The NASCAR Cup Series drivers headed to Daytona International Speedway on August 28 to fight for the final two playoff spots. Now the 16-driver field is set after Austin Dillon won a wreck-filled regular-season finale that featured a delay for rain and lightning.
With Dillon becoming the 16th different winner in the 2022 season, he punched his ticket to the playoffs. He joined a list that already included Austin Cindric, Alex Bowman, Joey Logano, Daniel Suarez, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe, Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, and Kevin Harvick. Ryan Blaney rounded out the group as the only winless driver with enough points.
The weekend played out in an unexpected way. The race was originally set for the evening of August 27, but heavy rainfall at the track forced NASCAR to postpone the race to 10 a.m. ET on August 28. Once the race began, the drivers were able to complete the first two stages. However, rain and lightning brought out the red flag with 21 laps remaining.
The red flag was in place until 3:50 p.m. ET when the crews were able to finish drying the superspeedway. This delay lasted three hours, 19 minutes, and 57 seconds, and it only created further questions about which drivers would take advantage once the race went green again.
Once the race went green again, Austin Cindric took the lead from Dillon. He remained at the front of the pack until contact from the No. 3 got him loose. Dillon, Tyler Reddick, and Cody Ware all jumped in front of Cindric and proceeded to hold that spot for the final laps. Several other drivers got a run late, but key blocks from multiple Chevrolet drivers kept them at bay.
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“It’s crazy. You just never give up and have faith,” Dillon said during his post-race interview. “We had some tough finishes this year, like Charlotte. I beat myself up over that. I made a good move and just didn’t finish it off. Today we finished it off. I’m so proud of these guys, and I’m glad to be going to Victory Lane.”
A Points Battle Between 2 Drivers
There were two names that were at the center of numerous conversations heading toward Daytona International Speedway. Blaney and Truex were the only two winless drivers above the cutline, and they sat 25 points apart while facing concerns about another new winner.
The situation took a wild turn in Stage 1. A wreck collected Blaney and sent him into the wall. This caused major damage to the No. 12 Team Penske Ford, and the veteran driver fell multiple laps behind the pack while his team made repairs. This opened up the opportunity for Truex to gain some points, and he was able to put himself within reach of overtaking his fellow competitor.
Truex did not leave Daytona unscathed. He was caught up in an incident during the final stage, which led to his tire blowing and destroying the right front fender of the No. 19. Like Blaney, he was able to continue in the race after heading to pit road for repairs. Though he was able to remain on the lead lap.
The two drivers continued to jockey for points throughout the race with Truex ultimately taking the lead. He sat 12 points ahead of Blaney when NASCAR displayed the red flag due to rain and lightning in the area.
Once the race went green, Blaney remained buried several laps behind Truex. However, he passed some other drivers dealing with damaged cars and he chipped away at the points lead. He ultimately passed Truex as the No. 19 fell back behind Cassill, which helped him reach the playoffs by virtue of three points.
“Just not fast enough to keep up with those guys,” Truex told NBC Sports after the race ended. “We got the restart we need and got into a decent spot there. Just couldn’t keep up. I was wide open the whole last run there. It’s a shame. It stinks.”
Wrecks Ended the Playoff Hopes of Multiple Drivers
There were more than a dozen drivers that entered the race weekend with plans to secure a spot in the playoffs. All but two of them needed a win to accomplish this goal, and many were unable to secure the much-needed win due to numerous wrecks.
Brad Keselowski was the first to get knocked out of contention. A wreck unfolded at the end of Stage 1, which sent Denny Hamlin toward the infield and Christopher Bell back into the pack. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver collided with both Keselowski and Blaney, who slammed hard into the wall. The No. 6 team could not make repairs in time as the 2012 champion’s day ended under the Damaged Vehicle Policy clock.
Michael McDowell was the next to see his day end. A push from Tyler Reddick in the final stage sent him into the wall. This collision severely damaged the No. 34 Ford and sent McDowell to the garage.
The wrecks continued in the final stage, including one that collected winless drivers in Cole Custer, Bubba Wallace, and Dillon. They joined many drivers that already had secure playoff spots. Both Custer and Wallace sustained damage while getting caught up in an incident out of their control.
The biggest wreck — and one that sparked angry comments from multiple drivers — occurred with 21 laps remaining in the race. Raindrops led to several drivers losing control and slamming into the wall or each other. The list of winless drivers collected included Justin Haley, Chris Buescher, Aric Almirola, Harrison Burton, Erik Jones, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
The result of all these wrecks is that only 14 cars remained on the lead lap and were in contention for the possible win. Dillon was at the front of the pack and in the best position while Truex — the next winless driver — was in the seventh position. Ultimately, Dillon took advantage and won his fourth career Cup Series race.