RACING

5 Who Could Earn Their NASCAR Playoff Spot At Daytona

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Thirteen drivers outside of a playoff spot could earn their spot in the playoff field Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock).

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are the only drivers without a playoff win after Kurt Busch withdrew his playoff waiver. If there is a new winner on Saturday – and he is in the top 30 in points – Blaney or Truex would be eliminated from title contention.

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Seven of those 13 drivers who could advance to the playoffs have won a Cup race at Daytona: Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.

Of the six other playoff-eligible drivers who didn’t win at Daytona, Bubba Wallace has finished second there three times, including the last two races, and Chris Buescher’s best finish is third. Others who could make the playoffs with a victory Saturday night are Cole Custer, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Todd Gilliland.

Here’s a look at five drivers outside of a playoff berth who could qualify for the playoffs and knock out Blaney or Truex:

1.Brad Keselowski

Keselowski started the year, his first as part owner of RFK Racing, with the goal of making both cars qualify for the playoffs. Neither car is in a playoff spot with a race to go in the regular season.

But Daytona is one of the team’s best circuits.

Keselowski and teammate Chris Buescher each won their qualifying race at Daytona in February. Keselowski led a record 67 laps in the Daytona 500, but he also caused two crashes.

Drivers and teams were trying to figure out the car and what they could and couldn’t do in February. They now have a better understanding of the car. Keselowski’s thrusts and riding style could work better this weekend.

Keselowski has one win at Daytona and six at Talladega. These seven superspeedway victories are the most among active drivers. Denny Hamlin is next with five superspeedway wins.

Maintaining his winning streak is also at stake for Keselowski. He has won at least one Cup race 11 consecutive seasons. The last time he went without a win in a Cup season was in 2010 – the final year of Jimmie Johnson’s five consecutive titles.

Brad Keselowski won his qualifying race at Daytona in February and led the most laps of the Daytona 500. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

2. Bubba Wallace

He won at Talladega in the playoffs last year and finished second in this year’s Daytona 500, the second time he’s been a Daytona runner-up.

Wallace enters Saturday confident. He finished four times in the top 10 before a 13th at Richmond and a 35th at Watkins Glen. The finish at Richmond was one point off his career-best Cup finish at this track. He failed to finish at Watkins Glen due to a mechanical problem.

After coming so close at Daytona, Wallace has the road map on what it takes to get to the front lines.

“We just have to make sure we’re there at the end, whatever this race has to offer,” he said. “If you are in the top five with two or three (laps) to go, then you have a very good chance of winning. This is our goal. Let’s go three to make sure we’re in that spot, then we’ll fight.

Bubba Wallace
Bubba Wallace after finishing second in the 2022 Daytona 500. (Photo: Dustin Long)

3. Michael McDowell

The 2021 Daytona 500 winner has a good track record on superspeedways.

He is one of three drivers to place in the top 10 at Daytona and Talladega this season. The other two drivers are points leader Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch.

McDowell has five top 10 finishes in his last 10 Daytona starts. Only twice during this period has he failed to finish.

A win to earn a playoff berth would add to what has been McDowell’s best season in his Cup career, which began in 2008. He has a career-high 10 top-10 finishes. more than he won in 2020 and 21 combined.

Daytona 500Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell celebrates winning the 2021 Daytona 500. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

He was racing forward at the end of this year’s Daytona 500 before a push from Brad Keselowski turned him around and ended his run.

Stenhouse’s two career Cup victories came at superspeedways in 2017. He won at Daytona and Talladega that year to make the playoffs, racing for what was then known as Roush Fenway Racing.

Since winning Daytona in 2017, Stenhouse has failed to finish in the top 10 in nine races. He led laps in six of those events.

So how do you stay out of trouble and have a chance to win on Saturday?

“A lot of times I feel like when you’re rolling (in the back) you can get a really good finish, but I feel like nobody who rolls usually wins,” he said. . “I feel like you kind of have to be in the mix all day, so when you get to the end, you know what moves to make.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. celebrates winning at Daytona in 2017. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

5.Austin Dillon

Since winning the Daytona 500 in 2018, Dillon has only had two top-10 finishes at this track, but he knows how to get ahead.

Dillon expects his share of help on Saturday, but also knows it won’t go that far.

“Bringing car 3 (the playoffs) would be a huge achievement for RCR right now,” Dillon said. “I think I’ll definitely get a lot of help from (teammate Tyler Reddick) and some of our Chevy affiliates, but when somebody has the opportunity to win, they don’t blink.”

Austin Dillion after winning the 2018 Daytona 500. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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