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Coke Zero Sugar 400: Preview & Predictions

Jul 30, 2022; Speedway, Indiana, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Ryan Blaney (12) during practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night will complete the NASCAR Series playoffs standings.

With Thursday’s news that Kansas race winner Kurt Busch will not participate in the playoffs while continuing to recover from injuries in an accident in July, that now leaves two playoff driver positions to be decided Saturday night.

The two highest-ranked drivers still without a victory this season are Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. Blaney, who just announced a contract renewal with the championship organization last week, holds a 25-point advantage on Truex.

If one of the 14 drivers (excluding Busch) already with a victory should win Saturday, then both Blaney and Truex would advance to the playoffs. Should a new winner hoist a trophy Saturday night, then the highest ranked among Blaney and Truex would take the final playoff position.

Both drivers struggled a bit on the Watkins Glen, N.Y., road course last weekend — Blaney finishing 24th and Truex finishing 23rd. Blaney has only two top-10 finishes in the last five races of the season. His best finish of 2022 is a third-place at Nashville. Truex has three top-10s in the last five races. His best showing of the season is fourth place – at both Richmond, Va., and New Hampshire.

“Daytona is interesting,” the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Truex said. “It hasn’t been one of my better tracks, but I really enjoy going there. In the Daytona 500 this year, we had a really strong car and led laps, won the first two stages and were feeling good about things. Then, we had an issue on pit road and had to go to the back and we were swept up in a crash.

“To me the strategy at Daytona is to just try to stay up front as much as possible or as close to the front as you can and hope that when the big crash happens, it’s behind you. That’s really the strategy; the only strategy is to try and stay up front. For us, as much of a wild card race as this is, I think we’ll have a good shot at winning and it’d be great to get our first superspeedway win with everything on the line. It’d be quite a story.”

There are 16 active former Daytona race winners entered this weekend. Denny Hamlin’s three Daytona 500 wins make him the winningest among those. Kevin Harvick is the only other active driver with multiple Daytona wins (2007 Daytona 500 and 2010 summer race).

There have been six new winners in the past six Daytona races, including Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Austin Cindric, who claimed the Daytona 500 trophy this February. The last 12 summer 400-milers have been won by different drivers. Nine of those are still active, including Harvick, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Erik Jones, Justin Haley, William Byron and Blaney.

NASCAR Cup Series
The Race: Coke Zero Sugar 400
The Place: Daytona International Speedway
The Date: Saturday, Aug. 27
The Time: 7 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,312,719
TV: NBC, 7 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 400 miles (160 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 35), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 95), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 160)

Bubba Wallace (+1200 at BetMGM)
Wallace has been the runner-up at Daytona in the past two races — finishing second to Blaney in a race that ended under caution last summer and runner-up to Cindric by a slight 0.036-second in this year’s Daytona 500.

Wallace, who still needs to earn a victory to advance into the playoffs, is having a strong summer. He had a career-best string of four top-10 finishes from New Hampshire to Michigan — including a second-place finish at Michigan after winning the pole position.

Daytona has been a strong point in his young resume, where three of his four career top-five finishes have been runner-up showings.

That has led to strong action on Wallace, who leads at BetMGM with 7.7 percent of the total bets backing him as his odds have shortened since opening at +1400. He has also drawn 7.8 percent of the handle, making him the sportsbook’s biggest liability.

Chase Elliott (+1000)
Elliott formally wrapped up his first regular-season championship last week. He boasts a series-best four wins this season, but is still looking for his first career Daytona victory.

“I think that it’s just a balance that you really have to try to find and it’s one that I can’t say that I’ve really found quite as good as those guys (Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin),” Elliott said. “You’ve got to have a knack for it. You’ve got to enjoy it and embrace it. To me, that’s kind of step one of figuring it out, just embracing it.

“I don’t know about the figuring it out part, but it’s been embraced.”

Elliott has drawn 6.8 percent of the total tickets and 8.7 percent of the handle, making him BetMGM’s third-biggest liability this week.

Ryan Blaney (+1200)
The defending winner of this race certainly carries a more optimistic outlook if based solely on past performance at Daytona. The 28-year-old driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Ford had a pair of runner-up finishes in the 2017 and 2020 Daytona 500, and in 2018, he led 118 of the 207 laps in the Daytona 500 only to finish seventh. In all he’s led 191 laps in 14 starts.

Blaney is second at BetMGM with 8.7 percent of the handle backing him and has also drawn 6.3 percent of the total bets. That has made him the sportsbook’s second-biggest liability this week.

Martin Truex Jr. (+1800)
Truex, 42, has had some promising runs at Daytona, including a runner-up finish in the 2018 400-miler and in the 2016 Daytona 500. However, that represents two of his three career top fives in 34 race starts. He has had only one top-10 finish in the past seven races there, finishing fourth in the summer of 2020.

Truex has received moderate support with only 3.2 percent of the bets, although he has been backed by 6.0 percent of the handle.

Denny Hamlin (+1200)
Hamlin is one of several drivers being offered at +1200. He has been a popular choice, garnering the highest handle at 9.8 percent at BetMGM along with 4.9 percent of the total bets.

–Field Level Media (NASCAR NewsWire contributed to this story)