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NASCAR at Daytona and Gateway: Byron in Cup, Haley wins Xfinity

NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway
• Byron clinches his playoff spot with a win

Daytona Beach, FL, Aug 29/20 (GRW): In this era of NASCAR playoffs, the season is split into the regular season when everyone is racing for the same thing, wins, and the playoffs when only a select group of sixteen drivers is fighting it out for the championship while the others are relegated to the status of ‘also-rans’ even if one or more of them manages to collect a win in the playoff part of the season.

Coming into the final race in the regular season, there were three drivers who were fighting it out for the final two playoff positions – Matt DiBenedetto, Jimmie Johnson and his teammate William Byron. In the end, Byron put an exclamation mark on his earning a playoff spot by taking the lead in the overtime green-white-checker run and winning the race – and thereby clinching his playoff spot. This was his first ever win in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Of the other two, DiBenedetto had come into Daytona with more points than Johnson and he finished the race in 12th place while Johnson’s had been heavily damaged in the second big pileup rendering his car uncompetitive. Somehow he managed to take the checker on the lead lap but he was scored in 17th place, behind DiBenedetto, and he was locked out of the playoffs. Despite having made his name as a seven-time winner of the NASCAR championship, he has not won a race in the past three years. He had already announced that this would be his last year in NASCAR and failing to even make it into the playoffs this year must have been a bitter disappointment.

This race had an end-of-term air about it, the regular season was winding down and seemed like everyone was thinking more about the playoff races to come. NASCAR invented the playoff idea for their sport to gin up the end of the season and keep fans buying tickets and watching television to the last race.

As ‘restrictor-plate’ races go on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega, this race ran almost the entire way without a big wreck. Then there were two of them in the closing laps – both bringing out the red flag while the track was cleaned up.

This being a drafting circuit, the race ran in big packs of cars with the lead – and the order behind – changing constantly. Indeed the race saw no fewer than 34 official lead changes – scored as the cars crossed the start-finish line. Joey Logano win both of the first two Stages and he led the most laps – 36 of the race’s 164 (with overtime). Kyle Busch has yet to win a Cup race this season and his chances looked good as he led for 31 laps; unfortunately, while running at the front alongside his brother Kurt, the first of the big wrecks came on lap 154, wiping out both of the Busch brothers’ cars. (It is unusual for the cars at the very front to be wrecked.) No win for Kyle again.

William Byron led for 24 laps during the race including the final two. With this kind of result, it seems like he was destined to make it into the playoffs even without winning the race. Ironically, before the carnage started on lap 152 with the first of the two big wrecks, Johnson had been just ahead of Byron and, had this order continued for the few remaining laps, Johnson would have been going to the playoffs and not Byron. What a dramatic change in this picture the last few fraught laps made.

When the race restarted in overtime after the final caution, is seemed as if few observers were interested in who was going to win the race, every one was watching that three-way battle for the final two playoff positions. In fact, it seemed certain that, with the damage his car had sustained, it was Johnson who was going to be eliminated. On the white flag lap, cars started wrecking back in the field but no yellow flag flew and Byron pushed his way between two cars to spurt out into the lead and take the checkered flag.

In the melee behind him, Chase Elliott was second, Denny Hamlin third, Martin Truex fourth and Darrell Wallace fifth.

“I’m just extremely blessed and this is incredible,” said Byron. “It’s been a hard couple of years in the Cup Series and trying to get my first win and gel with this team. These guys did an awesome job today and got us in the Playoffs and it’s amazing.

“This is probably the hardest track to points-race,” said Byron who only had a four-point advantage over Johnson for the final playoff transfer position entering the race.

“We had a great Stage 2 and kind of got back in the pack and got shuffled when everyone went single file. I thought my hope were up there. And we were racing around the No. 21 (DiBenedetto) and the No. 48 (Johnson) in the final stage and I was like, ‘man, I’ve to really make something happen. Luckily, I was able to push the No. 43 (Wallace) and he and the No. 22 (Logano) made some contact and opened up a hole for me and I wasn’t going to lift.”

• Click HERE for the results of this NCS race at Daytona
• Click HERE for the driver points standings going into the playoffs

• The next race will be the first race in the ten round playoff finale. It will be held at Darlington next Sunday, September 6.

PHOTO NXS DIS2 BriscoeLead 082820Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain, and eventual winner Justin Haley race during the Wawa 250 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series WaWa 250 at Daytona International Speedway
• Haley is the last man standing

Daytona Beach, FL, Aug 28/20 (GRW): It all came down to the final lap of the 100-lap Xfinity race. Late in the race, the three Kaulig Racing entries had been lined up one-two-three – AJ Allmendinger, Ross Chastain and Justin Haley – with the race’s only two Fords of Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric right behind them. Haley had been assigned to run defense and hold the two Fords back – but, with ten laps to go, they got past him and he fell back to seventh.

Now as they started the last lap, Chastain tagged Allmendinger and they both went out of control, setting off a big mess of spinning and crashing cars. Out of this mess, Haley came through into the lead to take the checker. Crossing the line behind him was Gray Gaulding, then Briscoe, Riley Herbst and Harrison Burton. Of the other two cars which had been at the front for so long, Chastain finished in sixth place and Allmendinger in 15th. Cindric was credited with eighth.

So it did turn out to be a win for the Kaulig team but at the expense of two wrecked team cars and with Haley who had been relegated to the blocker position earlier on emerging as the race winner.

Given the focus on the question of which drivers would move on into the playoff positions in a few weeks, of these five drivers – three Kaulig and the two semi-teammate Fords – only one of them, Chastain has yet to earn a race win which would automatically promote him to the playoffs – all the others have already cliched their playoff berths with wins. But with four more Xfinity races before the playoffs begin, Chastain looks like a shoo-in to qualify for the playoffs on points even if he does not win any of those four remaining regular season races.

There were three cautions during the first Stage and after the second of those cautions we saw the Kaulig strength begin to show. Haley and Chastain were able to go on to finish this Stage one-two ahead of the Fords – but on the restart to begin the next Stage, Allmendinger vaulted up to third given that he had not pitted during the end-of-stage cycle of pit stops – while those who had pitted fell back to eighth and worse.

There were three more cautions in the second Stage which saw a red-flag shown during the sixth caution after Justin Allgaier and Noah Gragson crashed setting off a big mess of a wreck – and knocking them out of contention.

The race to the checker formed up soon after the third Stage began – with the three Kaulig cars of Allmendinger, Chastain and Haley at the front ahead of Briscoe. Soon Cindric caught up to Briscoe and Haley was assigned to block them from getting any further towards the front. But it was all to change when “it all went wrong on the last lap” when Chastain and Allmendinger got together and set off that last-lap melee which boosted Haley to the race win.

Haley said, “Just a little lucky there, I got shucked out and I was a little frustrated but that’s why you never give up. These things are so unpredictable.”

“It doesn’t matter how many races each of us run,” Chastain said referring to Allmendinger’s part-time schedule. “We’re supposed to go for the win. Team rules are the last 10 laps and we all stay committed. But coming to the checkered [flag], what am I supposed to do? Finish second? Not this guy.”

The Canadian driver Alex Labbe had the misfortune to be caught up in two wrecks in a row before he was knocked out of the race on lap 45.

• Click HERE for the results of this Xfinity race at Daytona

• The next Xfinity race will be at Darlington on its traditional Labour Day weekend date, Saturday, September 5.

photo NGROTS WWTR Creed Burnout 083020Sheldon Creed performs a burnout after winning the CarShield 200 (Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images)

NASCAR Gander Outdoors and RV Truck Series CarShield 200 at World Wide Technology Raceway
• Creed wins a third Truck Series race this year

Madison, IL, Aug 30/20 (GRW): Todd Gilliland dominated today’s race until Sheldon Creed ‘doored” him into the wall and out of the race on lap 121 of the 160-lap race. After that, Creed traded the lead with Sam Mayer until he took over for good on lap 147 and he led the final 14 laps to the checker. This was Creed’s third win in the Truck Series this year.

The rookie Zane Smith, who has two wins to his credit so far this year, led the first 45 laps of the race until Gilliand got past. Gilliland went on to win the first Stage. Under the Truck Series’ pandemic rules, they have reverted to the original rules of this series – which give the teams unlimited time to complete the pit stops and to restart in the same order they were in before the stop. This reduces the need for the teams to bring a big contingent of pit stop specialists to the race. But it did mean that Gilliland was still in the lead after this round of pit stops.

Gilliand continued to lead the race and he took the green-and-white checker at lap 110 – the end of the second Stage – as well. After the final Stage went green there were just 45 laps left to go and Gilliland looked set to score a dominant win. But Creed, whose grew up driving off-road trucks and the weird Robbie Gordon Stadium Trucks, got too close in a corner and knocked Gilliland into the wall and out of contention; he finished the race two laps down on the winner, Creed.

“I think he (Creed) knows what happened and I know what happened,” an obviously frustrated Gilliland said after the race. “He just drove in there over his head and got us. That’s racing. I just hate it. Had such a good truck there from the beginning going from sixth to first under green. Then to win both stages, gosh, I feel like it was such a good day and it was one of the more dominant truck races I’ve ever run. We just have to keep this up.”

“(The win) feels great, but I want to start by apologizing to the 38 (Gilliland),” Creed said. “It’s so hard to pass here and I got down into his inside and just was really loose getting in. He was really close to my door. They were having such a good day and me and Todd are buddies. I hate doing that to him. They are a strong team. He owes me one.

“But hats off to my guys. They made great adjustments all day. Came from 17th and had my work cut out for me.”

The 2018 champion Brett Moffitt came through to finish second, 0.9 seconds behind Creed. Austin Hill was third. Mayer fourth and Canada’s Stewart Friesen was fifth. Friesen has had a difficult season this year after switching from the GMS Chevrolets to in-house Toyotas. This finish was his second-best so far, only his fourth at Texas was better. The other Canadian, Raphael Lessard, finished in sixth place, right behind Friesen. Zane Smith finished in seventh place.

• Click HERE for the results of Sunday's Truck Series race at WWTF Raceway

• The next NGROTS race is scheduled for Darlington Raceway next Sunday, September 6.

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