It seems like just yesterday we were kicking off the NASCAR season at Daytona. Now, NASCAR’s best return to the iconic track for one last race before the playoffs begin. Some drivers will look to capture momentum heading into the postseason while others will hope to score a win and secure an elusive playoff berth. Before we preview the Coke Zero Sugar 400, it’s time for one last look at the postseason picture.
2023 Race Winners Headed into the Coke Zero Sugar 400
After a dominant performance by William Byron at Watkins Glen, no new winners found themselves in the playoffs. Byron’s win at the Glen marks his fifth of the season, leading NASCAR. Check out the list of playoff eligible race winners below.
- Martin Truex Jr. – Three Wins
- William Byron – Five Wins
- Kyle Busch – Three Wins
- Denny Hamlin – One Win
- Kyle Larson – Two Wins
- Ross Chastain – One Win
- Christopher Bell – One Win
- Ryan Blaney – One Win
- Joey Logano – One Win
- Tyler Reddick – One Win
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – One Win
- Chris Buescher – Two Wins
- Michael McDowell – One Win
For the drivers on the outside looking in, Daytona represents the last chance to punch their playoff ticket. Last year Austin Dillon found his way into the playoffs by virtue of a win at this race, can a surprise winner repeat the feat this time around? With Daytona lending itself to chaotic finishes, another winner wouldn’t be a surprise.
Currently In The Playoffs on Points
The three drivers currently in on points haven’t changed since last week. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Bubba Wallace currently occupy the three available points spots in the playoffs. Keselowski and Harvick can rest easy knowing they are clear of the cut line by over one hundred points and only one possible new race winner.
Bubba Wallace on the other hand must feel incredibly nervous. While the combination of Wallace’s history of running well at Daytona and Talladega coupled with his current 32-point clearance of the cutline means those below the cutline aren’t likely to pass him on points, the threat of a new winner pushing him out of the playoffs raises concerns. Especially at Daytona where drivers who normally don’t compete for wins can make their way to the front.
- Brad Keselowski – 139 Points Above Cut Line
- Kevin Harvick – 135 Points Above Cut Line
- Bubba Wallace – 32 Points Above Cut Line
Outside Looking In
With the current point situation, every driver below the cutline likely needs a win in order to find themselves in the playoffs. The first five below the cutline is made up of Ty Gibbs, Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger, Alex Bowman, and Chase Elliott. Both Bowman and Elliott find themselves on the outside looking in after missing races earlier this season.
I do need to reiterate that the nature of Daytona means several drivers who haven’t been very competitive for wins over the course of the season could easily find Victory Lane in what shapes up to be a chaotic race. Austin Cindric, Aric Almirola, and Austin Dillon all hold previous victories at Daytona. Corey LaJoie tends to find himself near the front of these drafting-style tracks. Any number of names could come from seemingly nowhere to notch a victory, making for an added layer of excitement.
We don’t see too many surprise names pop up on the entry list for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 but there are a couple of young drivers getting called up for a part-time run. Chandler Smith, Riley Herbst, Josh Berry, and Austin Hill will pull double duty as Xfinity drivers running in the Cup race on Sunday.
Predicting a winner on drafting tracks like Daytona and Talladega represents an exercise in futility. Pack crashes, late race runs, and a general air of unpredictability mean the winner could come from anywhere. However, just because anyone can win doesn’t mean it doesn’t take ability.
Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are among the best at Talladega and Daytona. Should they avoid early trouble, both will factor in late in the race. However, I am going to predict a driver will get their first win in 2023.
I think Brad Keselowski will find a way to Victory Lane on Sunday. Teammate Chris Buescher notched two wins in a row earlier this season and now Brad will step up and get his. Though the #6 team is safe on points to advance to the playoffs, the win will give Keselowski a huge boost heading into the postseason.
As a reminder, the Craftsman Truck Series races at the Milwaukee Mile this week instead of at Daytona. Check out the schedule below so you don’t miss any on-track action.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying (Daytona) – 2:00 p.m. CT on NBC Sports Streaming
NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (Daytona) – 4:05 p.m. CT on USA
Wawa 250 powered by Coca-Cola (NASCAR Xfinity Series – Daytona) 6:30 p.m. CT on USA
Coke Zero Sugar 400 (NASCAR Cup Series – Daytona) – 6:00 p.m. CT on NBC
NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Qualifying (Milwaukee) – 10:30 a.m. CT on FS2
Sprecher 150 (ARCA Menards Series – Milwaukee) – 12:00 p.m. CT on FS1
Clean Harbors 175 (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – Milwaukee) – 3:00 p.m. CT on FS1