It all comes down to this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, this Saturday, August 27 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, and if history is any indicator of what to expect this weekend, everybody has a shot at the win.
With Kurt Busch’s announcement to withdraw his medical waiver into the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, two Playoff spots are now up for grabs heading into this weekend, and they are currently held by Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney in 15th and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. in 16th in the Playoff standings outlook. But 13 other drivers that are eligible for the postseason are facing a ‘Win or Go Home’ situation this weekend and will be vying for one of those last two postseason spots making Saturday night’s race that much more intense.
Since the inception of the Playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2004, Richmond Raceway hosted the regular season finale from 2004 to 2017 (14 years), and then from 2018-2019 Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the final regular season event. This weekend marks the third time the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway has hosted the Cup Series regular season finale (2020-2022).
The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is currently operating in its third iteration of the postseason’s points system since its inception in 2004. The first Playoff points system (from 2004 to 2009) had the top 10 to 12 drivers earn their position in the Playoffs by points only. The second version of the Playoff points system (2010 to 2013) incorporated the top 10 drivers to get in on wins/points with the addition of two extra drivers referred to as the Wild cards. The third version of the Playoff points system (2014 to Present) features drivers vying for the top 16 Playoff spots either by points or the ‘Win and You’re In’ rule. The third version of the Playoffs also instituted the elimination style format with four drivers being eliminated from the Playoffs at the conclusion of each postseason round culminating with the Championship 4 battling it out for the title in the season finale.
Playoff Points System 1 (2004-2006 – Top 10 in on Points; 2007-2009 – Top 12 in on Points)
Four drivers have come from outside the postseason cutoff to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the first iteration of the Playoff championship format:
- Jeremy Mayfield in 2004 made up a 55-point deficit
- Ryan Newman in 2005 made up a one-point deficit
- Kasey Kahne in 2006 made up a 30-point deficit
- Brian Vickers in 2009 made up a 20-point deficit
Playoff Points System 2 (2010-2013 – Top 10 in on Wins/Points and Two Wildcards)
Seven drivers have come from outside the postseason cutoff to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the second iteration of the Playoff championship format that incorporates the Wild Card:
- Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2010 to make the Playoffs. Biffle was 11th in points with one win; Bowyer was 12th in points with no wins heading into the regular season finale.
- Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2011 to make the Playoffs. Keselowski was 11th in points with three wins; Hamlin was 12th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
- Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2012 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 11th in points with two wins; Gordon was 13th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
- Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2013 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 12th in points with two wins; Newman was 14th in points with one win heading into regular season finale.
- Due to a rare instance in the final race of the regular season that resulted in penalties being issued in 2013; a 13th car (Jeff Gordon’s No. 24) was added to the Playoffs. It was the second time in the Playoff Era the number of entries was expanded.
Playoff Points System 3 (2014 – Present – Top 16 in on Wins or Points/Elimination Style)
In the third iteration of the Playoff championship format from 2014-Present – Only one driver (William Byron) 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 in the standings 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 Motor Speedway, 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-place finish, earning the final transfer spot into the postseason.
- In 2020, six drivers inside the Playoff cutoff (top 16) had not clinched a spot in the postseason heading into Daytona, but all six ultimately clinched their spots, led by William Byron, who became the first driver to win his way into the Playoffs by taking the victory in the regular season finale. No drivers outside the top 16 advanced into Playoffs in the regular season finale.
- Heading into the final race of the regular season at Daytona International Speedway, the 2021 season had produced 13 different winners with two additional drivers clinching their spots on points leaving just one spot still available to make the Playoffs, and it was Richard Childress Racing teammates Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick battling it out for the final postseason position. Ultimately, Ryan Blaney won the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, but he had already clinched his spot in the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs earlier in the season. Because of the repeat winner, the 16th and final Playoff spot was earned by points, and it was Tyler Reddick’s fifth-place finish to Austin Dillon’s 17th at Daytona that earned him enough points to advance for the first time in his career to the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Clinch Scenarios: Two spots, one last chance
This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway is the last opportunity for the drivers who have not clinched a spot in the Playoffs to earn their position in the postseason. A total of 14 drivers have already clinched their Playoff spot, leaving just two spots open for drivers to battle it out in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
The following 14 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe.
Can Clinch Via Points
If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the Playoffs this weekend at Daytona, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the third winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Ryan Blaney or Martin Truex Jr.
- Ryan Blaney: Would clinch regardless of finish
- Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch regardless of finish
If there is a new winner from Erik Jones or another winless driver lower in the standings but still eligible to advance to the Playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the second winless driver in the standings.
- Ryan Blaney: Would clinch with 31 points
- Martin Truex Jr.: Could only clinch with help
Can Clinch Via Win
The following drivers would clinch on their win alone:
- Ryan Blaney (Average finish at Daytona 18.3)
- Martin Truex Jr. (21.9)
- Erik Jones (22.0)
- Aric Almirola (20.1)
- Austin Dillon (15.4)
- Bubba Wallace (12.5)
- Chris Buescher (22.0)
- Justin Haley (10.7)
- Michael McDowell (19.7)
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (20.0)
- Cole Custer (24.4)
- Brad Keselowski (22.6)
- Harrison Burton (39.0)
- Ty Dillon (19.7)
- Todd Gilliland (33.0)
Team Penske’s driver Ryan Blaney is just 25 points up on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr. heading into this weekend’s regular season finale, which will be important as the final two Playoff spots are settled. Truex is looking to make the Playoffs for the 10th time in his career. But the North Carolina native, Blaney, is playing it cool despite the added pressure.
“You can’t stress yourself out about it,” said Blaney. “It is either going to happen, or it isn’t, whether you make the Playoffs or not.”
As Blaney attempts to make the postseason for the sixth time in his career this weekend, he will also be looking to become the sixth driver in series history to win consecutive Summer races at Daytona; joining Fireball Roberts (1962-1963), A.J. Foyt (1964-1965), Cale Yarborough (1967-1968) David Pearson (1972 – 1974) and Tony Stewart (2005-2006).
Truex on the other hand is looking for his first win on a superspeedway since joining the NASCAR Cup Series. In 34 Daytona starts, he has put up three top fives and five top 10s. He finished runner-up in this race in 2018.
Daytona International Speedway: The perfect stage for the regular season finale
All eyes will be on the ‘World Center of Racing’ this weekend – Daytona International Speedway – as the iconic hallowed grounds will play host to the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400, this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).
Daytona International Speedway, the 2.5-mile paved superspeedway oval located in Daytona Beach, Florida, has hosted 150 NASCAR Cup Series races since the inaugural event in 1959 – 64 have been 500 miles, 59 were 400 miles and four were 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races. But this weekend marks just the third time the summer race will be the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale (2020-2022).
The 150 NASCAR Cup Series races at the historic Daytona International Speedway have produced 63 different pole winners and 69 different race winners. NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough leads the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Daytona with 12 (Feb. 1968, July 1969, 1970 sweep, 1978 sweep, July 1980, July 1981, July 1983, 1984 sweep, July 1986). Eight of the 12 poles are from the summer race, which is also the series-most for that event.
Nine of the 63 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona pole winners are active this weekend, but only three have won poles for the summer race at Daytona: Chase Elliott (2018), Kyle Busch (2013) and Kevin Harvick (2002).
|Rank||Active Daytona Pole Winners||Poles||Seasons|
|1||Chase Elliott||3||2018 (July), 2017 (Feb.), 2016 (Feb.)|
|2||Alex Bowman||2||2021 (Feb.), 2018 (Feb.)|
|3||Kyle Larson||1||2022 (Feb.)|
|4||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||1||2020 (Feb.)|
|5||William Byron||1||2019 (Feb.)|
|6||Austin Dillon||1||2014 (Feb.)|
|7||Kyle Busch||1||2013 (July)|
|8||Martin Truex Jr||1||2009 (Feb.)|
|9||Kevin Harvick||1||2002 (July)|
NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in winsat Daytonawith 10 victories (Feb. 1964, Feb. 1966, Feb. 1971, Feb. 1973, Feb. 1974, July 1975, July 1977, Feb. 1979, Feb. 1981, July 1984). Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin(Feb. 2016, Feb. 2019, Feb. 2020) leads all active drivers in Daytona wins with three.
Of the 69 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners, 41 of them have won the summer race (59.4%). NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in summer race victories at Daytona with five wins (1961, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978).
A total of 15 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners are active this weekend and 10 of those 15 have won the summer event at Daytona. Eight of the 15 need a win this weekend to secure their spot in the Playoffs (drivers needing a win to make Playoffs bolded in chart below).
|Rank||Active Daytona Race Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|1||Denny Hamlin||3||2020 (Feb.), 2019 (Feb.), 2016 (Feb.)|
|2||Kevin Harvick||2||2010 (July), 2007 (Feb.)|
|3||Austin Cindric||1||2022 (Feb.)|
|4||Ryan Blaney||1||2021 (Aug.)|
|5||Michael McDowell||1||2021 (Feb.)|
|6||William Byron||1||2020 (Aug.)|
|7||Justin Haley||1||2019 (July)|
|8||Erik Jones||1||2018 (July)|
|9||Austin Dillon||1||2018 (Feb.)|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||1||2017 (July)|
|11||Kurt Busch||1||2017 (Feb.)|
|12||Brad Keselowski||1||2016 (July)|
|13||Joey Logano||1||2015 (Feb.)|
|14||Aric Almirola||1||2014 (July)|
|15||David Ragan||1||2011 (July)|
|16||Kyle Busch||1||2008 (July)|
The youngest Daytona summer race winner is Justin Haley (07/07/2019 – 20 years, 2 months, 9 days); all-time track record – Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 – 20 years, 0 months, 1 day). The oldest Daytona summer race winner is Bobby Allison (07/04/1987 – 49 years, 7 months, 1 day); all-time track record is also Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 – 50 years, 5 months, 23 days).
A total of 22 different starting positions have produced winners in the NASCAR Cup Series Summer races at Daytona. The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (nine) than any other starting position in the summer races at Daytona International Speedway. The most recent driver to win from the pole or first starting position at Daytona in the NASCAR Cup Series was NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 2015 July race. The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Daytona is 42nd, by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in the 2012 July race. Ryan Blaney won last season’s August Daytona race from the sixth starting position, the 47th summer Daytona race (out of 59) won from a starting position inside the top-10 (79.6%).
This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity at Daytona International Speedway will begin with Busch Light Pole Qualifying on Friday, August 26 at 5 p.m. ET (USA Network).
First-time winners aplenty at the World Center of Racing
One thing Daytona International Speedway is known for is unpredictable finishes that on occasion produce first-time winners in the NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, three of the last four NASCAR Cup Series summer races at Daytona International Speedway have fashioned just that – first-time winners.
A total of 23 different drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway, 11 of the 23 drivers posted their first win in the summer races. The most recent first-time winner at Daytona was back in February when Team Penske’s Austin Cindric became the first rookie to win the Daytona 500 season opener. The most recent first-time winner in the summer races at Daytona was the August race of 2020 with race winner William Byron earning his spot in the Playoffs.
|First-Time Cup Race Winners (23) at Daytona||Start Pos.||Date||Driver’s Age|
|Austin Cindric||5||Sunday, February 20, 2022||23|
|Michael McDowell||17||Sunday, February 14, 2021||36|
|William Byron||6||Saturday, August 29, 2020||22|
|Justin Haley||34||Sunday, July 7, 2019||20|
|Erik Jones||29||Saturday, July 7, 2018||22|
|Aric Almirola||15||Sunday, July 6, 2014||30|
|David Ragan||5||Saturday, July 2, 2011||25|
|Trevor Bayne||32||Sunday, February 20, 2011||20|
|Greg Biffle||30||Saturday, July 5, 2003||33|
|Michael Waltrip||19||Sunday, February 18, 2001||37|
|John Andretti||3||Saturday, July 5, 1997||34|
|Jimmy Spencer||3||Saturday, July 2, 1994||37|
|Sterling Marlin||4||Sunday, February 20, 1994||36|
|Derrike Cope||12||Sunday, February 18, 1990||31|
|Greg Sacks||9||Thursday, July 4, 1985||32|
|Pete Hamilton||9||Sunday, February 22, 1970||27|
|Mario Andretti||12||Sunday, February 26, 1967||26|
|Sam McQuagg||4||Monday, July 4, 1966||28|
|Earl Balmer||6||Friday, February 25, 1966||30|
|A.J. Foyt||19||Saturday, July 4, 1964||29|
|Bobby Isaac||4||Friday, February 21, 1964||31|
|Tiny Lund||12||Sunday, February 24, 1963||33|
|Johnny Rutherford||9||Friday, February 22, 1963||24|
Of 23 different drivers that posted their first NASCAR Cup Series career win at Daytona International Speedway, Justin Haley started the deepest in the field at Daytona to win his first race with a 34th-place starting position in 2019.