ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by John Chilton / Chase Briscoe (14), Kyle Larson (5), Kevin Harvick (4), Austin Dillon (3), Daniel Suarez (99) and Corey LaJoie (7) crash in the third turn at Daytona International Speedway on the final lap of a NASCAR Cup Series race Saturday night in Daytona Beach, Fla.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — For all the potential outcomes that could have occurred Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale was somewhat predictable.

Ryan Blaney ended up in victory lane for the second straight weekend. Kyle Larson, the most dominant driver all year, took home the regular-season trophy. Tyler Reddick ended up with the 16th and final playoff spot. And the superspeedway race ended in overtime with a fiery crash that involved nearly half the field.

"It's Daytona. For me, it was no different than any other race here," said 2017 series champion Martin Truex Jr., who finished 30th. "I'm glad we're done; I'm glad we're out of here."

He was hardly alone. Drivers ripped the revamped aerodynamics package and bemoaned the usual aggressive driving that caused three collisions in the final 20 laps.

Reddick got caught up in the first wreck but rebounded to finish sixth. He needed only to beat Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon and hope for a repeat winner to earn his first playoff berth.

Dillon and Reddick were both in contention to make a desperate, last-gasp push for the win in the two-lap overtime sprint to the finish. But Blaney, who was second on the restart, cleared traffic thanks partly to a bump from Corey LaJoie and was well ahead of the pack when a crash ended the race.

Daniel Suarez, one of 10 drivers in the front pack trying to win the race to earn the automatic playoff berth, turned Kevin Harvick to trigger the multicar melee. Suarez seemed to be pushed into Harvick from behind by Kurt Busch.

Blaney, the winner this past Sunday in Michigan, heads into next weekend's playoff opener at South Carolina's Darlington Raceway with three victories this season in his Team Penske Ford.

"Yeah, we've got good momentum," Blaney said. "We'd like to make it three in a row; we'll see."

The regular-season finale had fairly low stakes because 15 of the 16 playoff slots were secure before the race. It meant only a driver winning for the first time this season could edge Dillon or Reddiick for the final spot.

Neither had a smooth night: Reddick's car sustained crash damage in an earlier incident and Dillon was flagged for speeding on pit road and also battled voltage problems in his Chevrolet.

"I don't know how to smile at this point. It was a lot tonight," Reddick said. "I'm excited to be past it."

Dillon had still rallied to fourth on the final restart but was collected in the race-ending crash.

"We gave it all we could and fought until the end," Dillon said. "We'll finish hard this year and build on next year."

The only other competition at Daytona was for the regular-season title, which went to Larson, who won five points races and the All-Star event this year. The race for the regular-season championship and its playoff points was between Larson and Denny Hamlin, who entered Daytona trailing Larson by 28 points.

Hamlin held the regular-season lead for 22 weeks until Larson moved into first place two races ago in Indianapolis. Larson overcame a 166-point deficit to Hamlin to earn the title.

"What an awesome year he's had," said team owner Rick Hendrick, who gave Larson a job this season after he missed most of 2020 while suspended for using a racial slur, having lost his ride with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Chris Buescher finished second, one spot short of earning the automatic berth into the playoffs he was seeking, but it was a 1-2 finish for Ford.

"To miss that playoff spot by one spot, that's a tough ending to a day," Buescher said. "I'm sure I'll play it back and find something else different."

Bubba Wallace was a season-best third but was frustrated he had no help from any Toyotas at the end of the race. Joe Gibbs Racing's Hamlin, his team owner at 23XI Racing, was the closest Toyota driver to Wallace at the finish — way back in 14th.

"I'm a little frustrated, I'm the one who gets called out for not working with teammates, and I'm the one that gets left hanging," Wallace said. "There's a reason why Ford's in victory lane — cause they always work together."

Michael McDowell finished first and last in two superspeedway races at Daytona this season.

The surprise Daytona 500 winner's engine blew under caution Saturday and was done after 23 laps. McDowell clinched a spot in the playoffs with his season-opening win, so the early exit didn't affect his playoff chances, but McDowell has no momentum after finishing 20th or worse for the seventh consecutive race.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT