The White Zone: Daytona gave us peak NASCAR

NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400
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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

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 Advance Auto Parts Ford, spins after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #47 Kroger/NOS Chevrolet, lifts after an on-track incident with multiple cars during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

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.

The Finish

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – AUGUST 28: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 BREZTRI Chevrolet, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

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.

In conclusion

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.

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Featured Image Credit: James Gilbert/Getty Images