Through the Field: Last Chance
Ask anyone who knows anything about NASCAR racing: What’s the one track that combines prominence, honor and prestige with chaos, mayhem and bedlam?
Of course, Daytona starts off the season with the Super Bowl of stock car racing, the Daytona 500. But anytime you can win at Daytona, it immediately becomes one of the highlights of your racing career.
But this time, for about half the field this coming weekend, a win at Daytona would also mean so much more.
For the second season, the NASCAR Cup Series’ second trip to Daytona is the final race of the regular season. It’s the last chance to earn a spot in the playoffs and fight for a championship.
The true chaos starts with that 16th and final spot. Only the two Richard Childress Racing cars can make it in without a win. Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon are separated by 25 points. For everyone behind them, the only way they get in is a victory. All or nothing. Checkers or wreckers.
Any winner in the top 30 in the points standings will make the playoffs. Nearly one-third of the field, 13 drivers, are in that must-win position. For each of them, they either should or will pass the crossroads to take every risk and make every effort in the book to earn that victory.
In any situation, that’s a difficult thing to do. Not many of us live our lives in that fashion. And though I’ve written before about taking the risk when necessary, this is at an entirely different level. There really isn’t any alternative choice if they truly want to reach their goal. It’s an all-out fight to be the first one to the finish line. Normally we can bring up the fact that there will always be a second chance. Not in this case. If you want a shot at a title in 2021, this is it. It’s the last chance.
Situations like this don’t come up very often. When they do, you’ve got to just step on the throttle and drive. Worry about what happens after the checkered flag waves.
Daytona always required a more unconventional fantasy lineup. Add in the chaos of it being the final race before the playoffs and it makes things even more interesting. I’m sure that some playoff drivers will try to run up front early in the race to try to get stage points. Don’t be surprised at all to see multiple drivers who are already locked in take it easy for most of the race. It’s going to be much more fruitful to pick up some of those drivers in those win-and-in scenarios. Some drivers I’ve talked about the last few weeks, like Ross Chastain or Chase Briscoe, have momentum, but I’m more focused on a particular trio. All of whom are outside of the top-20 in points, let alone the coveted top-16.
Drivers to Roster at Daytona International Speedway
Bubba Wallace: 23XI Racing has been basically as expected in their first season. The No. 23 was never going to set the world on fire, but the team has shown potential and will be in a much better spot to contend in 2022. With that being said, Bubba Wallace has found himself near the front of the pack late in the superspeedway races more often than not the last few seasons. If he can avoid the crashing and carnage at the end, Wallace may just find himself in victory lane.
Erik Jones: Erik Jones’ No. 43 team is in a good spot right now. They’ve run as consistently as they should be, Jones will be back with the team for another year and he’s a former winner in the summertime Daytona race, where he earned his first Cup win in 2018. Jones also won a Busch Clash preseason race in Daytona in 2020. As a proven winner at Daytona, and with the track being the great equalizer when it comes to equipment, why not pick that Jones boy?
Ryan Newman: With each week that passes by and each open Cup ride that gets filled for next year, the more likely it is that we are seeing Ryan Newman’s swan song in stock car racing’s premier series. He hasn’t been competitive almost at all in recent years, except at the superspeedways. While he’s certainly had his share of bad crashes over the years in these races (even outside of last year’s horrible crash) perhaps no one is better at finding their way to the front at the end than Newman’s No. 6.