Sunday’s regular-season finale at Daytona was some of the NASCAR-iest NASCAR that I’ve seen in quite a while.
Before the race went green, Sunday, Kurt Busch withdrew his medical waiver. Thus taking him out of the playoffs. So the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway went from do-or-die time for both Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. to (slightly) more breathing room to race their way into the playoffs.
After that, mother nature reminded us that the weather in summertime Florida is less than ideal for a NASCAR Cup Series race. Unyielding rain showers forced NASCAR to postpone the regular season finale from its scheduled Saturday night slot to Sunday at 10 a.m. Old school NASCAR commenced.
Let’s go racing, boys
The less things change, the more they stay the same. A multi-car wreck on Lap 30 had major championship implications, as Blaney was caught up in it on the backstretch. As a result, he spent most of the morning chasing Truex in points. Eventually, he fell multiple laps down. He no longer controlled his destiny.
Even after Truex found himself in the throws of a multi-car wreck on Lap 102, the last playoff spot (barring a new winner) was his to lose. It almost ended that way, too, when rain caused yet another multi-car wreck in Turn 1 with 21 laps to go. A downpour, mind you, that drivers radioed in for multiple laps.
Truly, an “Only in NASCAR” moment. Then the rain came down harder. So NASCAR called the race there, right?
A more cynical person might say NASCAR stuck around because it understood it all but botched the finale by not throwing the caution. A less cynical person might say NASCAR felt with the number of hours before sunset and this being the regular season finale, it was worth waiting it out. Regardless, NASCAR elected to wait it out and give everyone the last 21 laps.
When the race restarted with 16 laps to go, less than half the field remained. Four cars broke away from what remained of the pack, with Truex in tow. All he had to do was hang with them and he made the playoffs. But then Noah Gragson and Tyler Reddick joined the breakaway pack, Truex lost touch and sank like a stone.
Meanwhile, Austin Dillon bumped Austin Cindric out of the way to take the lead with two laps to go and scored the victory to claim a playoff spot.
When Truex crossed the finish line in ninth, he missed the cutoff by three points. Blaney had made the playoffs, instead.
Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona gave us rain delays, multi-car wrecks, a compelling playoff qualifying narrative, and controversial officiating. This race was NASCAR to a T.
And we’ve still got the playoffs to run! NASCAR returns next weekend with the first race from the Round of 16 at Darlington Raceway.