Daytona Drama: Blaney In, Truex Out After The Coke

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 29 2022

Austin Dillon heads for the checkered flag during Sunday’s Cup Series race in Daytona. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dale Earnhardt won 19 NASCAR Cup and Xfinity races at Daytona International Speedway piloting a Chevrolet sporting the No. 3, and on Sunday it was the number three that once again carried the magic.

Austin Dillion drove his No. 3 Chevrolet to victory in the rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400 and into the playoffs, putting two Richard Childress Racing teams into the post-season for the first time since 2017. 

Ryan Blaney squeaked into the playoffs by a mere three points over Martin Truex Jr. That made Blaney the only driver to reach the 16-team post-season without a victory and snap Truex’s string of seven consecutive years in the playoffs. 

Even Childress acknowledged the No. 3 magic, telling crew chief Justin Alexander when they entered the media center for their post-race interviews that he was given the No. 3 microphone on Saturday for a press conference, and he wanted the No. 3 microphone again on Sunday.

However, it was four multi-car crashes that played a key role in the dramatic 160-lap race that was interrupted by rain for 3 hours 19 minutes 57 seconds. 

To set the stage, Blaney entered the regular season finale with a 25-point advantage over Truex. He was third in the standings while Truex was sixth. Since there had been 15 different winners this year, that left only one position open heading to Daytona. However, three days before the scheduled race, Kurt Busch rescinded his medical waiver, thus making two playoff positions available. That meant two drivers could enter the playoffs on points if there was a repeat winner or only one would make it on points if there was a new victor. That put Blaney and Truex into a point battle while also contending for the victory.

Richard Childress Racing pit crew member, Paul Swan embraces driver Austin Dillon after Sunday’s Cup race. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Lightning struck Blaney first on lap 31 when he was involved in a six-car wreck on the backstretch. That left him 34th, one lap down with a severely damaged race car when Stage 2 started. 

“The right-front tire was broke. The toe-link was broke. The hood’s flying off of it,” Blaney said about his Team Penske Ford. “Suspension, body, you name it. It was pretty rough. So we spent a lot of money on bear bond today.”

With Truex finishing second in Stage 2 and Blaney running outside the top 30 multiple laps in arrears, the point advantage switched to the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. 

However, an eight-car backstretch crash involving Truex on lap 102 breathed new life into Blaney’s playoff hopes. Truex, however, never lost a lap in the race that was delayed a day by rain. 

Meanwhile, Dillon was involved in a six-car crash on lap 125 that sent his car backwards down pit road.

With rain approaching, the race for the lead became furious and intense. Spotters could see the rain moving closer to the track but as the field charged down a dry frontstretch, the rain hit turn one with 21 laps remaining and triggered a 14-car melee. Dillon escaped the carnage by diving onto the apron to take the lead at the beginning of the lengthy rain delay. A dozen cars were sidelined by the crash and that, once again, revived Blaney’s playoff hopes. 

When the race restarted under yellow, Dillon was leading, Truex was fourth and Blaney was 29th, seven laps down. Austin Cindric secured the No. 1 position when the race returned to green flag conditions with 16 laps remaining. His intention was to help Blaney by keeping a new winner from victory lane. That also would help Truex by allowing two drivers into the playoffs via points. Truex tried to help Cindric maintain his position, but his damaged Toyota couldn’t keep up with the potent Ford. 

“The only chance I had was when they would get side-by-side and start checking up the line and I could get back to them, but just way too much damage to have the speed at the end to do anything at all,” said Truex, who maintained a point advantage over Blaney until the final five laps when he dropped to eighth.

With four laps remaining, Cindric still led Dillion. Then on lap 158, Dillion moved Cindric out of the way with a bump to his rear. 

“I got hit by a car that was going 200 mph when I was going about 190,” Cindric said. “I’m just glad I saved the car.”

That move put RCR driver Tyler Reddick directly behind Dillon.

“I knew Tyler would have my back,” Dillon said. “He has been a good teammate to me.”

When the checkered flag waved, Truex and Blaney had nursed their injured cars to eighth- and 15th-place finishes, respectively. Truex had made up 22 points on Blaney, but it wasn’t enough. 

“I’m gonna go home and crack open a beer and relax a little bit because that was a stressful day,” Blaney said. “I’m definitely mentally drained, so it will be nice to relax a little bit.”

The 16-driver playoffs begin next weekend at Darlington Raceway. In addition to Dillon, Blaney, Reddick and Cindric, those vying for the 2022 championship are Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, and Alex Bowman. The average age of the playoff field: 30.3. 


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



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, August 29 2022
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