Kyle Busch‘s winless streak will go to 26 races after he was eliminated in a large wreck with eight laps left in the regular-season finale Saturday at Daytona.
Busch was leading when the lap started. Going into Turns 3 and 4, rookie Tyler Reddick, running in second, moved to the bottom in an attempt to take the lead. Reddick then quickly moved up in front of Busch and made slight contact with him.
That caused a chain reaction and a wreck that included Erik Jones, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell and Ryan Preece.
“Slide job gone bad,” Kyle Busch told NBC. “I saw him coming and even checked up and we still ran into each other.”
“(Reddick) obviously just ran out of talent,” Newman told NBC. “It seems like you can win a couple of Xfinity championships and still stick your head where the sun don’t shine when the time comes right. I’m just disappointed. It was kind of an average race sitting there waiting with our Guaranteed Rate Ford and never got a chance to show how good a car we had.”
A look at the winners and losers from Saturday’s night’s Cup regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway.
William Byron — Scores his first career Cup points win and does it at Daytona in the regular-season finale to advance to the playoffs. He joins Jeff Gordon as the only drivers to win a Cup race in the No. 24 car.
Brendan Gaughan — Finishes eighth for Beard Motorsports in what is expected to be his final Cup start at Daytona. He finished seventh in the Daytona 500 so he’ll go out with top 10s in both races there this season.
Bubba Wallace — His fifth-place finish is his third career top five in Cup. He has two such finishes at Daytona and the other at Indianapolis.
Matt DiBenedetto — He seemed to be in a safe spot to make the playoffs a couple of weeks ago before his team struggled. He overcame challenges Saturday to earn his first playoff bid and the first playoff bid for Wood Brothers Racing since 2017 with Ryan Blaney.
Tyler Reddick — His failed slide job led to a 10-car crash late in the race. Reddick took the blame. Some drivers were not happy with Reddick. Kyle Busch said: “Slide job gone bad. … I saw him coming and even checked up and we still ran into each other.” Ryan Newman said: “The 8 car obviously just ran out of talent.”
Jimmie Johnson — He won’t get a chance to race for a record eighth Cup title. Johnson finished six points behind Matt DiBenedetto for the final playoff spot. He fells short in a season where his runner-up car was disqualified after the Coke 600, and he missed the Brickyard 400 because of a positive COVID-19 test. He was collected in a late crash Saturday ending his title hopes. That leaves Johnson focused not on a championship but trying to win a race before the season ends.
That’s the first thing that popped into 22-year-old William Byron‘s mind Saturday night In the moments after winning his first career Cup Series race.
Not that he’d earned the win at Daytona International Speedway or that he was now only the second Cup driver to win a race in the No. 24 made famous by Jeff Gordon.
No, after surviving multiple wrecks in the final laps, the third-year driver was just relieved to be part of the 16-driver playoff field at the end of the regular-season finale.
Byron began the night only four points above the cutline. He ended it inside the top 16 with Matt DiBenedetto while teammate Jimmie Johnson’s bid for an eighth title in his last full-time season was denied.
“Just how excited I knew that my team was, how excited (spotter) Tab (Boyd) was on the radio, how excited (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) was, how excited I was,” Byron said.
Entering his 98 career Cup start, Byron admitted he had thought about how long it had been since he’d won a race. His last trip to Victory Lane in a points race was Nov. 11, 2017 when he won a Xfinity race at Phoenix Raceway.
“That feeling of coming off (Turn) 4, it’s just a shot of adrenaline right into your arm, it really is,” Byron said. “It’s just an incredible feeling. I can’t describe winning a race in NASCAR. It’s been a while.”
Byron said winning his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February “was kind of half of that, I’d say, three‑quarters of that feeling. I just want that feeling again. This is awesome, man.”
A former member of the No. 24 teams of Gordon and Ray Evernham in the 90s, Knaus had finally taken the No. 24 back to Victory Lane.
“It was a long time coming,” Knaus said. “I really wanted to get to Victory Lane with this 24 car again. To be able to do it with the legacy that Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham started with this car at Hendrick Motorsports, to get it back to Victory Lane, follow suit with what Chase (Elliott) was able to do with the 24 car, to put William’s name up there, it’s a lot of pressure. I feel really happy about it and definitely a lot of relief.”
The other goal was also rooted in personal history: his 17 years working with Jimmie Johnson on the No. 48.
“The one thing to be selfish from my standpoint is I wanted to get to Victory Lane with a car … without Jimmie Johnson’s (name) on top of the door. Nothing against Jimmie or any of that, but just to do it, to see if I could accomplish it.
“We’ve come close, had some really solid runs with the 24 car. Not as many this year as we would have liked to have had. To do it really means a lot, to be able to bring this team into the playoffs again.”
On the flip side, Knaus felt “awful” the win came at the expense of Johnson, who failed to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
“Let’s be quite honest, right? Jimmie shouldn’t be in this position,” Knaus said. “If it hadn’t been for COVID, him missing a race, he should have been solid in the playoffs. That hurts. I hate it for Jimmie. He’s one of my best friends. He was the first guy that came by pit road and looked up at me, revved up the engine, gave me a thumbs up. He means the world to me. He’s a great man and brother of mine.
“It hurts me, but it is what we do, we compete. We’ve got to go do what we need to do.”
Knaus mentioned relief when asked to compare Saturday night’s win to what he experienced in 2002 when he and Johnson earned their first win together at Auto Club Speedway.
“It’s a different emotion. It’s a different time,” Knaus said. “Obviously, in 2002 it was just different. It was so raw and so pure, just a different time. William is experiencing those emotions right now obviously. I think it’s fantastic. We’ve got a handful of guys on the team that have never won a Cup race before. They’re going through those same emotions.
“For me it’s quite honestly a little bit more of a relief than maybe the elation of victory.”
Incredible night!! I don’t know what to say. This moment is so special for myself and my team, thanks to all the people that have allowed me to get to this point. First Cup WIN!!! @LibertyU @TeamHendrick @TeamChevy pic.twitter.com/cyfthnhtKp
While the notion that a driver who has never won a Cup race becoming the series champion seems implausible, so is DiBenedetto’s path to his first playoff appearance.
His career includes start-and-park rides, lack of sponsorship, leaving a team in 2018 without the security of another ride at the time and questions a year ago of if he would remain in Cup and if that ride would be competitive.
So, yes, while Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin will be the title favorites— and some might not even have DiBendettto advancing past the first round — DiBenedetto has a chance. That’s all he wants.
“I knew at the start of the season that we had work to do as a team and this year, 2020, is crazy,” DiBenedetto said after securing the final playoff spot with a 12th-place finish Saturday at Daytona.
“We kept getting better and better. Through the mid-part of the (season), I feel like we hit our stride as a team and were running up front weekly. We hit a few tracks that were a struggle but overall we are as ready as ever to contend for a championship, especially when we are at our best, working together as a team.
“It is perfect timing for us. That is why it was so important for us to make the playoffs because we knew that if we made them that we deserved every bit to be in them as a team. We can really compete and make a heck of a splash and contend down the end. Especially since everyone knows there are a lot of short tracks and 750 horsepower (package) tracks which are right up our alley and this team performs really well at.”
Before he could think about the playoffs, he had to hold off William Byron and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson for the two remaining spots.
Byron earned a playof spot with his first career Cup win. DiBenedetto beat Johnson by six points to secure the final playoff spot. But the difference came down to an 11-car crash that set up the overtime finish.
Johnson’s car suffered significant damage, ruining his playoff hopes. DiBendetto’s car narrowly missed a similar fate as Johnson’s car.
“Man, that was a close call,” DiBenedetto said. “Really, it was kind of a hope-and-pray type situation. (Joey Logano) had trouble and I ran into him and had to make an evasive maneuver to get around him and you kind of go with your instinct.
“I thought I could get around him on the outside. You don’t have time to look in your mirror and see if you are clear high so I went up around him and prayed that we could sneak through him. It was really tight and close and we got bounced around a little but thank goodness we got through that and ultimately that is what allowed us to make the playoffs.”
When the checkered flag waved, DiBenedetto was bound for the playoffs with his Wood Brothers Racing team.
“That was so stressful,” DiBenedetto said. “Man, it is just so much appreciation to a level that it is hard to describe. … I appreciate it so much. When you are driving for the Wood Brothers and having all these great people around you it just means so much to be able to do it here with this team.
“I just got off FaceTime with my wife and she was crying non-stop. She couldn’t stop crying because of the excitement obviously and knowing how much this means to us and not only making the playoffs, but knowing we can really contend as a team.”
William Byron – winner: “I had confidence in (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) and the guys that we could get four tires and make the most of it. So, I’m just extremely blessed, and this is incredible. 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.”
(How intense was it racing Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto?) “This is probably the hardest track to points-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 hopes were up there. And we were racing around the No. 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) and the No. 48 (Johnson) in the final stage and I was like ‘Man, I’ve got to really make something happen.’ Luckily, I was able to push the No. 43 (Bubba Wallace) and he and the No. 22 (Joey Logano) made some contact and opened up a hole for me, and I wasn’t going to lift. It was awesome. Thanks to Liberty University, Chevrolet, and it’s amazing.”
Chase Elliott – finished 2nd: “It was pretty wild from my seat. I was surprised it took us as long as it did to wreck, for sure. But I’m really proud of our Hooters team. I feel like we had faster Chevrolet’s than we’ve had in the last couple of trips, which was good. It didn’t drive as good as I think it probably should have, but I do think we were better by a pretty large margin, so that was nice. Congratulations to William (Byron) – getting your first win is something he’ll never forget and that’s a really special moment for him. He’s worked really hard for that. I’m happy for him, Chad (Knaus) and all of the 24 team. They’ve done a good job.”
Denny Hamlin – finished 3rd: “Just disappointed. I didn’t do a good job. Lack of focus or whatever it is. Not executing. If you have control of a green-white-checkered on a speedway, most of the time the win is going to come from the front row and you have to just make sure you make the right moves and I just didn’t after I took the green. I don’t know what I was doing and I didn’t have a push from the 21 (Matt DiBenedetto) and I was clear of the 24 (William Byron) and just didn’t pull down. I don’t know what I was doing. Disappointing, but I guess we escaped some mayhem, we were in some mayhem. Just a crazy race. Just everyone kind of out there for themselves and all the pushing and shoving and body-slamming and what not. Decent finish, but I hate having control and not finishing.”
Martin Truex Jr. – finished 4th: “We got ourselves in position there at the white flag and made a run through the tri-oval and got to the outside of the leader there. The 14 (Clint Bowyer) and those guys that were behind me, they were my pushers and they crashed. As soon as they wrecked behind me, I realized that I lost all my help and it was going to be tough from there on out. Then the 9 (Chase Elliott) just pushed the 24 (William Byron) back by us and ended up barely hanging onto fourth. Overall, it was a really good night. Our Bass Pro Toyota had a lot of speed and we passed a lot of cars at the end. We had to pit twice there at the end on those two cautions because we flat-spotted our tires and ran over all kinds of debris. To be able to come through the field in a short amount of laps was a lot of fun. Always nice when you leave here in one piece.”
Bubba Wallace – finished 5th: “A win was there and then it wasn’t. On to the next one.”
Ryan Blaney – finished 6th: “We worked pretty well together, (Joey Logano) and I, the first couple stages there and then we kind of got shuffled back once or twice, and then we were kind of mired in the back and everyone was three-wide, you can’t go anywhere, and then my job was just not getting in a wreck. I missed a couple of them and then had a decent run at the end. We had some good momentum going on the last couple laps and some big blocks and we kind of got stacked up and never kept our momentum going, but, overall, not a bad night for our strawberry banana BodyArmor Ford Mustang. It was bright, but came home clean. We got DiBenedetto in the playoffs, which is good for that group, and looking forward to the next 10 weeks. It should be a lot of fun.”
Alex Bowman – finished 7th: “Super pumped for William (Byron) and the entire No. 24 team. Really cool to see them get the win. Bummed for Jimmie at the same time. It is a big mix of emotions there for Jimmie to miss it. Overall, not a bad day for the No. 88 team. Had a really fast car, didn’t drive really well though. I have no clue how we didn’t crash some of those times. We got really lucky there at the end and ended up with a solid top-10 finish.”
Brendan Gaughan – finished 8th: “The Beard Oil Distributing Chevrolet Camaro had a heck of a run tonight. We saw pay dirt there at the end – third place coming out of turn four. The 19 car just side drafted us and pulled us back. I didn’t have any help behind me but what a night. I just have to say thank you so much to the Beard family, Darren Shaw (crew chief) and Ron Lewis, my spotter. I also want to say thank you to Richard Childress and ECR motors for all they do for us. Two top-10s this year at Daytona – what a way to go out. It was so much fun. We will see everyone in Talladega and we’ll actually be able to take the same racecar because it’s in one piece.”
Brad Keselowski – finished 10th: “It’s good to be in a good spot for the playoffs. We have a lot of bonus points and obviously we wanted more than what we have, but we’re allowed to be greedy. All in all, a good finish for us. It was not the most fun night, but we’ll take it with our PIRTEK Ford and move on to Darlington and hopefully have great runs in the playoffs and get that second championship.”
John Hunter Nemechek – finished 11th: “I’ll take P11 for our No. 38 FAS Ford Mustang after all that. It was a wild end to the day, but I’m super proud of my guys for all of their effort and hard work. We had a pretty decent setup and made a few adjustments during the night that helped get us in a position to have a good result. We got caught up at the end in a wreck with some heavy right side damage, but my guys on pit road rallied and we were able to keep rolling to get a good finish for our partners at FAS. Overall it was a good points day for us, so we’ll take what notes we can and move on to the next one.”
Matt DiBenedetto – finished 12th: “It was too eventful. I’m mentally worn out. I’m gonna sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end. First off, I’m so happy for this team and Menards, Dutch Boy, the whole Menard family, Motorcraft/Quick Lane and the Wood Brothers, Ford, our alliance with Team Penske. You name it. This means so much to get this for them, but in the race there if I could I hedged toward being on the bottom because, man, just when you’re in the bottom and the top it’s nearly a sure thing when you get that you get crashed, so I’m glad we were able to take it home because I wasn’t happy with the finish, but I came in here saying all that mattered I just wanted to make these playoffs and the finishing position didn’t matter too much.”
Michael McDowell – finished 14th: “Not the result that we wanted tonight, but our CarParts.com Ford Mustang was really fast. It sucked up really good in the draft and I was able to get up in the Top-10 and stay there pretty easily, but just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. You know, that’s Daytona and it happens, but I’m just really proud of everybody at Front Row Motorsports. It wasn’t the finish that we had hoped for, but we still got a Top-15 finish with a crashed car. The speed that we had was some of the best that we’ve had on a superspeedway in a really long time, so I’m just really proud of everybody. Thank you to CarParts.com and CARDONE Industries for coming on board.”
Jimmie Johnson – finished 17th: “First and foremost, congratulations to my teammate getting his first Cup win like that. This setting and the drama to go with it – that’s a big win for Chad Knaus and William Byron. I’m really happy for those guys. I really felt like we had a way to transfer, to win, or point our way in the way it went in the first two stages. Things just got ugly down in turn one. Unfortunate, but that’s plate racing.”
Austin Dillon – finished 25th: “We had a fast Dow VORASURF Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Even though we had to start at the back of the field, we were able to work our way into the top five and we had speed and handling. Things were getting exciting with less than 15 laps to go. I thought there was going to be a big one and I was going to be in the clear but it didn’t work out that way. I was on the high line and had nowhere to go when everyone started crashing in front of me. I should have known better. If you stay on the bottom you have an out. We ended up with a lot of damage to our Chevy and survived several additional end-of-race wrecks to nurse it home to a 25th-place finish.”
Daniel Suarez – finished 26th: “We had a really good CommScope Toyota tonight. We were really looking forward to this race and it was a lot of fun while it lasted. I was able to drive to the front in the middle part of the race and led laps for a while before we needed to save fuel. We were able to get through the first wreck without any significant damage, but there was just no way to avoid the second one. It’s a shame because we had a really good racecar. I’m proud of everybody who was involved in getting us ready for this race. We ran up front, so that felt really good. I think we have some good momentum to take to the last 10 races.”
Joey Logano – finished 27th: “It’s just superspeedway racing. It gets so intense at the end and everyone is pushing so hard. It’s one of those situations you’re so close to the front you’ve got to stay in it and keep going for it and try to get the lead. I got a good run off the top side. We had (Bubba Wallace) pushing enough to clear (Denny Hamlin) and I knew I could do that, which we did. I was hoping I could get back up in front of (Wallace), which we did and then (Hamlin) got me just off-centered a little bit. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just superspeedway racing It’s hard pushing and it got me in the right-rear and turned me to the right and ran me into Bubba and that cut down my right-rear tire by the time I got to turn one and you can’t control it and spun out in front of the whole field. Thanks to NASCAR we have safe cars and Team Penske for building something safe. I’m okay. The good news is we’re ready for the playoffs.”
Tyler Reddick – finished 29th: “My spotter, Derek Kneeland, and crew chief, Randall Burnett did a great job calling a race that got me up towards the front with 10 laps to go. I tried to make a move for the lead with about eight laps to go, and it didn’t work out like I planned. It unfortunately hurt our car and chance to win. I was clear for about a second when I went to make it, but it’s Daytona and things change quickly. There weren’t a lot laps left at that time, and you have to do what you can to try to win to make the playoffs.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – finished 32nd: “I think the race kind of played out similar to what we thought it was going to. Starting in the back, we decided we would just kind of cruise in our Kroger Camaro. It was nice running the bottom there in that final stage with the 9 (Chase Elliott) and the 88 (Alex Bowman) behind us. I felt like we were making headway, got up beside the 18 (Kyle Busch) for the lead and it was tough with the 18 and the 11 (Denny Hamlin) together. But I thought with us, the 9 and the 88, I thought that we could keep our momentum up. Something happened behind them and they got shuffled and separated from me. Then there at the end, we were just running the top lane. It looked like the 8 (Tyler Reddick) tried to pull a slider, didn’t quite have him cleared and we all just kind of bunched up. Our Kroger Camaro was fast again. I had a lot of fun, but it sucks not to get the finish out of it.”
Kyle Busch – finished 33rd: “Slide job gone bad. I just hate it for these Interstate Batteries guys. We had a good Camry all night long and made our way to the front multiple times and we were leading a lot of laps there. Just waiting for the end, for business to pick-up and I guess business was starting to pick-up, but just not clear. I saw him coming and even checked up and we still ran into each other.”
Kurt Busch – finished 34th: “We were just digging on the bottom – I thought that was the best spot to be. Our Monster Energy Chevy was fast and we were all in the right spot, I thought, for what we needed to get done. Just got clipped from behind and our day is done. But, all-in-all, we’ve been coming together as a team – we just haven’t had the results to show it. I like the clarity and focus that we have on the No. 1 car heading into the Playoffs. It’s been a consistent season all the way until these last few, but now it’s time. Now we have to lay down everything we’ve got with Darlington, Richmond and Bristol coming up.”
Erik Jones – finished 35th: “I mean, he (Tyler Reddick) wasn’t clear. Kyle (Busch) let him in, number one, to not cause a wreck and then he ran into the wall and wrecked everybody behind him. It’s frustrating. He had way too much speed to try to make that move up the hill with the grip that is left in the tires. We had a lot of laps on them. It’s unfortunate. He wrecked us a Pocono, and then to have this happen, you know, two times making racing moves that were not going to work out. Unfortunately, it was to the determent of us today. The Auto Owners Camry was pretty fast. We were up front. I think we were running third when we got wrecked, so we had a shot. We needed to win — we were there, we just didn’t get it done.”
Ryan Newman – finished 36th : “(Reddick) obviously just ran out of talent. It seems like you can win a couple of Xfinity championships and still stick your head where the sun don’t shine when the time comes right. I’m just disappointed. It was kind of an average race sitting there waiting with our Guaranteed Rate Ford and never got a chance to show how good a car we had.”
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