DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — The annual Coke Zero Sugar 400 is here but for the second time in as many years, the race at the Daytona International Speedway isn’t being run in July. It will serve as the cut race of the regular season with the playoffs beginning next weekend in Darlington. Who wins? Find out below.
Race Day Schedule
12 p.m: Garage Opens
6:45 pm: Driver To Cars
6:50 p.m. Driver Intros
7:25 pm: Invocation
7:26 pm: National Anthem
7:32 pm: Command
7:45 pm: Green Flag
Coverage: 7 p.m. ET
Green Flag: 7:45 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN (Local Affiliates here)
Phone: NASCAR App
Race Distance: 160 Laps/400 Miles
Stage Lengths: 50-50-60
Competition Caution: Lap 20
Race: 26 of 36
Track: Daytona International Speedway
Who Wins The Coke Zero Sugar 400?
The end of the 26 race regular season in the NASCAR Cup Series is upon us. 15 drivers have already stamped their names into postseason with one spot for the taking among 15 drivers. If someone who’s already won a race this season triumphs in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) or if it’s an entry that’s 31st on back in points, then the 16th and final spot to the playoffs is between Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon.
Currently, 25 points separate the two for that position. But, if either Reddick, Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Corey LaJoie or Anthony Alfredo win, then they’d take the final spot instead.
That’s why this race at the World Center of Racing is going to be wild because at Daytona, anyone has a realistic shot of a victory.
So, with that being said, who wins?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. earned his second career win in 2017. Erik Jones, Justin Haley and William Byron each won their first career wins in the last three years. Do we see another fluke winner?
Since the ‘Win and Your In’ format to the Playoffs was initiated in 2017, Erik Jones’ 2018 summer race win and William Byron’s last year are the only summer race at Daytona to catapult a driver into the postseason – the other three winners were either not eligible for the Playoffs due to not competing for a championship in the series (Haley in 2019) or the drivers had already previously won in the same season (Keselowski in 2016 and Stenhouse in 2017).
In the third iteration of the Playoff championship format from 2014-Present – Only one driver outside the Playoff cutoff has raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale through points or last-minute wins.
- From 2014 to 2018 – the drivers that won or were inside the top 16 that were expected to make the Playoffs did, no drivers raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale on points or wins.
- In 2019, heading into the regular season finale at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman was tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final transfer position to the Playoffs. Newman finished eighth in the regular season finale to Suarez’s 11th, earning the final transfer spot into the postseason.
A total of 21 drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona; 11 of the 21 drivers posted their first win in the summer race – the most recent was the 2019 July race with winner Justin Haley and Spire Motorsports and last year with William Byron. Does that bode well for Saturday night for someone on the outside looking in?
Eight drivers below the cutline have never won a Cup race before.
Matt DiBenedetto is winless and was 12th in this race last year but just 33rd in the Daytona 500. He did lead the most laps in the 2019 Daytona 500 though and was seventh and eighth respectively with Go Fas Racing in this very race in 2017 and 2018. He also was leading at the end of the race at Talladega but didn’t make the right moves which allowed Brad Keselowski to triumph instead.
Ross Chastain is winless in Cup but the Florida native did win an Xfinity Series race here in 2019 and was seventh back in February.
Bubba Wallace was fifth in this very race a year ago and had a really fast race car in February.
Ryan Preece had a top six in his Duel in February to race his way in, was second in the first stage and sixth in the Daytona 500.
Corey LaJoie has three top 10 finishes in his last four Daytona starts including a ninth place run in February.
I’d watch out for them. But, they’re not the only ones.
Chris Buescher, has one career Cup win but does have five top 10 finishes in his last eight Daytona tries including three of those being in the top five.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Erik Jones are each past winners of this event and do some their best work on superspeedway’s.
Ryan Newman is a past Daytona 500 champion and has five top 10 finishes in his last eight Daytona starts.
You also have the “Big 3” teams that have won the last seven Busch Clashes on the oval. They’ve won 16 of the last 18 Duels, six of the last nine Daytona 500’s and five of the last eight Coke Zero Sugar 400’s.
But, they went winless in February. SHR and RCR won the Duels with Front Row Motorsports winning the ‘500. But, factor in SHR and RCR into this and you still get 9-for-9 in the Clash, 18-for-18 in Duels, 8-for-9 in the ‘500 and 5-for-8 in the ‘400 since 2013.
Among these drivers, Denny Hamlin led the most laps back in February and has won three of the last six Daytona 500’s, but he’s 0-for-16 in the ‘400. Martin Truex Jr. has just five top five finishes in 64 superspeedway tries without a win. Eight of his last 12 finishes in Daytona were 18th or worse. Kyle Busch has finished 20th or worse in seven of his last nine Daytona races. Christopher Bell was 21st, 13th and 16th respectively in his three oval tries.
Maybe JGR isn’t the team.
What about HMS?
Chase Elliott has never won at Daytona but was runner-up in each of the last two points paying races there though too. William Byron is the defending race winner and was second the year prior. He was also runner-up in Talladega back in April too. Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson have never scored a top five in Cup competition in Daytona.
That leaves Penske. They could have went 1-2 back in February but crashed out while fighting for the win on the final lap in Turn 3. Brad Keselowski made up for it via a win in Talladega this spring.
Blaney, won the Talladega Fall race in 2019 and spring race in 2020. He was runner-up in the 2020 Daytona 500 and sixth in the 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400. I like this chances. He’s also riding a wave of momentum off of a win last week and four top five finishes in his last five starts.
Joey Logano has four points paying superspeedway wins. He won his Duel at Daytona back in February of 2020. He also has six top four finishes since 2013.
Michael McDowell won the Daytona 500 and was also runner-up at Talladega back in April too. But, just twice since 1982 has someone swept both Daytona races in the same year.
- 3 ADillon
- 24 Byron
- 21 DiBenedetto
- 42 Chastain
- 11 Hamlin