NASCAR Cup Series: Analyzing the top-10 in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona

Ryan Blaney won Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway for his third victory of the season and second in as many races. The NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale had no shortage of drama, and late wrecks led to a different-looking top-10.

Blaney’s win on August 22 at Michigan gave him multiple wins in a Cup Series season for the first time in his career. He was able to better the number to three wins with his third-career superspeedway victory on Saturday. Wins at Michigan and Daytona vaulted Blaney to the No. 2 seed in the playoff grid and he has established himself as arguably the strongest Ford in the Cup Series.

Finishing in second place was Blaney’s best friend, Bubba Wallace. His second-place finish tied his career-best finish and bettered his previous season-high finish of fifth in race No. 2 of the Pocono Doubleheader. Wallace has consistently run up front in superspeedway races as he finished in second place in his first-ever Daytona 500 back in 2018. Saturday’s race was the first time Blaney and Wallace finished 1-2 in a Cup Series event.

(ABOVE: Blaney and Wallace following last week’s race at Michigan)

Third-place finisher Ryan Newman registered his best finish of the season and his first top-5 since the Bristol dirt race in March. It was Newman’s best finish since his scary Daytona 500 crash in 2020, and it happened to come at the same racetrack. Newman’s searching for a ride in 2022, and a third-place finish should help with that effort.

Ryan Preece finished in fourth place for his best 2021 Cup Series finish. His previous best came at the Daytona 500, where he finished sixth. Preece is driving an uncharted car this season as his team, JTG Daugherty, sold one of their charters to Spire Motorsports following the 2021 season. He needed to race his car into the Daytona 500, and a good finish to start the season resulted in his being able to enter every race. Because of no qualifying in most races this season, Preece has to rely on the qualifying metric to enter each race.

Fifth-place finisher Tyler Reddick entered Saturday’s regular-season finale 25 points above teammate Austin Dillon for the final playoff spot. Dillon scored more stage points in the race than Reddick; however, Reddick had a positional advantage over his teammate with a few laps to go. Late wrecks gave both drivers damage, but Reddick managed to keep his car on the lead lap and crawl across the finish line fifth to transfer into the playoffs.

Justin Haley had quite the day on Saturday at Daytona. He won the Xfinity Series’ Wawa 250 by mere inches over Kaulig Racing teammate AJ Allmendinger in the afternoon, then wheeled his Spire Motorsports vehicle to a sixth-place finish in the Cup Series. Haley is one of the best restrictor-plate racers in NASCAR with four combined Xfinity Series victories at Daytona and Talladega and a win in the rain-shortened 2019 Coke Zero Sugar 400 in the Cup Series.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott finished in seventh and eighth place at Daytona, respectively. Bowman collected his 13th top-10 of the season following three consecutive finishes of 16th or worse. Elliott continued his strong stretch of late by picking up his fifth top-10 in his last six starts. Elliott still, however, lacks a win on an oval in 2021.

Driving the LiveFast Racing Chevrolet, BJ McLeod picked up his first-ever NASCAR National Series top-10 with a ninth-place finish at Daytona. McLeod had previously made over 200 NASCAR starts without finishing in the top-10. The 37-year-old piloted his car through several late wrecks to secure the LiveFast’s first top-10 as a team.

Josh Bilicki finished in 10th place to secure the third top-10 finish in Rick Ware Racing history. Like McLeod, Bilicki’s top-10 finish was the first for the driver in his NASCAR National Series history. Bilicki is racing a car full-time for the first time in his career and currently sits 31st in Cup Series points.

NOTE: Chris Buescher crossed the finish line second in Saturday’s race but was disqualified due to an illegal track bar mounting assembly.

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