21 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 160 Running
2 6 8 Tyler Reddick Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 160 Running
3 14 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 160 Running
4 35 77 Landon Cassill* Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
5 37 62 Noah Gragson* Beard Motorsports Chevrolet 160 Running
6 33 51 Cody Ware Rick Ware Racing Ford 160 Running
7 36 78 B.J. McLeod* Live Fast Motorsports Ford 160 Running
8 13 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
9 34 15 David Ragan Rick Ware Racing Ford 160 Running
10 22 18 Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 160 Running
11 30 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 159 Running
12 3 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 158 Running
13 23 45 Ty Gibbs* 23XI Racing Toyota 158 Running
14 10 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 156 Running
15 16 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 154 Running
16 15 41 Cole Custer Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 153 Running
17 11 43 Erik Jones Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet 148 DVP
18 25 42 Ty Dillon Petty GMS Motorsports Chevrolet 144 Accident
19 29 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 140 DVP
20 7 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 139 Accident
21 27 10 Aric Amirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 138 Accident
22 20 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 138 Accident
23 32 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 138 Accident
24 4 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 137 Accident
25 19 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 137 Accident
26 28 16 Daniel Hemric* Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 137 Accident
27 8 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 137 Accident
28 18 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 137 Accident
29 2 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 137 Accident
30 31 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 137 Running
31 26 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 124 Accident
32 9 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 101 Accident
33 12 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 101 Accident
34 17 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 101 Accident
35 24 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 31 DVP
36 5 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 30 Accident
37 1 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 14 Engine
Bold – Currently in playoffs
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points

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