Dillon survives the weather, the mayhem, and the carnage to secure final Playoff spot

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 28: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 BREZTRI Chevrolet, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

It was a story of survival for some, and not for others Sunday at Daytona. Austin Dillon led a group of battered racecars across the finish line to win the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR’s regular season finale and secure a final spot in NASCAR’s Playoffs.

In a marathon that carried over from Saturday night and endured a rain delay of over 3 hours, Dillon grabbed the lead he had held when rains stopped the event with 2 laps to go by bulldozing his way past this year’s Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric and leading his RCR teammate Tyler Reddick across the line by .128 of a second.

Dillon was one of only 17 cars, with just 10 on the lead lap, who escaped major damage after several major crashes took out 20 of the 37 cars entered.

For much of the race the focus was on the 16th and final Playoff spot. Ryan Blaney held it on points coming into the day, with Martin Truex Jr. also in, but only if there was no new winner.

On lap 31, it appeared that fortune would smile on Truex as Blaney spun coming out of Turn 2 while running in the lead group. He was able to continue but had damage to his Ford that left him out of contention for the win. He would be stuck in the pits for a protracted time and fall 6 laps down.

Truex meanwhile took advantage and was soon running high enough to secure his spot on points. He would finish fifth in Stage 1, and second in Stage 2 as Blaney struggled deep in the field.

Truex’s luck would run out on lap 103 when he was caught up in an 8-car crash started when Michael McDowell was shoved to the outside wall at the front of the field. Truex was able to continue but had damaged his Toyota.

The race’s fifth caution came out on lap 126 and involved 6 cars including Bubba Wallace and Alex Bowman both of whom had led laps earlier.

On lap 132 Joey Logano and Erik Jones spun on the backstretch but both continued. Jones had led the second most laps of the race to that point, 22, while Logano had led 14.

On the restart after that caution Justin Haley grabbed the lead. The ring of dark rain clouds around the track that had been present much of the race had been spitting light drops at times allowing the racing to continue.

But on lap 139 as the field charged into turn 1 the skies opened up and a deluge descended on the track. On slick tires it took only a split second for cars to start sliding and the carnage to begin.  In all 13 cars were swept up in the crash, while Dillon was able to snake his way through and was scored the leader.

The field was stopped, and the rain picked up. The field was soon stopped, and the red flag displayed.

After the rain stopped it took 3 hours, 19 minutes for the track to be dried and what was left of the field to line up for a restart.

Cindric took the lead with the green flew with 16 laps to go. Soon Cindric was leading a four-car breakaway with Dillon, Landon Cassill and Truex holding onto 4th and the final playoff spot.

Dillon bided his time until 3 laps to go when he pushed his way past Cindric and re-took the lead. Cindric fell back, as did Truex.

“There was a lot going on there,” Dillon said. “I knew that if we got to the white, I was afraid somebody would — if I waited too long, I was afraid somebody would wreck behind us, so I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. We were able to get it.

Reddick soon appeared on the scene taking second and blocking for his teammate. Dillon was able to hold onto the lead and Cindric came up short with one final grab towards the front. He was scored third behind Reddick.  Cassill held on for 4th, Noah Gragson was fifth.

“I had a big run to him, and then I had my teammate, the 8, back there,” Dillon said. “I knew we were in good shape there to the end. He did a good job checking up any kind of run. Just a little too much push there and got him loose. We went going.”

Cindric had to settle for third.

“I got hit by another race car going 190, 200 miles an hour. Glad I saved it. Glad I had a shot to come back through the field,” Cindric said. “He is racing for a Playoff spot. Totally expect to get drove through. Just a matter of time.”

Truex fell to 8th and for the first time since 2015 will not be in NASCAR’s Playoffs.

With so much carnage among the top runners, the final top 10 consisted of several drivers who were quite happy: Cody Ware was sixth, BJ McLeod seventh, and David Ragan ninth. Kyle Busch was 10th.

Pole sitter Kyle Larson had a forgettable day, as his Hendrick Chevy lost an engine on lap 14 and he was forced to retire. His teammate and regular season champion Chase Elliott finished second in Stage 1 and led the most laps the day, 31, but was caught up in the final big crash and was scored with a DNF in 29th.

With his win, Dillion becomes the 16th different winner in NASCAR’s Cup series in 2022.

The first round of NASCAR’s Playoffs start next Sunday at Darlington Raceway with the running of the Southern 500.

Photos: NASCAR at Daytona International Speedway Sunday Aug. 28, 2022


NASCAR Cup Series Race Results 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

Greg Engle