For a second consecutive week, Ryan Blaney stole the show after the High Point, North Carolina, native took the lead from Chris Buescher prior to the final lap and pulled away from the field wrecking behind to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway under caution on Saturday, August 28.
The victory was Blaney’s third of the season as he will be one of 16 competitors who will compete for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series championship over a 10-week Playoff stretch.
The starting lineup was based on a performance metric formula, weighing the driver’s and owner’s results from a previous Cup event, the owner points position and the fastest lap recorded from a previous Cup race. Kyle Larson, the regular-season points leader, was scheduled to start on pole position, but instead, he started at the rear of the field due to his car failing pre-race inspection multiple times. With that, teammate William Byron, winner of last year’s Daytona 400 event, started on pole position and was joined on the front row with Denny Hamlin.
Along with Larson, Joey Gase, Corey LaJoie and Kaz Grala started at the rear of the field due to multiple pre-race inspection failures. Michael McDowell and rookie Anthony Alfredo, teammates at Front Row Motorsports, also dropped to the rear of the field after it was discovered that both cars did not conform to NASCAR rule specifications pinpointing the deck lid extensions. As a result, crew chiefs Drew Blickensderfer and Seth Barbour were ejected from the event. Car chief Jason Sheets served as McDowell’s interim crew chief while Derrick Finley, Front Row Motorsports’ competition director, served as Alfredo’s interim crew chief. To make matters worse, Alfredo was assessed a pass-through penalty on pit road following the start of the race for illegal body adjustments made to his car while on the grid.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Byron received an early advantage on the outside lane with drafting help from Kyle Busch to take the lead, where he went on to lead the first lap by a nose over Hamlin.
The following lap, Byron broke away from the pack as he continued to lead ahead of Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr., all of whom were on the inside lane, while Kyle Busch settled as the lead car on the outside lane.
By the fifth lap, a majority of the pack formed a single-file line on the outside lane as Byron led teammate Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Truex, Matt DiBenedetto, Kyle Busch, Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch. Leading the inside line was ninth-place Alex Bowman.
Two laps later, Kevin Harvick, who had drafting help from Blaney, peaked ahead by nose to lead a lap over Byron. Another two laps later and while Byron moved back into the lead, Elliott got shuffled out of the top five as he dropped to the mid-pack.
Through the first 10 laps of the event, Hamlin moved into the lead followed by Bubba Wallace while Byron, who had led seven laps, was back in third ahead of Austin Dillon and Harvick. Kyle Busch, Blaney, Ross Chastain, Bowman and Brad Keselowski were in the top 10. By then, Joey Logano was in 12th, Elliott was in 15th, Truex was in 20th in between teammate Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick, Kurt Busch was in 24th behind rookie Chase Briscoe and Ryan Preece and Kyle Larson was mired in 26th behind Aric Almirola.
Five laps later, the field fanned out to three tight lanes as Byron, who moved back into the lead the previous lap, was leading ahead of Hamlin, Chastain, Logano and Austin Dillon. Another three laps later, Chastain made a pit stop under green for two fresh tires and to have his fenders fixed. By then, Austin Dillon motored into the lead ahead of Elliott and Hamlin.
When the competition caution flew on Lap 20, Elliott squeaked ahead of Austin Dillon to lead followed by Truex, Logano and Stenhouse. Byron, Hamlin, Cole Custer, Blaney and Briscoe were in the top 10. By then, five different competitors led at least a lap.
Under the competition caution, the leaders pitted with all utilizing a variety of strategies. Following the pit stops Elliott retained the lead. Prior to the restart, Michael McDowell fell off the pace and took his car to the garage due to an engine failure and dropping fluid on the track.
When the race restarted on Lap 25, Elliott and Custer battled dead even for the lead before Elliott cleared the field when he and the field returned to the start/finish line. The following lap, Hamlin made a bold three-wide move on Logano and Austin Dillon in a bid for third place as Elliott and Custer battled for the lead ahead of a packed field.
By Lap 30 and with the majority of the field settled in a single-file line, Elliott continued to lead followed by Logano, Custer, Austin Dillon, Keselowski, Byron, Bell, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chastain.
Ten laps later, Elliott remained as the leader of a long single-file line followed by Logano, Custer, Austin Dillon, Keselowski, Byron, Bell, Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chastain. Meanwhile, Truex was in 13th behind Blaney, Wallace was in 16th behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Almirola and Tyler Reddick were in 19th and 20th, Harvick and Larson were in 22nd and 23rd behind Briscoe, Bowman was in 25th behind Daniel Suarez and DiBenedetto was mired in 28th.
The following lap, Logano emerged as the new leader while Elliott got shuffled back to fourth in front of teammate Byron while trying to clean his grille. Two laps later, Elliott received a boost from teammate Byron to storm back into the lead while Logano had to defend the outside lane from a hard-charging Austin Dillon.
Approaching Lap 46, Logano gained a draft on Elliott, moved to the inside lane and tried to slide in front of Elliott through Turns 3 and 4, but he was unable to as Elliott retained the lead on the outside lane while Logano settled in as the lead car on the inside lane.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 50 following an early competitive race, Elliott managed to retain the lead and claim his third stage victory of the season. Hamlin settled in second followed by Kyle Busch, who nearly wrecked approaching the start/finish line following contact with Ross Chastain. Chastain was fourth followed by Truex, Austin Dillon, Corey LaJoie, Logano, Preece and Chris Buescher. By then, seven different competitors had led at least a lap within the pack racing and the draft.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted for four fresh tires and to top off on fuel.
The second stage started on Lap 55. At the start, Truex pulled ahead by a slight margin over Elliott on the outside lane through the first two turns before clearing Elliott entering Turn 3. By then, he had names like Corey LaJoie, Christopher Bell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Busch settled in behind him.
Two laps later, LaJoie made a move beneath Truex to lead a lap before he got shuffled out of the draft and back in fourth.
Through the first 60 laps of the event, Truex, who took the lead back on Lap 58, was leading followed by teammate Bell, Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, LaJoie, Keselowski, Elliott, Chastain and Preece.
Fifteen laps later, Bell, who took over the top spot on Lap 70, was leading followed by Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Logano, Truex, Elliott, LaJoie, Briscoe, Reddick and a steaming pack of cars.
On Lap 77, the caution flew when Almirola and Bowman spun in the middle of Turn 4 while running near the rear of the field and in front of a handful of competitors. During the incident, Hamlin ran into the rear of Preece.
Four laps later, the race restarted under green as Logano and Bell started on the front row. At the start, Logano launched ahead followed by Bell while LaJoie received a push from Reddick through the backstraightaway before being shuffled out by Reddick, who tucked in behind Logano.
By Lap 90, Logano was leading followed by Reddick, Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Keselowski, Truex, Hamlin, Preece and Larson.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 100, Logano, who took over the lead three laps earlier over teammate Blaney, was scored the leader as he claimed his fifth stage victory of the season. Austin Dillon settled in second followed by Byron, Reddick, Larson, Blaney, Stenhouse, Kyle Busch, Wallace and Bell. By then, 11 different competitors had led at least a lap.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted for fresh tires and fuel.
With 55 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Byron and Hamlin filled the front row. At the start, Hamlin received a push from Harvick to take over the lead. During the next four laps, Harvick led three before Elliott squeaked ahead to lead one for himself.
Five laps later, Harvick was back out in front followed by Hamlin, Byron, Wallace and Logano, who then mounted a charge on the inside lane while being pursued by Chastain, Elliott and others.
Another 10 laps later and with the field, which had fanned out to three lanes earlier, settling in a long single-file line, Chastain was leading followed by Bowman, Blaney, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Stenhouse, Wallace, Hamlin, Elliott and Briscoe.
With 38 laps remaining, the Ford competitors peeled off the track to pit under green. Back on the track, Chastain and Wallace battled for the lead ahead of the field that had fanned out to two lanes.
Down to the final 30 laps of the event, Wallace was leading followed by Kyle Busch, Chastain, Bell, Stenhouse, Truex, Bowman, LaJoie, Elliott and Landon Cassill. The following lap, Chastain received a push from Stenhouse to snatch the lead back from Wallace.
With 21 laps remaining, the caution flew for an accident involving Cody Ware, Joey Gase and Garrett Smithley, all of whom drive for Rick Ware Racing, in Turn 4. At the time of caution, Kyle Busch was the leader. Under caution, the front-runners pitted and the Fords moved up the pack, giving the lead to Logano. During the pit stops, Austin Dillon, who was battling battery issues to his car, was busted for speeding and was sent to the rear of the field.
Five laps later, the race restarted under green. At the start, Logano jumped ahead on the inside lane followed by teammate Blaney, Almirola, Buescher and Custer while DiBenedetto got shuffled back to sixth ahead of Kyle Busch and Harvick.
With 15 laps remaining, the caution flew when Truex got bumped by Stenhouse entering the backstretch and collided into Byron before spinning across the grass and proceeding with damage and firing rolling out of his car. Also involved were Briscoe, Cassill, Suare Alfredo, Keselowski and Tyler Reddick, the competitor occupying the 16th and final spot to the Playoffs as he had smoke trailing behind and damage on the front nose his car. The incident was enough for NASCAR to red-flag the event for nearly 15 minutes.
Following the cleanup period concluded and the caution was drawn back, teammates Reddick and Austin Dillon pitted to have their respective Chevrolets repaired with enough adjustments to finish the race.
With 10 laps remaining, the race restarted as teammates Logano and Blaney occupied the front row. At the start, Logano jumped ahead, but the field narrowed the gap through the backstraightaway and back to the tri-oval from the draft as Almirola moved up the leaderboard.
The following lap, Chris Buescher mounted a challenge on the inside lane to move up to third behind Logano and Blaney. He then received pushes from Kurt Busch and Elliott to move up to second as he challenged Logano for the lead.
With seven laps remaining, Buescher received a strong push from Elliott and Hamlin to take the lead, where he managed to slide in front of Logano through the backstraightaway.
A lap later, though, Elliott stormed to the lead while Buescher got shuffled out in a three-wide battle against Logano and Elliott. With Buescher falling back, Elliott was leading followed by Hamlin, Logano and Blaney while Matt DiBenedetto mounted a challenge on the inside lane.
Under the final five laps, Logano fell off the pace after he cut a tire in a shower of sparks. Despite the misfortune, Logano kept his car rolling on the outside lane as the field went by him and the race proceeded under green. At the front, DiBenedetto challenged Elliott on the outside lane for the lead as the field behind started to stack up and fan out multiple lanes with the finish within sight.
Then in Turn 3, DiBenedetto, who continued to intimidate Elliott for the lead, ran into the rear bumper of Elliott as both along with Hamlin skidded across the outside wall. The contact of the wall got Elliott loose and he slid up and into DiBenedetto across the outside wall again. The ensuing contact ignited a chain reaction wreck that involved Hamlin, Keselowski, Bell, Kyle Busch, Preece, Chastain, Custer, Stenhouse and Kaz Grala, a wreck that sent the race into overtime.
In the midst of the carnage, Buescher was back in the lead followed by Blaney, LaJoie, Austin Dillon and Harvick. Chastain was in sixth followed by Larson, Daniel Suarez, Bubba Wallace and Kurt Busch.
When the race restarted in overtime, Buescher and Blaney battled dead even entering the first turn before Blaney received a strong push from LaJoie to take the lead on the inside lane. LaJoie, though, received a draft from Harvick to close back to Blaney’s rear bumper in Turn 3.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Blaney was leading ahead of LaJoie and Buescher. Through Turn 1, Harvick made a bold move beneath LaJoie to move into second place, thus shuffling LaJoie out of the lead draft, as Suarez, Buescher, Kurt Busch and others mounted a final lap mount to the front.
Through the backstraightaway, Blaney continued to lead followed by Harvick and Suarez. Then, Suarez got loose in front of Kurt Busch and turned into Harvick, which triggered a big accident in Turn 3 involving Austin Dillon, Larson, Chastain, LaJoie, Bowman and Erik Jones.
With the field wrecking behind, Blaney pulled away unscathed and cruised to the finish line in first place as the caution flew due to the accident.
The victory marked Blaney’s first at Daytona International Speedway, his second consecutive Cup victory in recent weeks after winning last weekend at Michigan International Speedway, his third of the season and the seventh of his career.
“Man, that was a lot of fun,” Blaney said on NBC. “Gosh, we just barely missed that wreck. We got lined up on the front row and got a good push by [LaJoie]. You never know how the end of these days are gonna play out. Down the back, you don’t know what lane’s getting a bigger run. I guess somebody got tangled up over there. Hopefully, everyone’s okay. Man, this is so cool. Second win of the year with BodyArmor on the car. Winning at Daytona, this is so cool. It’s really special and man, it’s been a fun two weeks. Looking forward to next week! Got a good, enough momentum. It’d be nice to make it three [wins] in a row. We’ll see.”
Behind Blaney, Chris Buescher came home in second place while Bubba Wallace, who dodged the final lap carnage, recorded a strong third-place result. The best season results for both Buescher and Wallace, however, were not enough for either of them to make the Playoffs.
“It hurts,” Buescher said. “That one stings a lot, but at the same time, [I] appreciate everybody at [Roush Fenway Racing]. Awesome weekend for Fifth Third Bank…[I] Wanted to get that [win] for so many different reasons. To miss that Playoff spot by one spot, that’s a tough ending to the day, but proud of this group. Proud of the car we brought…That hurts.”
“The seas parted and when that wreck happened, I just stayed in it, came out third, but it’s not what we needed,” Wallace added. “Bummer, but solid day. We went up and led some laps. Unfortunate, we wanted to win. That was the most prepared I’ve ever been for this speedway stuff and [finished] third…It just stings.”
Following the post-race inspection, however, Buescher was disqualified from his runner-up result due to an illegal track bar mounting assembly. As a result, Buescher was demoted to 40th place, dead last, while Wallace was promoted to the runner-up result, which tied his best result in NASCAR’s premier series.
Ryan Newman was elevated to third place followed by Ryan Preece, both of whom also did not make the Playoffs. Meanwhile, Tyler Reddick, who barely escaped the final lap multi-car wreck, finished fifth and claimed the 16th and final spot to the Playoffs over teammate Austin Dillon, who was unable to finish the race after being swept up in the wreck. With that, Reddick joins Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell as first-time members of the Cup Series Playoffs this season.
“My emotions were shot as soon as we took the green on the last green-white-checkered [restart],” Reddick said. “I couldn’t even believe we finished seventh. Getting through that last crash coming to the line, it was a lot, I’m not gonna lie. Going to Homestead, running for Xfinity Series championships were a lot of fun. Really exciting, really nerve-racking, but what a roller coaster it is to be on the bubble going into Daytona, running into the back of somebody and have all the issues we did at the end there. Almost felt helpless there, but we didn’t give up and we fought through it.”
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster ride,” Austin Dillon said. “We fought our butts off in the stages. We made some good moves to get points and found ourselves in fourth-place for a green-white-checkered here at Daytona. That’s where we were when we won the Daytona 500, so I was feeling pretty good about it…We fought hard. The Bass Pro Shop Chevy was very fast. Two weeks in a row we’ve had great cars out of the No. 3 team. Just haven’t gotten the finishes we’d like to have, but very thankful that the good Lord took care of us tonight and we get to race at Darlington next week. Unfortunate that we’re not in the Playoffs, but we gave it all we could and fought until the very end.”
Justin Haley, Bowman, Elliott, BJ McLeod and Josh Bilicki finished in the top 10.
Despite being involved on the final lap accident, Kyle Larson, who was scored in 20th claimed the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship over Denny Hamlin, who ended up in 13th. The result made Larson the fourth different competitor to achieve the regular-season title in the Cup Series.
“I think I read somewhere earlier this week where we had overcome a 166-point gap to Denny [Hamlin],” Larson said. “I didn’t think it was possible, but our team worked so hard all of the regular season and [I] couldn’t have done it without Mr. [Hendrick] and Linda, all of their support, everybody back at the shop, too. It’s a long season, and we still got 10 races to go, but it’s a long point to get to here…I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive [the car] and get a lot of the credit, but it’s really credit to everybody back at the shop.”
Kyle Larson, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Tyler Reddick have made the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, and will contend for this year’s championship.
Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Erik Jones, Corey LaJoie, Austin Dillon, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Chase Briscoe, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Custer, Matt DiBenedetto, Anthony Alfredo and Quin Houff are among the remaining competitors who failed to make the Playoffs.
There were 45 lead changes for 15 different leaders. The race featured eight cautions for 31 laps.
1. Ryan Blaney, seven laps led
2. Bubba Wallace, eight laps led
3. Ryan Newman, two laps led
4. Ryan Preece
5. Justin Haley
6. Tyler Reddick
7. Alex Bowman
8. Chase Elliott, 36 laps led
9. BJ McLeod
10. Josh Bilicki
11. Erik Jones
12. Kurt Busch
13. Denny Hamlin, seven laps led
14. Aric Almirola
15. Kevin Harvick, four laps led
16. Corey LaJoie – OUT, Accident, one lap led
17. Austin Dillon – OUT, Accident, three laps led
18. Ross Chastain – OUT, Accident, 14 laps led
19. Daniel Suarez – OUT, Accident
20. Kyle Larson – OUT, Accident
21. Chase Briscoe – OUT, Accident
22. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one lap down
23. Joey Logano, one lap down, 37 laps led
24. Cole Custer, one lap down
25. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap down
26. Anthony Alfredo, two laps down
27. David Starr, two laps down
28. Cody Ware, two laps down
29. Martin Truex Jr., two laps down, 13 laps led
30. Garrett Smithley, two laps down
31. Joey Gase, three laps down
32. Christopher Bell – OUT, Accident, eight laps led
33. Brad Keselowski – OUT, Accident
34. Kyle Busch – OUT, Accident, five laps led
35. Kaz Grala – OUT, Accident
36. Landon Cassill – OUT, Accident
37. William Byron – OUT, Accident, 12 laps led
38. Quin Houff, 29 laps down
39. Michael McDowell – OUT
40. Chris Buescher – Disqualified, eight laps led
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will commence next weekend at Darlington Raceway for the Cook Out Southern 500 on Sunday, September 5, which will start at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.