DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Blaney escaped two late-race crashes to score his second-straight NASCAR Cup Series victory during Saturday evening’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona Int’l Speedway.
The race served as the final event during the regular season for NASCAR Cup Series competitors. Tyler Reddick finished sixth to secure the final place in the 16-driver playoff grid based on points while Kyle Larson claimed the regular season title.
“It’s a great way to end the regular season, but we’ve still got work to do,” said Blaney, who will start the playoffs tied for second behind Larson. “We’ve got 10 weeks of work to do and I’ll look forward to them.”
Blaney found himself in the thick of the battle for the lead during the final 10 laps. He watched through his window at Chase Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto fought for the lead through turns three and four with seven laps left.
The battle between Elliott and DiBenedetto ended with the two making contact and causing a multi-car crash with seven laps left coming out of turn four. Chris Buescher, who had been battling for the lead during the final stretch of the race, escaped the mayhem with the lead ahead of Blaney in second.
“It was wild. We missed that big one barely,” Blaney said. “I don’t know how we missed it and then we got a restart on the front row and it was kind of a drag race.”
Buescher, who needed a win to make the playoffs, opted to take the top with Blaney restarting on the bottom. Blaney got a huge push from third-place Corey LaJoie during the restart, allowing him to take the lead through turns one and two.
Coming to the white flag Blaney was still the leader, but Buescher stayed close and was hounding him as the field jostled for position behind them.
Kevin Harvick got a big run on Blaney in the midst of the battle, but Blaney blocked the run down the backstretch. Daniel Suarez, seeing an opening, dove under Harvick with a huge run on Blaney. However, Kurt Busch hooked Suarez’s right-rear corner and turned Suarez into Harvick.
That triggered another huge crash, which collected nearly the entire lead pack. It all happened behind Blaney, who coasted to the caution and checkered flags to secure the victory, his third of the season.
“I’m really thankful to LaJoie, who gave me a really good push and we were able to get clear on the restart, so I appreciate the push from him,” Blaney said. “I was having to hold off the 4 (Harvick) and the 17 (Buescher) and the 7 (LaJoie) and I didn’t really know which lane to go with down the back, so I kind of picked the middle and I kind of committed to the bottom and I guess some people got turned.
“It was a very eventful race. It’s so cool to be here in victory lane in Daytona. Maybe we’re on a roll right now and we’ve got everything going our way. Hopefully, we keep it up.”
Buescher dove low to avoid the crash on the last lap, allowing him to finish second. It wasn’t enough for him to secure himself a spot in the playoffs.
“That was what we had to do, we had to be more aggressive on the blocking side,” Buescher said. “We’ve been aggressive with making moves, just not protecting. We did that today and the back bumper on this thing is rough and I know that. It’s just become a part of this speedway racing.
“It hurts. That one stings a lot, but at the same time I appreciate everyone at RFR.”
However, Buescher was later disqualified in post-race inspection when NASCAR discovered his car did not conform to rule specifications per the following rule: 184.108.40.206.b REAR SUB-FRAME ASSEMBLY; I-4 Track Bar Mounting Assembly.
Bubba Wallace was promoted to second as a result, his best finish of the season in the No. 23 Toyota for 23XI Racing. Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece and Reddick.
The NASCAR Cup Series playoff field is now set, 16 drivers set to do battle for the championship during the next 10 races. The drivers who will battle for the title include Larson, Blaney, William Byron, Kyle Busch, Reddick, Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola.