DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Austin Dillon dodged the rain and the wrecking cars to score his 4th career NASCAR Cup Series victory in a rain marred Coke Zero Sugar 400. Rain washed out the initial scheduled date of Saturday night and pushed the 26th and final regular season race of the 2022 season to Sunday morning.
Good thing too.
With 21 laps remaining, the race was halted due to more rain. Dillon remarkably made bold maneuver to dodge the Lap 137 melee to come out unscathed with the lead.
“Feels amazing,” Dillon said. “I prayed before, let God have all the glory and light shine through me. Today getting through that wreck, I mean, it was — I don’t know what you call that. We went from 15th to first. I know what it’s called. It’s called the good Lord was looking after us.”
It looked like that move would have won him the race as heavy rains settled onto the Daytona International Speedway facility. However, NASCAR was as persistent as the weekend rains. They let this ride out and made a conscious effort to get this 2.5-mile track dried enough to resume.
While the same driver won this race who was leading at the time of the red flag, a lot happened between.
Dillon was collected in the Lap 124 crash and fell a lap down in the process of repairing the No. 3 Chevrolet. Luckily for him, a caution would occur on the Lap 130 restart giving Dillon his lap back. He was 16th on the ensuing restart that would see the crazy crash a few laps later due to rain falling in Turn 1 of the massive facility.
It took out the leaders (Daniel Suarez and Denny Hamlin who were racing side-by-side for the lead. More on this in a bit. With the top cars crashing in front of the pack, several more were collected.
Dillon evaded it all to come out on top.
At the time, Martin Truex Jr. was in on points with Ryan Blaney out. More on this later too. Blaney led Truex by 25 points entering the day but was caught up in that Lap 30 crash to badly damage his No. 12 Ford. He’d ride multiple laps down the rest of the day and score 0 stage points. He was 34th at the end of both stages.
Truex meanwhile finished 5th in Stage 1 and 2nd in Stage 2 to get himself 15 stage points and push to 10 points back entering the final stage.
Could he finish 11 spots ahead of Blaney who was marred deep in the field 6 laps down? At the time of the red flag, Truex was 7th. Blaney was 29th.
If this race ended, Dillon would take the 15th playoff spot by virtue of his win. Truex would get the 16th and final spot.
That’s why it was crucial to get this track dried to Blaney. If we didn’t resume, he was on the outside looking in.
3-hours, 19-minutes and 57-seconds later, we were back rolling. The rain subsided and the track was dried. 10 cars though were scored as out so after 6 laps of running, Blaney would get to improve at least 10 more positions.
10 cars were on the lead lap once we restarted and only 1 of them could knock either Truex or Blaney out – Dillon. Cody Ware, Landon Cassill, David Ragan, BJ McLeod and Noah Gragson weren’t in the top 30 in points to even if they won, they were no threat to the playoff race. Austin Cindric, Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch had already won a race this season.
Dillon and Truex were the only other 2 on the lead lap.
That’s why Cindric who was restarting 2nd had a big job to do and that’s to do anything in his power to not let Dillon win. It would ensure Blaney was in no matter what.
He quickly took the lead on the restart but Reddick and Gragson were coming and it was as 4 car breakout with Cindric, Dillon, Reddick and Gragson at the end. Truex was fading and Blaney was coming.
Both Petty GMS Racing cars couldn’t continue and dropped out of the race. So did Harrison Burton. That moved Blaney up 3 more spots. Cole Custer lost 3 more laps which moved Blaney up 3 more spots in total to 15th.
Truex would finish 8th. Blaney in 15th.
Dillon knocked Cindric out of the way in the closing laps which sent the Daytona 500 champion’s No. 2 Ford out of control. He’d regain form but the damage was done. Reddick would slide behind Dillon in 2nd which allowed Dillon to lead the final 3 laps en route to his 4th career Cup Series victory and make a walkoff moment by stamping his name into the postseason.
“Laps are clicking down, and I knew I could get to the 2’s back bumper pretty good,” Dillon said of his late move on Cindric. “The 62 and the 8 did a good job of getting up through there, so I felt like three Chevys in a row was an advantage.
“In the back of my mind I knew that the 12 car was still out there, and before I didn’t know where he was points-wise. If I waited until the white flag to make the move, possibly if he wrecks or someone wrecks back there, it could take our shot away.
“I wanted to make it before the white. Truthfully, that was — it just kind of happened. I was kind of planning on getting a bigger run than that before and pulling out to the right. And I figured that the 2 was going to be a sitting duck because they were going to go with me, the Chevys would, and then we would race it out from there.
“He kind of got loose as I got to his back bumper into one, and I kind of have been giving him that same shove. I don’t know if I just caught more momentum that lap than the others, but when he got free, I just kind of moved up the track.
“Then I got way out front. It’s very hard to tell yourself to hit the brake pedal when you are driving away from the guys that are behind you to not give up that huge gap.
“When I saw Tyler got there and they were all splitting up, I was, like, Man, I can’t let them go too big of a run. I knew Tyler would have my back. He has been a good teammate to me, and I enjoyed working with him.
“Hit the brake pedal. He got on my back bumper and from then on it was managing the gap to him in my mirror. We were able to bring it home.
“Truthfully, it was trying to get him out there. Kept pushing him out. He would do a really good job of I think he was on the brake pedal because it wasn’t getting him far enough out. The 62, he could kind of get to my back bumper and get a run, and we got a decent run through the tri-oval.
“My intention was to get the lead before the white, so it worked out the way I wanted it to. But I’m not going to just say that that was the time I really wanted it to happen. I was actually just trying to get him a little further out, and he got free right there into one.”
Cindric however expected it.
“I got hit by another race car going 190, 200 miles an hour,” he said. “Glad I saved it. Glad I tried to come back through the field, but (Austin Dillon’s) racing for a playoff spot. I totally expect to get drove through. It was just kind of a matter of time. Pretty bummed, you know? We had a shot to win today… We put ourselves in position – not a scratch on (the car). Just… (laughs) Dang it!”
It was Dillon’s 2nd top 3 finish in the last 4 points paying Daytona starts. He also has a Duel win in 2021 as well.
Reddick finished 2nd in his No. 8 Chevrolet and he did his job not to pull out of line to help his teammate make the playoffs. It was Reddick’s 2nd straight top 5 in this race and 3rd top 2 finish in the last 6 races run this year.
Cindric was third for his 6th top 7 result in the last 11 races on the season while Landon Cassill and Gragson rounded out the top 5.
Here are my top 5 takeaways from a wild race.
At the end of the day, NASCAR made the right call I feel all weekend. To postpone the race from Saturday night to a 10 a.m. ET start on Sunday morning was absolutely the right move. It allowed the race to get as far as it did because if we started at 11 a.m. ET or even later, I don’t think we’d even get to halfway.
10 a.m. was right and felt right. They however will be judged by how they handled the Lap 137 melee though. Depending on whom you talk to, it was either raining just prior or right at the moment of the Turn 1 crash.
Nevertheless, the rain absolutely caused that major crash that took out the 2 leaders at the front of the pack and gave everybody else no only no where to go, but a slick track to maneuver their ways through.
“I just don’t get it,” Justin Haley said of the crash and call by NASCAR to not red flag it one lap sooner. “My spotter said it was raining. It was raining on my windshield for a good bit, and then we literally all lost traction. The tires did not meet the road anymore; it was wet. When we’re running 200 miles an hour, you can’t do that.”
Daniel Suarez was the race leader at the time and said he felt like NASCAR could have errored on the side of caution to bring the yellow out knowing that it was absolutely going to rain.
“We knew the rain was coming; it was raining next door,” said Suarez on the incident. “It was just a matter of time. Why would we wait for that, I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little biased because I was in the front, but there’s nothing you can do. Sometimes you are running 200 mph and you’re able to turn left, and then you see a few drops hard, and you’re just spinning.
“I feel like they have a lot of technology to know that the rain is very, very close. I don’t think it’s hard to not put us in that position.”
Denny Hamlin, who was battling Suarez for the lead agreed.
“Just throw the caution before the rain came,” Hamlin said. “We had rain down the front, so about 10 seconds before we got into Turn 1, it was raining. I’m sure the fans felt it, and then they watched us all pile in there.”
Haley noted that “they had about a whole lap to call a caution and tore up a lot of race cars,” Haley said. “That was pretty unacceptable.”
On the flipside, Kyle Busch noted that the lap prior, he didn’t see any rain on his windshield.
“And then that lap it was just drop,” said Busch. “What do you do? You can’t check up that fast. You’ve just got to try to drive through it. Thankfully, I was on the right side. I saw water and saw everything and everybody wrecking in front of me.”
As far as what could have been done differently in the drivers’ point of view though?
“Better officiating, that’s all we can do … we’ll learn from this, I’m sure,” Hamlin said.
NASCAR didn’t necessarily agree. They sided more with Busch’s stance as senior VP of Competition, Scott Miller, said that he didn’t feel that they could have done anything differently.
“We were on top of the weather, monitoring it with all of our turn spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car,” Miller said. “We’ve been dodging a little bit of weather for a little while. Nothing had hit and all of a sudden, there was that shower. The pace car was sitting down there on the inside, and it was still dry when they wrecked, and if you watch the in-car [cameras], you can see that some rain definitely started right before they wrecked.
“But we really couldn’t do anything about that. It’s not something you can predict — when it’s going to start raining. Just a super bad situation for everybody.”
The major flaw from this new car is that the driver is absorbing more impact in crashes. While the data isn’t necessarily saying so, the drivers beg to differ. Kurt Busch had a rather routine rear end first impact with the Turn 3 SAFER barrier in Pocono but hasn’t raced since.
Denny Hamlin was collected in that Lap 137 melee and noted that it was as hard of a hit that he’s taken in a while.
“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”
This is Daytona and being sore after a crash here is par for the course. But how much did this new car make Hamlin feel like he did after the crash in comparison to a crash last year or years prior?
We also saw the car do what it’s supposed to do in keeping Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s cars not lifting as much as they could have. They each got in the air but luckily came back down before it could have been worse.
Drivers Needing Wins Caught Up In Crashes
13 drivers were facing must wins in Sunday’s race. Almost all of them were caught in a crash at some point of the day. That’s Daytona in a cut race for you. It’s either checkers or wreckers and that’s what happened to all of them on Sunday morning/afternoon.
Even Austin Dillon was caught up in a crash but he still rebounded to win.
Final Sequence Okay By Me
Austin Dillon had to go for it. Finishing 2nd wasn’t going to get him into the playoffs. His move on Austin Cindric was calculated and if he wanted to win had to be done. Sub sequentially, Tyler Reddick riding in tow of his Richard Childress Racing teammate for the final 3 laps is exactly what I would have expected. Why make a move to put his teammate who’s also the team owners grandson in peril? If Reddick passes Dillon and wins, think about the awkwardness in victory lane?
It would have pushed Dillon out of the playoffs? A lame duck driver at the end of next season would be celebrating a win but how could anyone else outside of the 8 team toast to that? It would even have made things awkward for those on that team to celebrate knowing the one signing their checks could be heartbroken for his grandson.
So Reddick made a 200 mph calculated move by pushing Dillon for the win and ensuring both are playoff bound.
Is RCR Back?
Austin Dillon gave RCR their 3rd win of the 2022 season. It’s the first time since 2011 when multiple RCR drivers won in a given season. Kevin Harvick won 4 times that season. Paul Menard won once.
It’s also the most wins in a single season for RCR since Harvick won 4 times in 2013 too. Does this signify that RCR is back?
They’re trending closer.
It’s a long way from being winless in 2021 and having 1 win in 2020.
In fact, from 2014 through 2021, they were winless in 6 of those 8 seasons. They had 1 win in the other 2 years each. This time, they have 3 trips to victory lane and 2 of the 3 are at iconic tracks in Indianapolis and Daytona.
While all 3 wins are also on “wild card” type tracks with a pair of road course wins and a superspeedway, it still is signaling that RCR is trending up.
NASCAR Cup Series Race – 64th Annual Coke Zero Sugar 400
Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Florida
Saturday, August 27, 2022
1. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 160.
2. (6) Tyler Reddick, Chevrolet, 160.
3. (14) Austin Cindric #, Ford, 160.
4. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 160.
5. (37) Noah Gragson(i), Chevrolet, 160.
6. (33) Cody Ware, Ford, 160.
7. (36) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 160.
8. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 160.
9. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 160.
10. (22) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 160.
11. (30) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 159.
12. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 158.
13. (23) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, 158.
14. (10) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 156.
15. (16) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 154.
16. (15) Cole Custer, Ford, 153.
17. (11) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, DVP, 148.
18. (25) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 144.
19. (29) Harrison Burton #, Ford, DVP, 140.
20. (7) Kevin Harvick, Ford, Accident, 139.
21. (27) Aric Almirola, Ford, Accident, 138.
22. (20) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 138.
23. (32) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, Accident, 138.
24. (4) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
25. (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, Accident, 137.
26. (28) Daniel Hemric(i), Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
27. (8) Chris Buescher, Ford, Accident, 137.
28. (18) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
29. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, Accident, 137.
30. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 137.
31. (26) Chase Briscoe, Ford, Accident, 124.
32. (9) Michael McDowell, Ford, Accident, 101.
33. (12) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
34. (17) William Byron, Chevrolet, Accident, 101.
35. (24) Brad Keselowski, Ford, DVP, 31.
36. (5) Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 30.
37. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, Engine, 14.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 138.942 mph.
Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 52 Mins, 44 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.128 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 30 laps.
Lead Changes: 39 among 19 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 0;C. Elliott 1-21;E. Jones 22-23;C. Elliott 24-26;E. Jones 27-30;C. Elliott 31-34;J. Logano 35-36;C. LaJoie 37-40;B. Wallace 41-42;E. Jones 43;C. LaJoie 44-45;E. Jones 46-50;C. Buescher 51;E. Jones 52-58;W. Byron 59;E. Jones 60-62;A. Bowman 63;D. Hamlin 64-76;J. Logano 77-78;B. McLeod(i) 79-80;C. Elliott 81;T. Reddick 82-85;C. Elliott 86-87;K. Busch 88-89;T. Reddick 90-91;K. Busch 92-96;M. Truex Jr. 97;T. Dillon 98;M. McDowell 99-100;J. Logano 101-106;T. Reddick 107-108;J. Logano 109;T. Reddick 110-114;A. Bowman 115-124;J. Logano 125-127;J. Haley 128-135;D. Suarez 136-137;A. Dillon 138-144;A. Cindric # 145-157;A. Dillon 158-160.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Chase Elliott 5 times for 31 laps; Erik Jones 6 times for 22 laps; Joey Logano 5 times for 14 laps; Austin Cindric # 1 time for 13 laps; Tyler Reddick 4 times for 13 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 13 laps; Alex Bowman 2 times for 11 laps; Austin Dillon 2 times for 10 laps; Justin Haley 1 time for 8 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 7 laps; Corey LaJoie 2 times for 6 laps; BJ McLeod(i) 1 time for 2 laps; Bubba Wallace 1 time for 2 laps; Michael McDowell 1 time for 2 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 2 laps; Ty Dillon 1 time for 1 lap; Martin Truex Jr. 1 time for 1 lap; Chris Buescher 1 time for 1 lap; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 22,9,21,18,19,7,23,47,43,34
Stage #2 Top Ten: 18,19,11,22,23,38,8,4,47,3