NASCAR Cup Series

Ryan Blaney hangs on for Coke Zero Sugar 400 overtime victory

5 Mins read
Credit: Logan Riely/Getty Images

Having a superspeedway like Daytona International Speedway as the final race before the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs was always bound to create chaos as drivers sought to secure the final spots. Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 was no different as large wrecks in the final stage impacted numerous playoff hopefuls, though it was an already-locked-in face who celebrated as Ryan Blaney was the leader at the time of a last-lap crash to claim his third win of the season.

Kyle Larson would have started on the pole had he not failed pre-race inspection multiple times. Joey Gase, Kaz Grala, and Corey LaJoie suffered the same fate and also started at the rear, while Front Row MotorsportsMichael McDowell and Anthony Alfredo did so for deck lid extensions violations. Alfredo also had to serve a pass-through penalty after his team made illegal body adjustments to his car on the grid.

Stage #1

Larson’s Hendrick Motorsports team-mate William Byron began the race on the front row and led the first six laps before being passed by Kevin Harvick. Byron and Denny Hamlin traded the lead before Chase Elliott took the position shortly before the competition caution on lap 21. During the pause, Quin Houff exited the race with a roof flap issue and was twenty-seven laps down upon returning with the problem solved. McDowell’s day ended when his engine failed under caution, making him the first Daytona 500 winner to finish last in the Daytona summer race since Cale Yarborough—also an engine victim—in 1983.

Elliott continued to lead on the lap 26 restart and only briefly surrendered the position to Joey Logano to remove debris from his grille before retaking it. He would take the stage victory ahead of Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Ross Chastain, Martin Truex Jr., Austin Dillon, LaJoie, Logano, Ryan Preece, and Chris Buescher.

Stage #2

Logano was slapped with an equipment removal penalty between stages and started Stage #2 at the rear. Elliott led two laps followed by LaJoie, Truex, and Christopher Bell.

On lap 77, Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman made contact in turn four and spun to produce a caution. Logano led the field to the lap 82 restart and held his ground as Team Penske ally Blaney, aided by Elliott, caught him on the inside. Blaney was able to lead a lap but could not clear his team-mate. A charge from Dillon with Byron’s help brought him to Logano’s tail on the final lap, though Logano also held him off for the stage win.

Byron, Tyler Reddick, Larson, Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Busch, Bubba Wallace, and Bell rounded out the top ten.

Credit: Team Penske

Stage #3

The final stage commenced on lap 106 with Hamlin and Byron on the front row.

The Fords pitted under green on lap 123 and made fuel-only stops, while the Toyotas and Chevrolets stayed out. A contingent of Toyotas led by Busch spearheaded the running order as the race crossed the 20-to-go mark, with the Chevrolet of LaJoie being the lone non-Toyota in the top six at the time. Shortly after said point, three-quarters of Rick Ware Racing with Joey Gase, Garrett Smithley, and Cody Ware wrecked together off turn four when Smithley spun in front of his team-mates. Dillon, who was fighting with Richard Childress Racing partner Reddick for the sixteenth and final playoff spot, suffered a speeding penalty during the ensuing caution.

The race resumed on lap 145 with Penske’s Blaney and Logano on the front row. A lap later, Reddick’s own playoff hopes took a hit when he was involved in a massive wreck: Stenhouse bumped Truex on the backstretch in a stack-up and the latter shot into the outside wall, where he hit Byron before coming down and being impacted by Reddick. Alfredo spun into the grass while Landon Cassill collected Daniel Suárez and Chase Briscoe. The wreck forced a red flag for cleanup, while Reddick’s team sought to address oil concerns under the hood.

After approximately fifteen minutes of waiting, the red flag was lifted.

Logano jumped to the lead ahead of Blaney on the inside before Chris Buescher joined the picture with Elliott pushing him. Also receiving help from Hamlin, Buescher and Elliott pulled to the lead on lap 154 before the former committed to the outside with his fellow Fords. The new leader bounced between both lines before Elliott and Hamlin led a lap, though neither had enough of a run as Buescher reclaimed the top spot. Buescher himself lost the draft in the middle lane as Elliott reassumed first.

Elliott and Matt DiBenedetto, also vying for the last playoff seed, gunned for the lead with five to go as Logano suffered a flat tyre and hit the wall. Two laps later, Elliott attempted to block DiBenedetto and Hamlin’s advance in turn four, causing them to collide and triggering a massive wreck as Preece and Custer also spun, collecting Bell, Busch, Chastain, Custer, Keselowski, Preece, Stenhouse, and Kaz Grala. Overtime was initiated in response.

Buescher and Blaney, respectively pushed by playoff hopefuls Dillon and LaJoie, comprised the front row to begin overtime. Blaney pulled ahead on the inside exiting turn two as Harvick moved upp to second with Suárez on his tail at the white flag.

Suárez tried a move on Harvick entering turn three and was clipepd by Kurt Busch, triggering a chain reaction as Harvick went around. Bowman, Chastain, Dillon, LaJoie, Larson, and Erik Jones were also involved as the caution waved, ending the race under yellow and granting Blaney his second consecutive win and third of the year.

“That was a lot of fun,” said Blaney in his post-race interview. “Gosh, we just barely missed that wreck. Got to line up on the front row, got a good push by the #7 (LaJoie). You never know how the end of these things is going to play out. Down the back, you don’t know what lane is getting a bigger run. I guess someone got tangled up over there, Hopefully everyone is okay.

“[…] The biggest thing is just getting the push, right, just trying to get a good push. Corey LaJoie gave me a good push two weeks in a row, gotten really good pushes on restarts, able to win the race, so thanks for that. It really all started with the #7 giving me a good push, then trying to hold off the #7 and Kevin and a couple other cars, #17 (Buescher).”

Despite his tumultuous day, Reddick finished seventh to claim the sixteenth and final playoff spot.

Wallace fell short of making the postseason but still placed third for his and 23XI Racing‘s best finish together. Justin Haley, the 2019 Daytona summer winner and victor of the Xfinity Series race earlier in the day, was sixth for his second Cup top ten. B.J. McLeod escaped the chaos to score his and Live Fast Motorsports‘ first career top ten.

UPDATE (29 August): Buescher has been disqualified after failing post-race inspection for an illegal trackbar mounting assembly. As Buescher is relegated to last, Wallace moves up to second to tie his career best (2018 Daytona 500) and complete a 1–2 finish with his close friend. Josh Bilicki scores his first career top ten. Buescher is the second Cup disqualification of 2021 after Elliott suffered the fate at Nashville in June.

Race results

1612Ryan BlaneyTeam PenskeFord165Running
22023Bubba Wallace23XI RacingToyota165Running
3236Ryan NewmanRoush Fenway RacingFord165Running
42437Ryan PreeceJTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet165Running
5178Tyler ReddickRichard Childress RacingChevrolet165Running
62877Justin Haley*Spire MotorsportsChevrolet165Running
71548Alex BowmanHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet165Running
859Chase ElliottHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet165Running
93078B.J. McLeod*Live Fast MotorsportsFord165Running
103652Josh BilickiRick Ware RacingFord165Running
112143Erik JonesRichard Petty MotorsportsChevrolet165Running
1281Kurt BuschChip Ganassi racingChevrolet165Running
13311Denny HamlinJoe Gibbs RacingToyota165Running
141910Aric AlmirolaStewart-Haas RacingFord165Running
15114Kevin HarvickStewart-Haas RacingFord165Running
16337Corey LaJoieSpire MotorsportsChevrolet164Accident
17273Austin DillonRichard Childress RacingChevrolet164Accident
182942Ross ChastainChip Ganassi racingChevrolet164Accident
192699Daniel SuárezTrackhouse Racing TeamChevrolet164Accident
2015Kyle LarsonHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet164Accident
211614Chase BriscoeStewart-Haas RacingFord164Accident
221247Ricky Stenhouse Jr.JTG Daugherty RacingChevrolet164Running
232222Joey LoganoTeam PenskeFord164Running
242541Cole CusterStewart-Haas RacingFord164Running
25921Matt DiBenedettoWood Brothers RacingFord164Running
263238Anthony AlfredoFront Row MotorsportsFord163Running
274066David Starr*MBM MotorsportsFord163Running
283151Cody Ware*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet163Running
29719Martin Truex Jr.Joe Gibbs RacingToyota163Running
303453Garrett Smithley*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet163Running
313715Joey Gase*Rick Ware RacingChevrolet162Running
321420Christopher BellJoe Gibbs RacingToyota157Accident
33102Brad KeselowskiTeam PenskeFord156Accident
34418Kyle BuschJoe Gibbs RacingToyota156Accident
353816Kaz Grala*Kaulig RacingChevrolet156Accident
363996Landon Cassill*Gaunt Brothers RacingToyota146Accident
37224William ByronHendrick MotorsportsChevrolet146Accident
383500Quin HouffStarCom RacingChevrolet136Running
391834Michael McDowellFront Row MotorsportsFord23Engine
401317Chris BuescherRoush Fenway RacingFord164Running (DSQ)
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for Cup points
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Justin is neither a NASCAR nor off-road racer, but he has covered them for The Checkered Flag since 2018.
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