With the conclusion of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, the field for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs has been set, and it looks nothing like it did entering the weekend.
Making matters more intense, the drivers on the cusp of joining the NASCAR Cup Series’ 10-race post-season had to wait to get the race underway, as persistent inclement weather postponed the race until Sunday at 10:00 am / ET.
With the weather looking crystal clear, the engines were promptly fired on Sunday, as the 37-car field looked to battle for 160 laps of NASCAR Cup Series superspeedway action, with the added pressure of the Playoffs looming.
Entering Sunday’s event, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. were only separated by 25 points, a number that would only become important if the event produced an additional winner.
In quite possibly the worst-case scenario for Blaney, the Team Penske driver was caught up in a six-car accident prior to the conclusion of the race’s first stage, with his No. 12 Ford Mustang sustaining significant damage.
Moving forward in the event, Truex switched from defense to offense, collecting a much-needed 15 points, after finishing fifth and second in the race’s two stages. However, much like Blaney, things went south for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver.
Just after the beginning of the race’s third stage, Michael McDowell got tipped in front of the pack, causing a seven-car accident, which also collected Martin Truex Jr, forcing the No. 19 to work diligently to repair the damage, which they proceeded to do without losing a lap.
As if things couldn’t have gotten more hectic, the threat of precipitation began to heavily increase, as dark clouds ominously surrounded Daytona International Speedway, with multiple drivers attempting to hold track position in the event of rain or lightning.
After another pair of restarts, things started getting intense, with consistent three-by-three racing all throughout the pack, as the rain continued to close on the racetrack, with a force that many assumed would end the event.
Well, there’s doubt it hit the track, just not before a massive 18-plus-car accident in the first corner, that happened when a sudden downpour washed away all the grip in the corner, sending the entire lead pack crashing in a heap.
Only Austin Dillon, Austin Cindric, Landon Cassill, and one or two others were able to emerge from the massive accident without any significant damage, as the rain began falling harder and harder.
At this point, the event had already reached the halfway point, meaning the race would have an official winner declared before drivers and teams left the facility. With a massive downpour hitting the track, Dillon looked to be in a prime position to capture the win.
However, thanks to the sanctioning body’s desire to finish the regular-season finale under the green flag, the rain subsided, the track got dried, and the engines got retired after a red flag lasting more than three hours.
After the race’s resumption, the field had significantly shrunk in size, with more than 10 entries retiring from the race due to the accident, and multiple others retiring due to damage discovered later.
With three laps to go, Austin Dillon, desperate to get into the playoffs, made a move to the inside of Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric, nearly wrecking him in turn one, but instead coming out with the lead.
Help from teammate Tyler Reddick would solidify his reservation in victory lane and the first 1-2 finish for Richard Childress Racing since Texas in 2020, where Dillon and Reddick also finished 1-2.
Austin Cindric rebounded from a near-crash inside the final five laps to score a third-place finish, while Spire Motorsports and Landon Cassill recorded a fourth-place result.
Noah Gragson, making his penultimate start in the NASCAR Cup Series for Beard Motorsports, scored the organization’s first top-five result, after being shuffled from a chance at the victory.
Cody Ware recorded a career-best sixth-place finish, while BJ McLeod – co-owner of Live Fast Motorsports – came home a career-best seventh. Martin Truex Jr, David Ragan, and Kyle Busch completed the top-10, the only cars on the lead lap.
Bubba Wallace, Joey Logano, Ty Gibbs, Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, and Cole Custer completed the 16 entries that were still running at the conclusion of Sunday’s 400-mile event.
Despite finishing inside the top-10, Martin Truex Jr. was unable to make up the necessary amount of points on Ryan Blaney, which would put him into the Playoffs, finishing just three points outside.
Despite finishing inside the top-10 and being top-five in series point standings, Martin Truex Jr. did not advance to the 16-driver post-season for this year, ensuring the No. 19 will finish no better than 17th in points.