DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Austin Dillon won a walk-off victory that secured himself a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, capturing the final race of the regular season at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday (Aug. 28). Teammate Tyler Reddick helped his Richard Childress Racing teammate to the win followed by Austin Cindric, Landon Cassill and Noah Gragson to round out the top-five finishers.
Dillon’s victory is the fourth of his career and RCR’s third of 2022. It’s the first time the organization has had at least three wins in one year since 2013 and the first time both cars have qualified for the playoffs since 2017.
How did it happen?
The race really began on lap 138, when so many drivers’ days ended.
Dillon wasn’t even a part of the conversation for the lead for the whole day until that point, but at Daytona, that’s not always a bad thing. It sometimes means you’re away from trouble.
In Dillon’s case, he was right behind it.
The No. 3 team had gone a lap down early in the event and only recently been awarded the free pass thanks to a small two-car incident between Erik Jones and Joey Logano. Now that he was back on the lead lap, Dillon only needed to start working his way back to the front to contend for the win.
What he didn’t know was Mother Nature was about to give him an express lane.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 28, 2022
The 13-car crash occurred after rain had begun pouring in turn 1 unbeknownst to race control. As the field entered the corner at racing speed three abreast, the leading cars began to slide on their slick, non-grooved tires and crashed ahead of the field. Everyone was so close to the leading cars they had nowhere to go.
That is, everyone except the No. 3.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 28, 2022
Dillon inherited the lead as the field froze under the rain-induced caution. The yellow flag became red and the remaining cars stayed stationary on pit road for three hours.
Despite a long delay, NASCAR remained vigilant in returning to racing, which they did with 17 laps remaining.
There weren’t many cars left on the lead lap, but among them was the Team Penske Ford of Cindric, who received a push from Martin Truex Jr. on the restart. Cindric took the lead and had to hold off Dillon for the last 17 laps as the few remaining cars combined into a single-file train.
It was a feat Cindric couldn’t achieve as the lone Ford in the lead draft. Dillon nudged the back bumper of the No. 2 with three laps to go and turned the Penske car sideways. While Cindric saved his vehicle, Dillon was able to get around and brought teammate Reddick along with him.
AUSTIN DILLON TO THE LEAD!
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) August 28, 2022
From then on, Reddick defended his RCR cohort and his lead to the checkered flag, helping the No. 3 team secure its bid into the 2022 Cup playoffs.
Who stood out?
By the time the dust had settled after lap 138, it wasn’t about who was the fastest.
It was about who was left.
Many of the big names that we have come to see in the front were wiped out in an instant. Suddenly, drivers such as Cassill, Gragson, Cody Ware and even BJ McLeod found themselves scored amongst the lead 10.
In the end, all three drivers not only finished there but earned their best career Cup finishes while doing so.
Cassill actually matched his career-best finish as he once ran fourth at Talladega Superspeedway in 2014 — his one and only top-10 result in 334 Cup starts until this weekend.
For Gragson in fifth, it was the opposite. His first top-five result came in only his 11th series start and just days after his first career Cup test session with new 2023 employer Petty GMS Motorsports.
For Ware, it was his first career top 10 and thus his best finish coming in his 81st career start. It wasn’t only a best for him, but for his family-owned team as well. Both the No. 15 of David Ragan and Ware finished in the top 10, the first time both Rick Ware Racing cars have done so in the team’s existence.
Finally, there was McLeod, who was scored in eighth during the three-hour rain delay yet still wanted to return to racing. He eventually did, and he capitalized by finishing one spot higher.
Daytona has proven to be a wild card race in the past, much like the other superspeedway races of Talladega and (sort of) Atlanta Motor Speedway. That meant it wasn’t too surprising to see these drivers near the front of the pack after what had been a day of high attrition.
With that being said, what are the odds of all four of them finishing inside the top 10 all at once? Well, just ask the sports bettor who wagered $10 on them.
— Jason Fellenbaum (@J_Fellenbaum) August 28, 2022
Just look at that payout. Wow.
Who fell flat?
As one playoff door opens, another one must close.
With five laps to go, Truex seemed like he was going to be racing for a championship again in 2022, despite being the only one of the top 16 seeds that had not yet found victory lane this year.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had one point over his playoff points rival Ryan Blaney, who had been off the pace after being involved in a crash on lap 32. All he had to do was stay in position during the final five laps and he would be in no matter who won the race.
Unfortunately, Truex was also involved in an earlier crash, sustaining some speed-reducing damage on his Toyota. Soon, all he could do was watch as the No. 19 was freight-trained by four Fords working together to get around him. Truex lost four points and wound up below Blaney in the standings. As long as Dillon didn’t win the race, however, the New Jersey native could still qualify into the postseason.
Ryan Blaney passes Martin Truex Jr. in points!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 28, 2022
Unfortunately, two laps later, that, too, didn’t go his way. Dillon took the top spot from leader Cindric with three laps to go and wouldn’t look back.
Both of Truex’s last bullets had been fired, and they both missed.
It’s the end of the championship road for the 2017 Cup Series title winner despite him finishing fourth in the regular season standings. But hey, at least we know he’ll be back next year.
What did this race prove?
One could say that the lap 138, rain-induced incident was unforeseen by NASCAR race control. That’s probably because they weren’t standing outside with the rest of the fans.
— Bryan Nolen (@TheBryanNolen) August 28, 2022
In case you couldn’t hear, it was raining. In case you couldn’t see, it was still green flag.
Let’s get the other side of the argument out of the way. We’re talking about the time span of around 40 seconds for race control to notice the incoming precipitation and then throw the caution. That certainly isn’t an easy thing to accomplish.
Not to mention, race officials are usually tipped by the drivers and spotters on their radios warning of droplets appearing on windshields. Much like how Justin Haley did shortly before the incident.
But of course Haley would say that, critics might say. He was leading. Plus, he was trying to qualify into the playoffs. It’s not too surprising if some officials don’t take drivers’ rain observations too seriously when they’re in position to win a race because of it.
Then, there’s the other side of the debate: What if the driver is telling the truth? The end result could be a case like Sunday afternoon. Or, even worse, it could be in the middle of the regular season finale at a superspeedway where there are multiple cars racing at high speeds close together. Again, kind of like what we saw on Sunday.
Not taking the drivers cries of rain too seriously is one thing. The other issue is if the fans can tell it’s unsafe.
Clearly, no matter who’s to blame for Daytona, weather is something that needs to be addressed. In case you’ve forgotten, a wet track wreck already happened one year ago at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when two leaders’ races were ruined as a result of a downpour. Now, it happened at a superspeedway in the regular season finale that saw multiple drivers and their last chances of making the playoffs get taken out in one fell swoop. That could have been one team’s whole season ruined.
Thinking about how we avoid circumstances like we had today. Maybe we should be more proactive instead of re-active? If we wait until the track gets wet isn’t it already too late?
You can’t hold off because of the “threat” of rain but when you see it then we should probably stop.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) August 29, 2022
For some reason, rain-related crashes on ovals weren’t much of an incident before recently. What changed?
Better than last time?
In this case, it really depends on who you ask.
If you enjoy the typical chaos superspeedway racing creates, then Daytona was certainly the event for you.
The Daytona 500 in February had its fair share of crashes, certainly. That’s always the case for superspeedway races nowadays, and that trend continued on Sunday.
Each unscheduled caution in this Daytona race occurred for a multi-car incident. Four out of the five of them saw at least six cars involved.
In February, there were also five unscheduled cautions in the Daytona 500. Four out of five of them were for multi-car crashes. Seems similar, right?
Except Sunday’s race was 100 miles — or 40 laps — shorter than February’s, which means somehow the summer version became more calamitous than the original.
What for? Well, there are a number of reasons. It was the last chance for drivers to make the playoffs, in case you didn’t hear. That can make some a little more aggressive.
It also made the field much racier. There were a whopping 39 lead changes in Sunday’s shorter Daytona race, four more than the season-opening Daytona 500. So, in terms of competition, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 was an improvement.
If you like crashes and chaos, too, you probably loved what you saw on Sunday.
Paint scheme of the race
It’s about time we featured the No. 4 Ford on here for its unique paint scheme endeavors.
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) August 23, 2022
Kevin Harvick‘s Mobil 1 wrap featuring a Route 66-inspired design was inspired by those that love to use the open road. Especially in the Midwest.
Well, that sky-blue Ford didn’t necessarily stand out underneath the gray skies of Daytona on Sunday, but its desert tan secondary colors certainly did.
It’s yet another special livery introduced by the oil lubricant brand to be featured on the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. The sponsor adds to its already diverse collection of car artwork, and this scheme is one we can appreciate.
Even if it was raced at a track over 1,000 miles from the road it’s paying homage to.
The playoffs finally begin at the Lady in Black.
The Cup Series travels to Darlington Raceway for the start of the 2022 playoff season. Cup qualifying begins on Saturday, Sep. 3 at 12:50 p.m. ET with the Cook Out Southern 500 televised live on USA on Sunday night, Sept. 4 at 6 p.m. ET.
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after a staff writing position with IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.