The Coke Zero Sugar 400 NASCAR Cup Series’ regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway unfolded as billed with dramatic action all Saturday night that included 45 lead changes, a 14-minute Red Flag period and a wild final lap of overtime to decide the championship playoff picture.
Ultimately, Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney took his second NASCAR Cup Series victory in as many weeks as a huge multi-car accident happened behind him in the last corners of the track on the final lap.
Blaney’s No. 12 Team Penske Ford led only seven of the 165 laps, but the 27-year-old North Carolinian took the lead from fellow Ford driver Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher for the two laps of overtime to claim his third win of the season and seventh of his career.
Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick earned the 16th and final playoff position with a fifth-place finish in a close and suspenseful battle with his own teammate Austin Dillon.
Kyle Larson, who has a series-best five wins on the season, clinched his first NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship with a 21st-place finish. Both he and Denny Hamlin were in the last lap wreck. Hamlin, who has led the points standings for all but three of the previous 25 race weekends, finished 14th.
Blaney’s Daytona win caps an impressive summer run that is good enough to move him into second place in the playoff standings – 28 behind Larson – heading into next week’s playoff opener at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.
Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are ranked third and fourth in the playoff re-set, followed by 2020 NASCAR Cup Series champion Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Hamlin and William Byron. Joey Logano, who led a race-best 37 laps Saturday, but finished 24th, is seeded ninth, followed by his Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, this year’s Daytona 500 winner Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola, Reddick and Kevin Harvick.
Bubba Wallace, who led eight laps late in the race, finished second – his best result of the 2021 season. Ryan Newman, Ryan Parece and Reddick rounded out the top five; a season best for Newman and Preece as well.
Justin Haley was sixth, followed by Alex Bowman, who won the Xfinity Series race earlier in the afternoon. Chase Elliott, B.J. McLeod and Josh Bilicki rounded out the top 10.
The 10-race elimination style NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs begin with next Sunday’s Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Kevin Harvick is the defending race winner. Martin Truex Jr. won at Darlington this spring.