NASCAR Cup Series: Daytona Preview, Predictions, and How to Watch

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Kurt Busch’s withdrawal has opened an extra playoff spot ahead of the regular season finale at Daytona.

As the NASCAR Cup Series rolled into Daytona this week it was expected that all eyes would be on the battle for the one final playoff spot. That is no longer the case.

A major announcement on Thursday morning changed the playoff landscape. Kurt Busch, who has missed the last five races after a qualifying crash in Pocono, will miss the start of the NASCAR playoffs as he continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms. Furthermore, 23XI Racing announced they are withdrawing Busch’s medical waiver, which has kept his playoff spot secure for the last six weeks.

This means there are now two playoff spots up for grabs on Saturday, a lifeline for Martin Truex Jr. who was out of a playoff spot heading into the finale.

So how exactly does this affect the drivers on the bubble? As of now, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. would make the playoffs based on points alone. However, if a new winner outside of those two emerges in Daytona, that winner will claim one of the spots, and the other will go to whoever has more points between Blaney and Truex Jr. Blaney currently sits 25 points ahead of Truex Jr.

 

The Track

Once again NASCAR returns to its most famous track, Daytona International Speedway. This is the place where legends are made, and where icons such as Richard Petty, Mario Andretti, Dale Earnhardt, and more have ridden into victory lane.

The 2.5-mile tri-oval produces intense racing, with an entirely flat-out lap. The lap starts on the curved front stretch with 18-degree banking, and into the steep 31-degree Turns 1 and 2. Then it’s off to the long back straight before the similarly-banked Turns 3 and 4 and right back to the front straight to complete the lap. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s fast, and drivers will have to focus completely at constant speeds of over 200 miles per hour.

Saturday’s race will be 400 miles long. Stage 1 will run through lap 35, Stage 2 will end on lap 95, and Stage 3 will make up the final 65 laps of the race.

Daytona International Speedway - Wikipedia

NASCAR Playoff Standings – Current Playoff Points

  1. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports – 2040 points
  2. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports – 2023 points
  3. Ross Chastain, Team Trackhouse – 2021 points
  4. Joey Logano, Team Penske – 2021 points
  5. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports – 2014 points

Last Two In

In: Ryan Blaney, Team Penske +25

In: Martin Truex Jr., Joe Gibbs Racing -25

No driver can surpass the two above on points alone. Any driver out of the playoffs currently needs a win at Daytona to clinch a spot. If that happens, the final spot comes down to who has the higher points between Blaney and Truex Jr., with Blaney having the inside edge ahead of the weekend. If it doesn’t both Blaney and Truex Jr. will be in the playoffs.

Race Predictions – Coke Zero Sugar 400

Superspeedways are notoriously hard to predict given their unpredictability. A longshot could certainly make their way into the playoffs, but I think this is where Ryan Blaney solidifies his spot. He’s a strong superspeedway racer and he’ll want to make sure nothing keeps him out of the playoffs, though there could be some playoff outsiders near the front.

  1. Ryan Blaney, Team Penkse
  2. Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing
  3. Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing
  4. Bubba Wallace, 23XI Racing
  5. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing

How to Watch – NASCAR Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (All Times in EST)

  • Qualifying: Friday, 8/26 – 5:05 p.m. on USA
  • Coke Zero Sugar 400: Saturday, 8/27 – 7:00 p.m. on NBC & Peacock (160 laps, green flag at 7:15)
Featured Image Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images