What’s at stake for Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, a look at the race day schedule and what to watch

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott will share the front row for Sunday’s rain delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400 (10 a.m. ET, CNBC, MRN). Just 7 days ago, Elliott was perturbed on how Larson raced him at the end of last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Watkins Glen. The duo shared the front row then too but Larson topped Elliott on the final restart by making a move that pushed Elliott wide.

They had an organizational wide meeting on Monday. Everyone is saying the right things. Is the beef over? For now it seems like it and they’ll be starting next to each other when the sun rises on a new day in Florida on Sunday.

It’s actually the 4th straight HMS pole at Daytona and 12th in the last 16 tries on the high banked 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway. The only 4 poles they didn’t win was Greg Biffle (July 2016), Joey Logano (July 2019), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (February 2020) and Kevin Harvick (Aug. 2020). However, 2 of the 4 weren’t won on speed. Logano’s pole in 2019 was on points. Same for Harvick in 2020 as we didn’t qualify that year.

Can they help Hendrick Motorsports score just their 2nd win at the Daytona International Speedway in the last 13 races?

If they do, then both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. will make the playoff field. There’s 14 drivers locked into the postseason with 2 spots open. Kurt Busch removed himself from contention as he’s battling a head injury suffered 6 weeks ago in Pocono. Blaney currently leads Truex Jr. for the 15th spot.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 20: Austin Cindric, driver of the #2 Discount Tire Ford, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, race to the finish of the NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 20, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

All he needs to do is score 31 points whenever we get going and he clinches the wildcard spot. So long as one of the 14 drivers whom are already locked in (Larson, Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Austin Cindric, Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell) wins too, then that locks Truex in.

There’s a unique scenario to where Blaney or Truex can also win and the other gets in too. There’s also a unique situation to where Corey LaJoie, Cody Ware, David Ragan, Landon Cassill, BJ McLeod and Noah Gragson could win but allow Truex and Blaney to net the final 2 wildcard spots too because none of those 6 drivers are in the top 30 in points and that’s a requirement to be playoff eligible as well.

Which makes this situation very simple – Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Custer, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Todd Gilliland have to win. That’s it. A win puts them into the playoffs. If neither of them win, Blaney and Truex get by.

3 of the last 4 Daytona winners earned their 1st career Cup Series victory. Furthermore, 3 of the last 4 Coke Zero Sugar 400’s were won by a 1st time winner. Go back to 2017 and all but 1 of these races were won by a driver earning their 1st or 2nd win.

Among those 13 needing a win, 8 have visited victory lane here. That’s where this gets really interesting.

Joey Logano and Daniel Suarez will share Row 2. This is Logano’s 6th top 10 starting spot in his last 8 Daytona starts including 5 of the 6 in the top 2 rows. Suarez has never started in the top 10 here before (10 races prior) with a best start prior to Saturday night being 15th.

Christopher Bell and Tyler Reddick will start 5th and 6th respectively in sharing Row 3. What’s good for them is, 3 of the last 4 Daytona winners came from Row 3. Bell is 0-for-12 on the Daytona oval across the 3 series including a best finish in 5 Cup starts being 13th in this race in 2020. Reddick is 2-for-15 with a win each in the Truck Series (Feb. 2015) and the Xfinity Series (Feb. 2018). He’s 0-for-6 in the Cup Series with 5 of his 6 finishes being 27th or worse. He did finish 5th in last year’s race.

Each of the last 13 Daytona winners started 5th on back at that.

Sunday’s race day schedule

Parking Lots Open: 7 a.m. ET

Gates Open: 8 a.m. ET

Green Flag: 10:05 a.m. ET


Radio: MRN

Distance: 160 Laps/400 Miles

Stage Lengths: 35-60-65

Weather: 50-60% chance of rain at start time

Starting Lineup: https://t.co/2aYO7XYNgn

5 Things I’m Watching: https://t.co/W2MU8CitQ7

5 burning questions: https://t.co/xUwoSX4VMO

Who Trends Say Will Win: https://t.co/i5HhCqiCj2

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