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Let The Playoffs Begin: What Just Happened In Daytona? (Elliott, Wallace, Gibbs)

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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The checkered flag has flown in Daytona! You know what that means: it’s playoff time!

Heading into Daytona with 13 drivers locked in on wins and two drivers locked in on points, we knew that the potential for drama and chaos was high. Heading into the night, though they haven’t won this year, both Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were locked in on points. That meant that only one spot was available to make it into the NASCAR post-season.

Bubba Wallace had a decent 32-point cushion but would that be enough with a track as intimidating and chaotic as Daytona nipping at his heels? Anyone could win and knock him out. Among them were NASCAR’s most popular driver, Chase Elliott, and his teammate Alex Bowman. Not to mention superspeedway ace, Austin Dillion, the rookie sensation in Ty Gibbs, and Daniel Suarez. So, how did it all shake out? Who’s in, who’s out, let’s break it down!

Regular Season Champion

With a win in the first stage, Martin Truex Jr. was able to clinch the regular season title early. Truex has been one of the more consistent drivers on the year and has visited victory lane 3 times. His regular season championship will give him a fairly decent boost as he will receive a 15-point bonus heading into the postseason. As proven in years past, that amount of points can make or break a championship season. Will MTJ go all the way? Only time will tell but he does appear to be in the best spot for it since his 2017 championship drive.

Who’s In: The Winners

Even though Martin Truex Jr. clinched the regular season title about halfway through the race, William Byron will enter the NASCAR postseason as the No. 1 seed as he has 5 wins on the year compared to Truex’s 3. Truex enters as the second seed. Due to playoff points earned throughout the year, Denny Hamlin will enter the postseason as the third seed with his 2 wins.

Chris Buescher and Kyle Busch both have 3 wins apiece. Kyle Larson has 2. And our 1-time winners are Christopher Bell, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Who’s In: On Points

We already knew going into Daytona that both Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick were locked in on points and didn’t need to win. Bubba Wallace, however, was the big question mark. A 32-point cushion to the good is nothing to scoff at but at Daytona, points might not matter a whole lot.

For much of the first stage, Bubba was constantly swapping positions with the young Ty Gibbs. An unfortunate incident would take Gibbs out, however, leaving Bubba in a pretty decent position so long as a new winner wasn’t crowned. In the end, Chris Buescher would score his third win of the season and Bubba would make it in on points.

This will be Bubba Wallace’s first birth into the NASCAR postseason. It is also the first time in team history that both 23XI cars are through to the postseason.

Who’s Out?

On the flip side of Bubba’s celebration is the heartbreak of just being close. A lot of eyes were on the rookie sensation Ty Gibbs heading into the weekend. He qualified well and seemed to have a pretty fast car. In the early stages of the race, he was swapping that 16th playoff spot back and forth with Bubba Wallace.

He was in the position to point his way in when this crash shown below derailed his playoff hopes.

The Huge One occurred when, ironically, Ty Gibb’s teammate, Christopher Bell, turned him coming out of turn 4. This sent Gibb’s No. 54 machine down into Ryan Blaney who cut up the track. The carnage that followed ruined the day and playoff hopes of many drivers.

2023 has been far from ideal for the Stewart-Haas cars. With only one of their drivers (Kevin Harvick) being locked into the NASCAR playoffs, they came into Daytona with three hungry drivers all fighting for one spot.

For much of the race, they seemed to have pretty sporty cars. All four of their drivers qualified into the top 10 and were all relevant, fighting for a win nearly through to the end. It wasn’t to be, however, as Chase Briscoe in the No. 14 got into his teammate Ryan Preece triggering this absolutely horrifying crash which led to Preece’s No. 41 Ford barrel rolling through the infield grass.

Preece was taken out of his car, put on a stretcher, and sent to the infield care center. Our thoughts are with Preece, his family, and his team. It’s a bitter end to a difficult NASCAR regular season.

Perhaps the driver most fans had their eye on was NASCAR’s most popular, Chase Elliott. Having missed 7 races this season, no doubt Elliott was hoping to Kyle Busch-2023. But after a horrible blunder last week which saw Elliott run out of gas on the backstretch of Watkins Glen, Elliott was deep into must-win territory, if he arguably wasn’t already.

Elliott has performed well on superspeedways in the past and even won one of the Atlanta races last year. So, the confidence was high heading into Daytona. Unfortunately, after a late race green-white-checkered, Elliott couldn’t stay hooked up to the bumper of Kevin Harvick. He’d get a pretty good finish but would miss NASCAR’s post-season for the first time in his career. This is certainly a year Elliott fans wish they could forget.

Daily Downforce readers! Are you excited for the NASCAR postseason? What do you think is the biggest surprise on who’s in and who’s out? Let us know on all of our social media platforms and keep it right here for all your latest news and discussions in the world of NASCAR!

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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