The NASCAR Cup Series ends it regular season Saturday night at the same track where it all began: Daytona International Speedway. The Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the 2.5-mile superspeedway will finalize the 16-driver playoff grid competing for the 2022 Cup championship.
Entering the weekend, 14 drivers have already secured their spot in the field. Fifteen drivers are eligible to fill the final two spots after Kurt Busch announced he’ll be sidelined indefinitely while recovering from his concussion suffered last month. Drivers from 31st-place Corey LaJoie on down in the standings are ineligible due to their points position.
With win-or-bust on everyone’s minds, expect the competition to be fast and furious with NASCAR’s pack racing setup keeping the cars stuck together like superglue. This year’s Daytona 500 featured 35 lead changes, the most for that season opener since 2017, and a nail-biting finish that saw rookie Austin Cindric pull off a surprise upset over Bubba Wallace.
Can we see a Cinderella story all over again? Daytona’s produced five first-time Cup winners in the last four years: Cindric, Michael McDowell (2021), William Byron (2020), Justin Haley (2019) and Erik Jones (2018). Rookies like Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland could be prime candidates to add to this list in a race that’s often unpredictable.
Rain washed out qualifying Friday, leaving the lineup set by the NASCAR rulebook. The sport now uses a special qualifying metric to set the field in situations where there’s no practice or on-track activity.
- 35 percent of the formula is the team’s position in owner points
- 25 percent of the formula is the driver’s finish in the last NASCAR Cup race
- 25 percent of the formula is the team owner’s finish in the last NASCAR Cup race
- 15 percent of the formula is how the driver’s fastest lap ranked in the last NASCAR Cup race
The driver who comes out with the lowest total starts on the pole, then second place, and so on until the 40-car grid is filled. As only 37 cars were entered at Daytona, no one failed to qualify.
Just one “open” car showed up for this event after 39 were at last week’s race at Watkins Glen. Team Hezeberg’s two cars, along with the third Trackhouse Racing Team entry, skipped Daytona while Beard Motorsports’ No. 62 returns with driver Noah Gragson.
1. Kyle Larson
2. Chase Elliott
3. Joey Logano
4. Daniel Suarez
5. Christopher Bell
6. Tyler Reddick
7. Kevin Harvick
8. Chris Buescher
9. Michael McDowell
10. Alex Bowman
11. Erik Jones
12. Ross Chastain
13. Martin Truex Jr.
14. Austin Cindric (R)
15. Cole Custer
16. Ryan Blaney
17. William Byron
18. Justin Haley
19. Denny Hamlin
20. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
21. Austin Dillon
22. Kyle Busch
23. Ty Gibbs (i)
24. Brad Keselowski
25. Ty Dillon
26. Chase Briscoe
27. Aric Almirola
28. Daniel Hemric (i)
29. Harrison Burton (R)
30. Bubba Wallace
31. Corey LaJoie
32. Todd Gilliland (R)
33. Cody Ware
34. David Ragan
35. Landon Cassill (i)
36. BJ McLeod (i)
37. Noah Gragson (i)
(R) – Rookie
(i) – Ineligible to collect Cup Series points
- Kyle Larson (first) also earned the pole position for the season-opening Daytona 500. He’s also seeking his first career pack race win (0-for-31 at Daytona and Talladega with just one career top-5 finish).
- Chase Elliott (second) has clinched the NASCAR regular season championship and the 15-point bonus that comes with it.
- Joey Logano (third) has the best starting spot among Ford drivers.
- Christopher Bell (fifth) has the best starting spot among Toyota drivers.
- Austin Cindric (14th) has the best starting spot among rookies. He was also the winner of February’s Daytona 500.
- Ryan Blaney (16th) is this race’s defending winner.
- Ty Gibbs (23rd) remains in the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota indefinitely while Kurt Busch continues his concussion recovery.
- Daniel Hemric (28th) replaces AJ Allmendinger behind the wheel of the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet. Hemric is sharing the ride with Allmendinger and Noah Gragson.
- David Ragan (34th) replaces Joey Hand behind the wheel of the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford. Ragan is running a limited schedule with RWR focused on pack races.
- Landon Cassill (35th) replaces Mike Rockenfeller behind the wheel of the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet. Cassill is among a number of drivers splitting this full-time ride.
- BJ McLeod (36th) replaces Kyle Tilley behind the wheel of the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford. McLeod, a co-owner of the team, is running the majority of races in this car.
- Noah Gragson (37th) is back behind the wheel of the No. 62 Beard Motorsports Chevrolet. This team only attempts the four pack races held each year at Daytona and Talladega.
Drivers with Playoff Spots Clinched (14)
Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Christopher Bell, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez, Tyler Reddick, Denny Hamlin, Austin Cindric, Chase Briscoe
Drivers Who Can Make the Playoffs on Points (2)
Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr.
Drivers Who Make the Playoffs with a Win (13)
Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Cole Custer, Brad Keselowski, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon, Todd Gilliland
Racing Saturday but Ineligible for the Postseason (7)
Corey LaJoie, Cody Ware, Daniel Hemric, David Ragan, Landon Cassill, BJ McLeod, Noah Gragson
NASCAR Race Breakdown
Race: Coke Zero Sugar 400
Track: Daytona International Speedway (Daytona Beach, Fla.)
Date: Saturday, Aug. 27
TV: NBC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SIRIUS XM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 160 laps (400 miles)
Stage 1: 35 Laps
Stage 2: 60 Laps
Stage 3: 65 Laps
Colby Howard stops by The Frontstretch Podcast with Bryan Nolen to chat about his full-time effort in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Can Howard turn a tough season around and earn his first career win during the playoffs? Then, host Bryan Nolen and co-host Jack Swansey take a closer look at Daytona to figure out who might emerge as a Cinderella story to cap the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoff field.