GFT Facts & Stats Friday: NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona

Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle
9 min readAug 24, 2023

25 August 2023
By Bob Francis, Managing Editor
Go Full Throttle Racing News

DAYTONA BEACH, FL —It’s go time. It all comes down to this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, this Saturday night under the lights, to confirm the final driver in the NASCAR Cup Championship playoffs. If history is any indicator of what to expect, it’s going to be EPIC!

Grasping onto the 16th and final available 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff spot currently on points is 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace, who is hoping to make the postseason for the first time in his career. What bodes well for Wallace is there are only two drivers mathematically eligible to catch him this weekend. Joe Gibbs Racing’s rookie Ty Gibbs is ranked 17th in the Playoff standings outlook, 32 points behind Wallace, and in 18th is Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez 43 points back from the cutline. But what doesn’t fall in Wallace’s favor is the 14 other drivers that are eligible for the postseason that are facing a ‘Win or Go Home’ situation this weekend and will be vying for that final postseason spot making Saturday night’s showdown that much more intense.

Daytona Clinch Scenarios: One spot, one last chance

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway is the last opportunity for the drivers who have not clinched a spot in the Playoffs to earn their position in the postseason. A total of 15 drivers have already clinched their Playoff spot, leaving just one position open for drivers to battle it out for in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Already Clinched

The following 15 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell.

Can Clinch Via Points

If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the fourth winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Brad Keselowski or Kevin Harvick.

· Bubba Wallace: Would clinch with 24 points

· Ty Gibbs: Could only clinch with help

· Daniel Suarez: Could only clinch with help

Can Clinch Via Win

The following drivers would clinch on their win alone:

Bubba Wallace (Avg. finish at Daytona is 13.0)
Ty Gibbs (19.0)
Daniel Suarez (26.7)
AJ Allmendinger (19.7)
Alex Bowman (16.7)
Chase Elliott (22.0)
Austin Cindric (10.5)
Justin Haley (17.1)
Ryan Preece (21.7)
Aric Almirola (20.2)
Todd Gilliland (27.6)
Corey LaJoie (18.7)
Erik Jones (22.8)
Austin Dillon (15.6)
Harrison Burton (28.0)
Chase Briscoe (21.8)
Ty Dillon (21.1)

Five of the 14 drivers that can earn a spot in the Playoffs with a win this weekend are former NASCAR Cup Series Daytona International Speedway winners — Austin Cindric, Justin Haley, Aric Almirola, Erik Jones and Austin Dillon.

Daytona International Speedway (Image Credit: daytonainternationalspeedway.com)

23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace has 32-point advantage on Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs heading into this weekend’s regular season finale. Both Wallace and Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Gibbs, are looking to make the Playoffs for the first-time in their careers. Just behind Gibbs in the standings is Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suarez, who is 43 points behind Wallace and is looking for his second appearance in the postseason (2022). Among the three drivers Wallace has posted the best finish at Daytona, collecting three runner-up finishes in his career. Suarez has posted a best finish of seventh at Daytona earlier this season (Feb. 2023) and Gibbs’ best finish is 13th, which he posted in this race last season.

Another driver worth keeping an eye on this weekend is Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, the defending winner of the 2022 regular season finale at Daytona. Dillon is currently buried in the standings (29th) needing a win to get into the Playoffs. If Dillon were to pull-off the big win to make the postseason this weekend, it would be the sixth-time in his career (2022, ’20, ’18, ’17, ’16) he has appeared in the Playoffs. He would also become the sixth driver in series history to win consecutive summer races at Daytona International Speedway; joining Fireball Roberts (1962–1963), A.J. Foyt (1964–1965), Cale Yarborough (1967–1968) David Pearson (1972–1974) and Tony Stewart (2005–2006).

Can Clinch Regular Season Championship

Additionally, the Regular Season Championship could be clinched by the following drivers:

· Martin Truex Jr.: Would clinch with 22 points

· Denny Hamlin: Could only clinch with help

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin vie for Regular Season Championship

It all comes down to unpredictable Daytona International Speedway to decide who will win this season’s NASCAR Cup Series Regular Season Championship. One thing is for certain, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver will be taking home the prestigious honor, trophy and 15 Playoff bonus points. The question is, ‘Which one?’

Currently, Martin Truex Jr. holds the NASCAR Cup Series’ point standings lead by 39 points over his teammate Denny Hamlin in second. Truex can clinch the Regular Season Championship, no matter what Hamlin does, if he scores 22 points this Saturday.

Seems not too difficult, and normally that might be the case, but this time Truex is facing some daunting obstacles. The first being the unpredictability of ‘superspeedway racing,’ and Truex has not won a superspeedway event in the NASCAR Cup Series in his career. At Daytona, Truex has made 36 starts posting three top fives and six top 10s. He has finished runner-up at the 2.5-mile track twice, the most recent coming in the 2018 DAYTONA 500, where finished runner-up to Denny Hamlin.

The second biggest obstacle to overcome this weekend is his teammate Denny Hamlin, who just so happens to be one of the best active drivers on superspeedways. He leads all drivers entered this weekend in wins at Daytona International Speedway with three victories (2016, 2019, 2020). In total, Hamlin has made 35 starts at Daytona putting up three wins, 11 top fives, and 12 top 10s.

If Truex (2017) wins the 2023 Regular Season Championship this weekend, he will join Kyle Busch (2018, 2019) as the only two drivers to win it multiple times. If Hamlin takes the Regular Season Championship, he will become the sixth different driver in series history to win the prestigious honor; joining Kyle Busch (2018, 2019), Chase Elliott (2022), Kyle Larson (2021), Kevin Harvick (2020) and Martin Truex JR. (2017).

Daytona International Speedway: The perfect stage for the regular season finale

All eyes will be on the ‘World Center of Racing’ this weekend — Daytona International Speedway — as the iconic hallowed grounds will play host to the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale, the Coke Zero Sugar 400, this Saturday (Aug. 26) at 7 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio (Channel 90).

Daytona International Speedway, the 2.5-mile paved superspeedway oval located in Daytona Beach, Florida, has hosted 152 NASCAR Cup Series races since the inaugural event in 1959–65 have been 500 miles, 60 were 400 miles and four were 250 miles. There were also 23 qualifier races that were point races. But this weekend marks just the fourth time the summer race will be the NASCAR Cup Series regular season finale (2020–2023).

The 152 NASCAR Cup Series races at the historic Daytona International Speedway have produced 63 different pole winners and 69 different race winners. NASCAR Hall of Famer Cale Yarborough leads the NASCAR Cup Series in poles at Daytona with 12 (Feb. 1968, July 1969, 1970 sweep, 1978 sweep, July 1980, July 1981, July 1983, 1984 sweep, July 1986). Eight of Yarborough’s 12 Daytona poles are from the summer race, which is also the series-most for that event as well.

Nine of the 63 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona pole winners are active this weekend, but only three have won poles for the summer race at Daytona: Chase Elliott (2018), Kyle Busch (2013) and Kevin Harvick (2002).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty leads the NASCAR Cup Series in wins at Daytona with 10 victories (Feb. 1964, Feb. 1966, Feb. 1971, Feb. 1973, Feb. 1974, July 1975, July 1977, Feb. 1979, Feb. 1981, July 1984). Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers in Daytona wins with three (Feb. 2016, Feb. 2019, Feb. 2020), yet none are from this weekend’s summer race.

Of the 69 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners, 41 of them have won the summer race (59.4%). NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson leads the series in summer race victories at Daytona with five wins (1961, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1978).

A total of 14 NASCAR Cup Series Daytona winners are active this weekend and 10 of those 14 have won the summer event at Daytona. Five of the 14 need a win this weekend to secure their spot in the Playoffs (drivers needing a win to make Playoffs are bolded in chart below).

The youngest Daytona summer race winner is Justin Haley (07/07/2019–20 years, 2 months, 9 days); all-time track record — Trevor Bayne (02/20/2011–20 years, 0 months, 1 day). The oldest Daytona summer race winner is Bobby Allison (07/04/1987–49 years, 7 months, 1 day); all-time track record is also held by Bobby Allison (02/14/1988–50 years, 5 months, 23 days).

A total of 22 different starting positions have produced winners in the NASCAR Cup Series summer races at Daytona. The first starting position is the most proficient starting position in the field, producing more winners (nine) than any other starting position in the summer races at Daytona International Speedway. The most recent driver to win from the pole or first starting position at Daytona in the NASCAR Cup Series was NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the 2015 July race. The deepest in the field that a race winner has started at Daytona is 42nd, by NASCAR Hall of Famer Tony Stewart in the 2012 July race. Austin Dillon won last season’s August Daytona race from the 21st starting position, the seventh summer Daytona race (out of 60) won from a starting position outside the top-20 (10.94%).

This weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series on-track activity at Daytona International Speedway will begin with Busch Light Pole Qualifying on Friday, August 26 at 5 p.m. ET on the USA Network.

First-time winners aplenty at the World Center of Racing

One thing Daytona International Speedway is known for is unpredictable finishes that on occasion produce first-time winners in the NASCAR Cup Series. In fact, four of the last eight NASCAR Cup Series races at Daytona International Speedway have fashioned just that — first-time winners.

A total of 23 different drivers have posted their first NASCAR Cup Series win at Daytona International Speedway, 11 of the 23 drivers posted their first win in the summer races. The most recent first-time winner at Daytona was in the 2022 DAYTONA 500 when Team Penske’s Austin Cindric became the first rookie to win the prestigious season opener. The most recent first-time winner in the summer races at Daytona was the August race of 2020 with race winner William Byron earning his spot in the Playoffs.

This weekend the NASCAR Cup Series field will have 14 former Daytona International Speedway winners entered, led by Denny Hamlin with three wins. The most recent winner at Daytona that is entered this weekend is JTG Daugherty Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who won the DAYTONA 500 earlier this season.

Stenhouse Jr. heads into this weekend looking to become the sixth different driver in NASCAR Cup Series history to sweep both Daytona races (Daytona 500 & Summer Race) in a single season; joining Fireball Roberts — 1962 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 250); Cale Yarborough — 1968 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); LeeRoy Yarborough — 1969 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Bobbie Allison — 1982 (Daytona 500, Firecracker 400); Jimmie Johnson — 2013 (Daytona 500, Coke Zero 400 powered by Coca-Cola)

Since the ‘Win and You’re In’ format was initiated in the Playoffs in 2016, Erik Jones’ 2018 summer race win, William Byron’s summer win in 2020, and Austin Dillon’s summer race win last season (2022) are the only three summer race victories at Daytona to clinch a driver into the postseason — the other three winners were either not eligible for the Playoffs due to not competing for a championship in the series (Haley in 2019) or the drivers had already previously won in the same season (Brad Keselowski in 2016, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2017 and Ryan Blaney in 2020).

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Bob Francis - Go Full Throttle

Go Full Throttle editors and reporters bring you news & commentary on NASCAR, F1, IndyCar, and World of Outlaws. Member: National Motorsports Press Association