Past Daytona success for playoff bubble drivers a factor

Capturing another Daytona International Speedway winner’s trophy in next weekend’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (Aug. 29) will have extra meaning to five former winners of the iconic 2.5-mile venue.

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 will serve as the final race of NASCAR’s regular season, and the “last-chance” event to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. This marks the first time in history that the Coke Zero Sugar 400 has served as the cut off race for the playoffs. Since 1959 the race had been run on July 4 weekend. For every driver who enters the race outside of the top 16, winning will be pretty much their only option in order to make the championship battle. It’s “Must Win” time.

Amazingly, five drivers who are currently on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, have hoisted Daytona trophies in NASCAR’s premier series, and the list reads like a “Who’s Who” in the sport. In order to guarantee a spot in the playoffs, they will need yet another piece of historic “World Center of Racing” hardware. They include:

  • Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet; the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion is currently 17th in NASCAR Cup standings, winner of two DAYTONA 500s (2006, 2013) and one Coke Zero Sugar 400 (2013). He is the last driver to sweep both Daytona Cup races in a single season.
  • Erik Jones, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; Currently 17th in NASCAR Cup standings, winner of the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet; Currently 24th in NASCAR Cup standings and pole sitter for this year’s DAYTONA 500, winner of the 2017 Coke Zero Sugar 400
  • Ryan Newman, No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, currently 25th in NASCAR Cup standings, the 2008 DAYTONA 500 Champion
  • Matt Kenseth, No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet; Currently 28th in NASCAR Cup standings, a two-time DAYTONA 500 Champion (2009, 2012)

Just because, however, the group of five have tasted victory at historic Daytona does not give them a distinct advantage. Throughout its history, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 has produced a host of first-time winners, dating back to just a year ago when Justin Haley stunned the motorsports world winning after the event was cut short due to inclement weather. Joining Haley are a host of well known – and some Hall of Famers – to get their initial NASCAR Cup Series win on Daytona’s high banks:

  • Erick Jones (2018)
  • Aric Almirola (2014)
  • David Ragan (2011
  • John Andretti (1997)
  • Jimmy Spencer (1994)
  • Greg Sacks (1985)
  • Sam McQuagg (1966)
  • AJ Foyt (1964)

That gives hope to others below the NASCAR Playoffs cutline like Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher and Bubba Wallace, who finished second in the 2018. The field is wide open. Take your pick.

The full weekend schedule (2.5-mile tri-oval) includes:

o    Friday, August 28 – Wawa 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, SiriusXM and MRN); 250 miles (100 laps); NO FANS

o    Saturday, August 29 – Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC, SiriusXM and MRN): 400 miles (160 laps)

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