NCS Regular Season Finale: Everybody has a chance at Daytona

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It all comes down to this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, this Saturday, August 28 at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and if history is any indicator of what to expect this weekend, everybody has a shot at the win.

A total of 15 different NASCAR Cup Series drivers have one last chance to etch their names in the 2021 Playoff grid, as this is just the second time Daytona International Speedway has hosted the regular season finale. Last season, William Byron won Coke Zero Sugar 400 and, in the process, claimed his spot in the postseason.

Since the inception of the Playoffs in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2004, Richmond Raceway held the regular season finale from 2004 to 2017 (14 years) and then from 2018-2019 Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosted the final regular season event.

The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs is currently operating in its third iteration of the postseason’s points system since its inception in 2004. The first Playoff points system (from 2004 to 2009) had the top 10 to 12 drivers earn their position in the Playoffs by points only. The second version of the Playoff points system (2010 to 2013) incorporated the top 10 drivers to get in on points/wins with the addition of two extra drivers referred to as the Wildcards. The third version of the Playoff points system (2014 to Present) features drivers vying for the top 16 Playoff spots either by points or the ‘Win and You’re In’ rule. The third version of the Playoffs also instituted the elimination style format with four drivers being eliminated from the Playoffs at the conclusion of each postseason round culminating with the Championship 4 battling it out for the title in the season finale.   

Playoff Points System 1 (2004-2006 – Top 10 in on Points; 2007-2009 – Top 12 in on Points)

Four drivers have come from outside the postseason cut-off to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the first iteration of the Playoff championship format:

  • Jeremy Mayfield in 2004 made up a 55-point deficit
  • Ryan Newman in 2005 made up a one-point deficit
  • Kasey Kahne in 2006 made up a 30-point deficit
  • Brian Vickers in 2009 made up a 20-point deficit

Playoff Points System 2 (2010-2013 – Top 10 in on Wins/Points and Two Wildcards)

Seven drivers have come from outside the postseason cut-off to make the Playoffs at Richmond in the second iteration of the Playoff championship format that incorporates the Wild Card:

  • Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2010 to make the Playoffs. Biffle was 11th in points with one win; Bowyer was 12th in points with no wins heading into the regular season finale.
  • Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2011 to make the Playoffs. Keselowski was 11th in points with three wins; Hamlin was 12th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
  • Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2012 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 11th in points with two wins; Gordon was 13th in points with one win heading into the regular season finale.
  • Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne are the two drivers that clinched the Wild Card in 2013 to make the Playoffs. Kahne was 12th in points with two wins; Newman was 14th in points with one win heading into regular season finale.
  • Due to a rare instance in the final race of the regular season that resulted in penalties being issued; a 13th car (Jeff Gordon’s No. 24) was added to the Playoffs. It was the second time in the Playoff Era the number of entries was expanded.

Playoff Points System 3 (2014 – Present – Top 16 in on Wins or Points/Elimination Style)

In the third iteration of the Playoff championship format from 2014-Present – Only one driver outside the Playoff cutoff has raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale through points or last-minute wins.

  • From 2014 to 2018 – the drivers that won or were inside the top 16 that were expected to make the Playoffs did, no drivers raced their way into the Playoffs in the regular season finale on points or wins.
  • In 2019, heading into the regular season finale at Indianapolis, Ryan Newman was tied with Daniel Suarez for the 16th and final transfer position to the Playoffs. Newman finished eighth in the regular season finale to Suarez’s 11th-place finish, earning the final transfer spot into the postseason.
  • Last season (2020), six drivers inside the Playoff cutoff had not clinched a spot in the postseason heading into Daytona. But all six ultimately clinched their spots, led by William Byron, who became the first driver to win his way into the Playoffs by taking the victory in the regular season finale. No drivers outside the top 16 advanced into Playoffs in the regular season finale. 

Daytona International Speedway: The perfect stage for the regular season finale

All eyes will be on the ‘World Center of Racing’ this weekend.

Daytona International Speedway, the 2.5-mile paved superspeedway oval, has hosted 148 NASCAR Cup Series races since the inaugural race in 1959:  63 have been 500 miles, 58 were 400 miles and four were 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races. But this weekend marks just the second time the summer (August) race will be the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale.

The 148 NASCAR Cup Series races at Daytona have produced 62 different pole winners and 67 different race winners, 29 drivers have multiple Cup Series wins at Daytona. NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the series in wins at Daytona with 10 victories (Feb. 1964, Feb. 1966, Feb. 1971, Feb. 1973, Feb. 1974, July 1975, July 1977, Feb. 1979, Feb. 1981, July 1984). Denny Hamlin (Feb. 2016, Feb. 2019, Feb. 2020) leads all active drivers in Daytona wins with three.

Of the 67 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners, 40 of them have won the summer race. A total of 14 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners are active this weekend and seven of those 14 have won a summer race at Daytona. 

RankActive Daytona Race WinnersWinsSeasons
1Denny Hamlin32020 (Feb.), 2019 (Feb.), 2016 (Feb.)
2Kevin Harvick22010 (July), 2007 (Feb.)
3Michael McDowell12021 (Feb.)
4William Byron12020 (Aug.)
5Justin Haley12019 (July)
6Erik Jones12018 (July)
7Austin Dillon12018 (Feb.)
8Ricky Stenhouse Jr12017 (July)
9Kurt Busch12017 (Feb.)
10Brad Keselowski12016 (July)
11Joey Logano12015 (Feb.)
12Aric Almirola12014 (July)
13Kyle Busch12008 (July)
14Ryan Newman12008 (Feb.)

NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in summer race victories at Daytona with five wins (1961, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978).

Five drivers have posted consecutive summer race wins at Daytona International Speedway: Fireball Roberts (1962-1963), A.J. Foyt (1964-1965), Cale Yarborough (1967-1968) David Pearson (1972 – 1974) and Tony Stewart (2005-2006). 

The youngest Daytona summer race winner is Justin Haley (07/07/2019 – 20 years, 2 months, 9 days); all-time track record – Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011 – 20 years, 0 months, 1 day). The oldest Daytona summer race winner is Bobby Allison (07/04/1987 – 49 years, 7 months, 1 day); all-time track record – Bobby Allison (02/14/1988 – 50 years, 5 months, 23 days).

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale will be 400 miles (160 laps) and the event will be broken up into three stages. The first two stages are 50 laps each and the final stage will be 60 laps. This weekend’s starting lineups were determined by Metric Qualifying and as a result Kyle Larson will start from the pole and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron will join him on the front row.

A total of 22 different starting positions have produced winners in the NASCAR Cup Series summer races at Daytona. The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (nine) than any other starting position in the summer races at Daytona International Speedway. The most recent driver to win from the pole or first starting position at Daytona in the NASCAR Cup Series was NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 2015 July race. The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Daytona is 42nd, by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in the 2012 July race.

First-time winners aplenty at Daytona

One thing Daytona International Speedway is known for is unpredictable finishes that on occasion produce first time winners in the NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, the last three NASCAR Cup Series summer races at Daytona International Speedway have fashioned just that – first-time winners.

A total of 22 different drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway; 11 of the 22 drivers posted their first win in the Summer races – the most recent was last season’s August race with race winner William Byron earning his spot in the Playoffs.

NASCAR Cup Series First-Time Winners at Daytona International Speedway (All-Time)

First-Time Race Winners (22)DateDriver’s Age
Michael McDowellSunday, February 14, 202136
William ByronSaturday, August 29, 202022
Justin HaleySunday, July 7, 201920
Erik JonesSaturday, July 7, 201822
Aric AlmirolaSunday, July 6, 201430
David RaganSaturday, July 2, 201125
Trevor BayneSunday, February 20, 201120
Greg BiffleSaturday, July 5, 200333
Michael WaltripSunday, February 18, 200137
John AndrettiSaturday, July 5, 199734
Jimmy SpencerSaturday, July 2, 199437
Sterling MarlinSunday, February 20, 199436
Derrike CopeSunday, February 18, 199031
Greg SacksThursday, July 4, 198532
Pete HamiltonSunday, February 22, 197027
Mario AndrettiSunday, February 26, 196726
Sam McQuaggMonday, July 4, 196628
Earl BalmerFriday, February 25, 196630
A.J. FoytSaturday, July 4, 196429
Bobby IsaacFriday, February 21, 196431
Tiny LundSunday, February 24, 196333
Johnny RutherfordFriday, February 22, 196324

Clinch Scenarios: One spot, one shot to clinch

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway is the last opportunity for the drivers who have not clinched a spot in the Playoffs to earn their position in the postseason. A total of 15 drivers have already clinched their Playoff spot, leaving just one spot left for drivers to battle it out in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. 

Already Clinched

The following 15 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola.

Can Clinch Via Points

If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the Playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 4th winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick.

  • Tyler Reddick: Would clinch with 31 points
  • Austin Dillon: Could only clinch with help

Can Clinch Via Win

The following drivers would clinch on their win alone:

Tyler Reddick (Average finish at Daytona 27.8) 

Austin Dillon (14.8)

Matt DiBenedetto (21.3)

Chris Buescher (21.0)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (19.5)

Ross Chastain (18.2)

Bubba Wallace (15.1)

Chase Briscoe (19.0)

Erik Jones (22.6)

Daniel Suarez (31.6)

Ryan Newman (19.1)

Ryan Preece (22.4)

Cole Custer (26.0)

Anthony Alfredo (32.0)

Corey LaJoie (18.7)

2021 Driver Playoff Outlook Following Race No. 25
RankDriverPointsWinsStagesPlayoff PtsPts From Cutoff
1Kyle Larson100451237In On Wins
2Martin Truex Jr.7893520
3Alex Bowman6743015
4Kyle Busch8382515
5Chase Elliott8202212
6Ryan Blaney7872414
7William Byron833138
8Joey Logano772149
9Brad Keselowski729127
10Kurt Busch643138
11Christopher Bell595105
12Michael McDowell497105
13Aric Almirola436105
14Denny Hamlin976055Clinched On Pts
15Kevin Harvick756000Clinched On Pts
16Tyler Reddick67703325
17Austin Dillon652000-25
18Matt DiBenedetto557011-120
19Chris Buescher542011-135
20Ricky Stenhouse Jr.504000-173
21Ross Chastain492000-185
22Bubba Wallace482011-195
23Chase Briscoe #450000-227
24Erik Jones427000-250
25Daniel Suarez423000-254
26Ryan Newman406000-271
27* Ryan Preece398000-279
28Cole Custer382000-295
29Corey Lajoie307000-370
30Anthony Alfredo #237000-440

Richard Childress Racing’s driver Tyler Reddick is just 25 points up on the Playoff cutoff heading into this weekend’s regular season finale. 

“There is one race left at Daytona and we will give it everything we have as a team to get our No. 8 Chevrolet into the NASCAR Playoffs,” said Reddick 

Last season in the summer race at Daytona, Reddick put on a strong performance, but he was caught in the last two multi-car incidents at the end of the race to relegate him to a 29th-place finish at the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway. In total, Reddick has made four series starts at Daytona posting an average finish of 27.8.

Just below Reddick in the standings is his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon in the 17th position in the Playoff outlook, the first spot outside the cutoff. The two are separated by 25 points. 

Austin Dillon has made 16 series starts at Daytona posting one win (2018 Daytona 500), three top fives and eight top 10s.

Can Clinch Regular Season Championship

Additionally, the Regular Season Championship could be clinched by the following drivers:

  • Kyle Larson: Would clinch with 32 points
  • Denny Hamlin: Could only clinch with help

The regular season championship points battle has come down to the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway this weekend to see who will take home the trophy and the 15 additional Playoff points.

Denny Hamlin has made 31 starts at the ‘World Center of Racing’ grabbing three wins (all in the Daytona 500 – 2016, 2019, 2020), 11 top fives and 12 top 10s. His average finish at the track is 16.0.  Kyle Larson has made 14 starts at Daytona posting five top 10s. His average finish at the track is 21.1. 

If Larson or Hamlin wins the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship, the winner will become just the fourth different driver in series history to win the prestigious award.  

NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Champions
12Kyle Busch2019, ’18
21Kevin Harvick2020
Martin Truex Jr.2017

Daytona Dominators: The best of the best at the World Center of Racing

Winning at one of NASCAR’s most prestigious tracks, Daytona International Speedway, is a major accomplishment. So, it is not all that surprising that the top 10 series winningest drivers at Daytona are all in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Daytona WinnersTotalDaytona 500Summer Race
1Richard Petty1073
2Cale Yarborough954
3David Pearson835
4Fireball Roberts743
5Bobby Allison633
Jeff Gordon633
7Bill Elliott422
Dale Earnhardt Jr422
Dale Jarrett431
Junior Johnson440
Tony Stewart404

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series field will have 14 former Daytona International Speedway winners entered, led by Denny Hamlin with three wins. The most recent winner at Daytona that is entered this weekend is Michael McDowell who won the Daytona 500 (2021) earlier this season.

McDowell heads into this weekend looking to become the sixth different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to sweep both Daytona races (Daytona 500 & Summer race) in a single season; joining Fireball Roberts – 1962 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 250); Cale Yarborough – 1968 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); LeeRoy Yarborough – 1969 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Bobbie Allison – 1982 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Jimmie Johnson – 2013 (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola)

Since the ‘Win and Your In’ format to the Playoffs was initiated in 2016, Erik Jones’ 2018 summer race win and William Byron’s summer win last season are the only two summer race victories at Daytona to catapult a driver into the postseason – the other three winners were either not eligible for the Playoffs due to not competing for a championship in the series (Haley in 2019) or the drivers had already previously won in the same season (Keselowski in 2016 and Stenhouse in 2017). 

Eight active drivers this weekend have won a summer race at Daytona.

RankActive Race WinnersWinsSeasons
1William Byron12020 (Aug.)
2Justin Haley12019 (July)
3Erik Jones12018 (July)
4Ricky Stenhouse Jr12017 (July)
5Brad Keselowski12016 (July)
6Aric Almirola12014 (July)
7Kevin Harvick12010 (July
8Kyle Busch12008 (July)

NASCAR Cup Series, Etc.

Spoiler Alert for Daytona – While majority of the competitors this weekend will be vying for Playoffs and running for points and wins in the NASCAR Cup Series championship, eight drivers are entered in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 that are not running for the title in the series and are looking to play the spoiler by grabbing the win this weekend – Justin Haley (No. 77 Spire Motorsports), Kaz Grala (No. 16 Kaulig Racing), Joey Gase (No. 15 Rick Ware Racing), Garrett Smithley (No. 53 Rick Ware Racing), Cody Ware (No. 51 Petty Ware Racing), David Starr (No. 66 MBM Motorsports), BJ McLeod (No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports) and Landon Cassill (No. 96 Gaunt Brothers Racing). Of the eight, Spire Motorsport’s driver Justin Haley is the only one to have won at Daytona in the NASCAR Cup Series before, taking the checkered flag in the rain-shortened summer race in 2019.

Carnomaly joins Landon Cassill at Daytona & Talladega – Carnomaly, the world’s leading automotive crypto company with an eye on revolutionizing the future of the automotive industry, will serve as the primary partner for Cassill in both races.

“I’m proud to bring Carnomaly into the sport and into the NASCAR Cup Series,” Cassill said. “They’ve been a great partner of mine and eRacr, which is the esports arm of what I do with Parker Kligerman. We put on big events on iRacing and Carnomaly was the sponsor of an event earlier this year called the Carnomaly 500, which was at Daytona on iRacing. I’m really looking forward to bringing Carnomaly to real racetracks at Daytona and Talladega with Gaunt Brothers Racing.”

Cassill will pilot the No. 96 Toyota for the Gaunt Brothers this weekend at Daytona.

SHR’s Kevin Harvick teams up with Subway – Subway® restaurants, the world’s largest quick-service restaurant brand, will begin its association with Stewart-Haas Racing when it debuts on the No. 4 Ford of Kevin Harvick during the Sept. 18 NASCAR Cup Series race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. Subway will return as a primary partner of the No. 4 team Oct. 24 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City. For all other races, Subway will be an associate sponsor on the No. 4 Ford.

“Subway is proud to team up with Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 Ford to help us showcase the ongoing transformation happening at Subway restaurants across the country,” said Carrie Walsh, Chief Marketing Officer, Subway. “The track record of Stewart-Haas Racing, Kevin and the team mirrors Subway’s promises to guests of offering better choices, as well as the importance of refreshing to stay at the top of your game. We look forward to celebrating success on and off the track.”

Advance Auto Parts & Ryan Blaney shining light on local tracks – Advance Auto Parts, a leading automotive aftermarket parts retailer and entitlement sponsor of the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series (NAAPWS), will award $1,200 to Berlin Raceway in Marne, Mich., and Elko Speedway in Elko New Market, Minn., after Ryan Blaney’s NASCAR Cup Series win at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, Aug. 22.

Advance is using its associate sponsorship of Ryan Blaney and Team Penske’s No. 12 Ford to shine a light on NASCAR-sanctioned local tracks across the U.S. and Canada that are part of the NAAPWS. Berlin Raceway and Elko Speedway were featured on Blaney’s car at Michigan.

For every Blaney victory in 2021, the local NASCAR tracks featured on his car each receive $1,200 to be used for track operations, local driver winnings or supporting a charity of the track’s choosing. Limaland Motorsports Park & Bethel Motor Speedway will be on Blaney’s Daytona car hoping for their shot at $1,200 this weekend.

This season, Advance has also brought awareness to NASCAR’s local tracks through its “Advance My Track Challenge.” The program encouraged race fans to vote for their favorite NASCAR home track, with the track receiving the most votes claiming a $50,000 grand prize. Berlin Raceway was announced as the program’s inaugural winner in May 2021.