One of NASCAR’s great equalizers … or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to be.
Twice a year, for the Daytona 500 and Fourth of July weekend, NASCAR’s center of operations convene in Florida for two of the zanier races of the season. Daytona races always seem to guarantee a handful of things: a massive, race-altering wreck; some sort of last-lap drama; and – not always, but often – a surprise winner.
So technically, last weekend’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 hit those marks. Huge crash that knocked out a large chunk of the field? Check. Late drama? Yep. And a surprise victor? You betcha.
When NASCAR called the race with 33 laps remaining on Sunday afternoon – which, by the way, was already postponed from its original Saturday night start time – it meant that Justin Haley was declared the winner. Haley, who has declared for the Xfinity Series this season, doesn’t earn those playoff points or even a spot in the Cup Series playoffs, at all.
Now that isn’t to say the race didn’t count for anything, since the points doled out for second through 40th will significantly impact NASCAR’s leaderboard. William Byron, for example, was in 12th heading into Daytona, needing a good finish to feel secure in his standing. Then he finished second, earned the subsequent points boost that came with that, and now is 55 points clear of the playoff bubble.
But take a look at NASCAR’s points standings right now, and it’s easy to get a bit disappointed as the regular season draws to a close.
With just eight races left until the playoffs, Daytona represented the last real chance for a major shakeup in the standings. Instead, the only real shakeup was Haley ensuring no surprise Cup winner would sneak into this fall’s playoffs.
And with Byron’s substantial points boost, as well as Jimmie Johnson’s for coming in third, most of our playoff bubble drama has resolved itself with two months to go.
At this point, realistically, the biggest battle left is for the final two playoff spots. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman currently occupy them, but Daniel Suarez is a meager three points back and Erik Jones is following close behind.
Those points battles have consequences, and those positions will continue shifting around in the coming weeks.
But after a rain-soaked mess at Daytona, that’s about all that’s left to be decided in the Cup Series. Turns out, that monsoon in Daytona washed away any hopes for some late-season playoff parity.
THIS WEEK’S NASCAR RACE AT KENTUCKY: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW.
Race: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400.
Distance: 267 laps, or 400.5 miles.
Where: Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile asphalt tri-oval in Sparta.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Last year’s winner: Martin Truex Jr.
Also this week: Alsco 300, Xfinity Series, Kentucky Speedway, 7:30 p.m., Friday, NBCSN.
Worth mentioning: Chevrolet has never won a Cup Series race at Kentucky.
WHO’S HOT/WHO’S NOT
William Byron: Two Top 10s in a row has Byron squarely into the playoffs for the first time in his career, and he should be able to stay there the next two months.
Ryan Newman: He wasn’t necessarily expected to run this well this season, but here we are in July with Newman clinging to the last playoff spot.
Clint Bowyer: Three of the past four weeks, Bowyer has crashed and finished outside the Top 30 – not exactly what you want to see when you’re fighting for your playoff life.
Daniel Suarez: Even a mediocre finish at Daytona would have kept Suarez in the playoffs, but now he’ll have to fight his way back in over the coming weeks.
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