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  • Josh Scott

Blaney survives Daytona, Playoff Field set

Ryan Blaney avoided a last-lap crash, and beat Chris Buescher by .773 seconds, to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday. The win is Blaney's first at Daytona as well as his seventh career win in the NASCAR Cup Series. The High Point, NC native ends the regular season scoring back-to-back victories after winning at Michigan International Speedway the week prior. He also won at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier in the year.

"You never know how the end of these (races) are gonna play out," Blaney said, with a smile. "Looking forward to next week!"

Buescher finished the race second but due to failing NASCAR's rigorous postrace inspection process, he would be disqualified and placed in the 40th position (last place). Because of Buescher's disqualification, everyone behind him was moved up one position in the running order.

As a result, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr would finish second, Ryan Newman third, Ryan Preece fourth, and Tyler Reddick fifth. Justin Haley, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, BJ McLeod, and Josh Bilicki rounded out the top 10. Preece, McLeod, and Bilicki captured career-best Cup Series finishes while Wallace would tie his career-best finish.

On the race's last restart, with two laps to go, Blaney received a big push from Corey Lajoie's number 7 car and the two quickly broke away from the rest of the field. On the last lap, Kevin Harvick made an aggressive move around Lajoie and the 2007 Daytona 500 winner, who came into the race with a zero in the win column for 2021, set his sights on Blaney. Before Harvick's number 4 car could make a potentially race-winning move, Daniel Suárez's number 99 car hit Harvick after getting bumped from behind by Kurt Busch's number 1 car. The 99 and 4 cars made contact and a chaotic last-lap crash would ensue collecting nine cars including Lajoie, Busch, and Austin Dillon.

Dillon was 25 points behind his teammate Tyler Reddick who came into the race in sole possession of the final available spot to make the NASCAR Playoffs, starting next week. The teammates driving for Richard Childress, former car owner for the late Dale Earnhardt, fought tooth-and-nail throughout the night and drove their best to gain as many points as they could over the other.

After Reddick's number 8 car sustained damage in a crash earlier in the race, only five points separated the two teammates prior to the final restart. While Dillon's number 3 got caught up in the last-lap crash, however, Reddick made an incredible maneuver and went from

17th position to fifth.

By surviving the crash, Reddick

clinched his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs for the first time in just his second season in the Cup Series.

The rest of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff field is pictured below:

Kyle Larson, with five wins matching his car number, enters the playoffs as the clear favorite to win the Bill France Cup trophy. At this time last season, he had been indefinitely suspended by NASCAR. Kevin Harvick at 45 years old is the oldest playoff competitor while William Byron is the youngest at 23. Michael McDowell and Christopher Bell, along with Reddick, are making their first playoff appearances.

Chase Elliott will look to win back-to-back Cup championships, the first driver since Jimmie Johnson (2009 and 2010) to do so.

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