Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona: Austin Dillon scores walk-off win to reach NASCAR playoffs

Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona: Austin Dillon scores walk-off win to reach NASCAR playoffs

Last year, at the final round at Daytona, Austin Dillon saw his hopes for NASCAR playoffs end when he was involved in a massive crash on the final lap of Turn 3. Dillon’s fortunes were reversed on Sunday, when he missed the carnage, won the race and made the NASCAR playoffs in a thrilling fashion.

After going from 16th to first by avoiding a massive crash in Turn 1 with 23 laps to go, Dillon had to wait for a long rain delay and then take the win in the Coke Zero Sugar 400. With three laps to go. Going on, he put the bumper to race leader Austin Cindric at turn one, took the lead and then took the checkered flag with a push from Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick.

Dillon’s win is his first of the 2022 season, the fourth in his career and his second at Daytona. Most importantly, Dillon’s win puts him in the NASCAR playoffs, giving him the chance to race for the championship as he defeats Martin Truex Jr. below the cutoff line and out of the playoff battle.

After the checkered flag, Dillon attributed the win to “crazy faith” — specifically, his wife Whitney’s faith.

“She danced in the rain – I got mad at her, I said, ‘Don’t do that!’ She said, “Lord, if you believe as I do, don’t worry about it.” I was like, ‘OK, OK, I’ve got your baby,'” Dillon told NBC Sports. “(Son) Ace was right there with me – we watched Paw Patrol, watched the Carolina Cowboys win the PBR event – ​​and they said ‘Hey, get ready’. So we stayed ready.”

Dillon also noted how great Reddick’s help was.

“I have to thank my teammate Tyler Reddick… Man, we’re in the playoffs!” he said.

Coke Zero Sugar 400 Unofficial Results

  1. #3 – Austin Dillon
  2. #8 – Tyler Reddick
  3. #2 – Austin Cindric
  4. #77 – Landon Cassill
  5. #62 – Noah Gragson
  6. #51 – Cody Ware
  7. #78 – BJ McLeod
  8. #19 – Martin Truex Jr.
  9. #15 – David Ragan
  10. #18 – Kyle Busch

The big

After heavy rain caused the race to be postponed from Saturday night, a 10am Sunday morning start gave NASCAR a chance to attempt to cover all 400 miles before more rain fell on Daytona Beach. But as the second half of the race progressed, it became increasingly apparent that the field was trying to outrun the weather as much as they were trying to outrun each other.

Then the skies opened up in Turn 1 with 23 laps to go. The entire pack slid helplessly into each other and into the wall, eliminating virtually all of the leaders as Dillon and a select few other cars crept through.

After getting out of their cars, several drivers involved in the accident were furious with NASCAR for not throwing the warning earlier. Denny Hamlin said that “better officiating” could have prevented the accident. Justin Haley mentioned the situation “unacceptableand “ridiculous,” claiming NASCAR had an entire lap to warn of rain. Daniel Suarez expressed similar feelings suggesting NASCAR should have issued a warning before the rain hit Turn 1 and the crash happened.

NASCAR senior vice president of competition, Scott Miller, told the NBC broadcast booth that race control had all the information it needed to judge whether the track was still dry or not. Just before the accident, the pace car had reported that it was still dry, leading Miller to cite the rain as a sudden downpour that officials had been unable to act on.

“We really couldn’t do anything about that. It’s not something you can predict when it’s going to rain,” Miller told NBC Sports. “So just a super bad situation for everyone.”

After the crash, a red flag ensued for nearly three and a half hours before the rain stopped and NASCAR was able to dry out the race track and set up a 16-lap run to the finish.

The bubble bursts

Thanks to Kurt Busch’s withdrawal from the playoffs due to injury, there were two playoff spots available in the regular season finale for Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. as long as there were no new winners. Not only was there a new winner though, the battle for the final points playoff spot became a nail-biter all the way to the checkered flag.

With five laps to go in Stage 1, Blaney met in a multi-car crash at Turn 2, hitting the outside wall and sustaining severe damage to the right front fender. Blaney’s team was able to keep his car running, but his badly damaged vehicle was uncompetitive and limped for the rest of the race.

That brought Martin Truex Jr. in an excellent position to overtake Blaney in points, as he scored 15 stage points. But Truex suffered extensive damage to the right front fender in a separate accident in the backstretch, affecting the way his car performed in the draft for the remainder of the race.

Had the race been declared official during the rain delay, Blaney would have been knocked out of the playoffs. But when the race resumed, Blaney was able to secure multiple positions on the track, overtaking drivers who had dropped out of the race due to crash damage. Meanwhile, Truex lost the lead draft and eventually lost positions, falling to the back of the lead pack and finishing eighth. With Dillon winning the race, Blaney took the final spot in the playoffs by three points over Martin Truex Jr. with a 15th-place finish, eliminating the 2017 Cup Series champion from the title fight.

“We’re very lucky, that’s for sure,” Blaney told NBC Sports. “It wasn’t a good day to get going, got up early. And at that point our fate wasn’t really in our hands. All we could do was try to keep working on it and fix it where we could make laps. Luckily we were able to get enough cars through the wreckage that we just kept going up and getting in.

For Truex, he said his car was “just not fast enough” in the end.

“Just not fast enough to keep up with those guys,” Truex told NBC Sports. “We got the restart we needed 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. Just too much damage to have enough speed to to do what we had to do. … We gave away a lot of points all season. It is what it is.”

Race results overview

  • Cindric wasn’t exactly happy with Austin Dillon giving him the bumper as it cost Cindric a chance to win both the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero Sugar 400 in the same season. Had he done so, he would have been the first driver to win the season at Daytona since Jimmie Johnson in 2013.
  • The attrition level gave several unlikely drivers chances to win and opportunities for career days: Landon Cassill took his best career finish in fourth place, his first result since 2014. Cody Ware battled for the win on the final lap and finished sixth, the best finish of his career and his first ever finish in the top 15. BJ McLeod finished seventh in his career and improved to ninth in the same race a year ago.
  • Statistical oddity in the top 10: David Ragan’s ninth place was the first result in his entire cup career. That means he has now finished in every possible position in a cup race at least once – from first to 40th.
  • Only 10 drivers finished on the lead, the fewest of any Daytona races since the 2018 Daytona 500 – which also saw Austin Dillon win and 10 cars to finish on the lead. There were only 17 cars left at the finish, the least of all superspeedway races since only 14 cars were left at the finish in Talladega in the fall of 2017.

Next race

The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs kick off with one of the oldest sporting traditions and one of the crown jewel races: the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, next Sunday at 6 p.m. ET on USA Network.