Daytona starts off the NASCAR season and, for the first time, will end the regular season. With the Coke Zero Sugar 400 being the last race before the playoffs, Daytona looked to host a 160 lap race filled with drama and excitement.
Shortly before 4:30 pm PST, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr. led the field to green. By Lap ten, debris played a factor in Harvick’s racing as he fell to the back of the pack. Harvick was able to remove the debris from his car and was able to maintain a lead lap position. William Byron assumed the lead and led the field to the competition caution on Lap 20.
William Byron and Alex Bowman led the field back to green on Lap 25. Following team orders, teammates Byron and Bowman lined up as soon as possible and paced the field. The three Joe Gibbs cars of Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, and Denny Hamlin formed a freight train that got Jones the lead. Byron and Bowman mounted another charge to the inside and re-assumed the first and second positions. Joey Logano was then able to get by the Hendrick duo and took over the lead. Logano was able to hang on and took the green-and-white checkered flag, ending Stage One. Under caution, all lead lap cars came down the pits for service with Christopher Bell exiting first, taking two tires.
Christopher Bell and Erik Jones brought the field back to green on Lap 56. Using the high line, Jones was able to surge ahead to the lead with Jimmie Johnson in second. Quickly, the front 20 cars formed a single file line around the top line of the racetrack. As the race crossed Lap 16 of the stage, green flag pitstops began to ensure all drivers could make it to the end of the stage. Once all pit strategy cycled through, Logano emerged with the lead and took the green-and-white checkered flag for Stage Two. Most of the lead lap cars came down to the pits with Logano exiting first.
Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. led the field back to green on Lap 106. Truex Jr. obtained the lead as Logano tucked in close behind in second place. The lead lap cars began making their green flag pitstops on Lap 126. With 17 laps left in the race, the fourth caution came out for James Davison. The race resumed with 13 laps to go, as Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin made up the first row. Busch held the lead with Hamlin falling in line to second.
Tyler Reddick made a pass on Kyle Busch in an attempt to take the lead. Reddick ran out of room and squeezed Kyle Busch into the outside wall collecting multiple cars including Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch, and Austin Dillon. Due to the large amount of debris to clean up, the race was red-flagged. Denny Hamlin and Tyler Reddick restarted the race with five laps left in the race.
Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano battled for the lead as Bubba Wallace Jr. made it three-wide for the lead. Joey Logano made contact with Wallace first then got turned by Denny Hamlin. The resulting carnage included Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson, ending his chance to make the playoffs in his final season.
Denny Hamlin led the field back to green for a two-lap overtime shootout. After the field took the white flag, multiple wrecks occurred behind the leaders as William Byron assumed the lead. As NASCAR did not throw a caution, the drivers were able to race back for the checkered flag. Byron was able to hold off the remaining challengers and won his first-ever NASCAR race, punching his ticket to the playoffs.
As a race to end the regular season playoffs, the race played out fairly calm for most of the running time. As would be expected from a superspeedway race, though, the action ramped up exponentially and culminated in many damaged racecars and an exciting finish. What were your thoughts on tonight’s race? Was it all you wanted and more?
NASCAR’s playoffs begin next week as the stars of the Monster Energy Cup Series return to Darlington Raceway for the Southern 500.