The NASCAR Cup Series regular season came to a close on Saturday, Aug. 28, with the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. 15 drivers had the opportunity to take the final spot in the playoffs, but Ryan Blaney’s third win of the season helped Tyler Reddick punch his ticket.
The final stage of the race featured a large battle for the front of the pack between Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto with mere laps remaining. The two drivers went back and forth, but an extra push from Denny Hamlin sparked the big one and sent a multitude of drivers into the wall. Elliott, Kyle Busch, Hamlin, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell, and Ross Chastain all sustained damage and set up an overtime run to the checkered flag between winless drivers.
The battle unfolded with a late run to the finish line. Blaney had a massive lead while Kevin Harvick and Chris Buescher pushed him for the lead. Both came close to making a move, but Kurt Busch accidentally sparked another wreck. He tried to push Daniel Suarez but spun him into Harvick, kicking off a chain reaction.
With Blaney in the lead as the final caution flag waved, he walked away as the winner of the race. Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher nearly won his first race of the season but took second place overall. Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman, and Ryan Preece rounded out the top five.
Along with the battle for the final playoff spot, two drivers fought for the regular-season championship. Hamlin needed to make serious moves to overtake Kyle Larson, but a wreck relegated him to a 14th-place finish. The driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, on the other hand, finished 21st but maintained his points lead to lock up the trophy and 15 bonus playoff points.
The Battle for the Final Playoff Spot Was Wild
The two Richard Childress Racing drivers — Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick — entered the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in a fierce battle for the final spot in the 16-driver field. The driver of the No. 8 had the points lead, but Dillon remained within reach of making yet another trip to the playoffs.
The early portions of the race featured Dillon gaining ground. He finished sixth in Stage 1 while Reddick took 21st. He then finished second behind Joey Logano in Stage 2 while his teammate finished fourth.
The battle continued during the final segment but took some wild turns. Dillon upped the intensity during a pit stop by receiving a speeding penalty and falling to the rear of the field. He also noticed that his battery and alternator were creating electrical issues. However, Reddick suffered significant damage in a wreck mere minutes later, giving Dillon time to move back through the field and change his battery.
The two drivers lined up for the final restart in very different positions. Dillon was near the front of the pack and in position to win his first race of the season. Reddick, on the other hand, was further back and could only hope to gain enough ground to maintain a slim lead in the points standing.
Once again, the situation changed in a major way during the final wreck that ended the race. Dillon sustained heavy damage and came to a sliding stop with his rear wheels off of the track surface, ending his day 18th overall. Reddick mostly avoided the incident and maneuvered his way to a sixth-place finish, locking himself into the playoffs.
Another Massive Incident Sent Multiple Cars to the Garage
Another incident occurred with around 13 laps remaining in the regular-season finale, sending several cars to their respective haulers early. The list included William Byron and Martin Truex Jr., who both already had spots secure in the playoffs.
The incident sparked when Truex had to check up to avoid a collision with the vehicles in front of him. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did not have time to react. He tapped the No. 19 from behind and sent it sideways into the outside wall.
Byron hit Truex at full speed, crumpling the front of his No. 24 Chevrolet and ending his race early. The incident also collected cars belonging to Reddick, Landon Cassill, Brad Keselowski, Chase Briscoe, and Daniel Suarez. However, Keselowski, Suarez, and Briscoe all managed to continue racing after the red flag… until the other massive incident that sent the race into overtime.