William Byron wins at Daytona as teammate Jimmie Johnson misses playoffs in final season
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With distant thunderstorms lighting up the night sky creating a surreal backdrop at Daytona International Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season finale created its own storm over the 2.5-mile tri-oval asphalt on Saturday night.
William Byron took advantage of two red flag periods (race stopped) because of spectacular, Big One crashes to win his first Cup race and earn a position in the 10-race playoff before an estimated 25,000 spectators.
“I’m just extremely blessed, and this is incredible,” said Byron. “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 and got us in the playoffs and it’s amazing.”
William Byron celebrates after winning the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway. (Photo: Chris Graythen, Getty Images)
Byron’s joy was balanced by a somber Jimmie Johnson, who failed to make the playoffs after getting caught up in the second mass crash in Turn 1.
He finished 17th and was beat on points by Matt DiBenedetto, who was scored 12th in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.
“It was too eventful,” said DiBenedetto, whose parents drove down from North Carolina to watch from the stands. “I’m mentally worn out. I’m gonna sleep great tonight, but there was so much going on there at the end.”
This was the kind of drama NASCAR expected when it moved Daytona’s summer race from the Fourth of July to the end of August.
This wreck collected @JimmieJohnson, @MattKenseth, @JoeyLogano and many more. #NASCARpic.twitter.com/YJ1jxwcEzg
Chase Elliott, who conquered the Daytona Road Course just two weeks ago, finished second followed by Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin.
Rounding out the top-5 finishers were Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace.
Johnson, who is a seven-time Cup Series champion — likely making his last stock-car run at Daytona — congratulated Byron, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, for the victory.
It was a passing of the baton, of sorts, at Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson will leave the No. 48 Chevrolet at season’s end, while Johnson’s former crew chief Chad Knaus will head into the playoffs hunting for a title with Byron, who drives the No. 24 car.
“I’m really happy for those guys,” Johnson said. “I really thought we could point our way in or win based on the first two stages of the race. Then, things just got ugly.”
William Byron WINS to make the NASCAR Playoffs! His first career win!
Credit One Lap To Go presented by @CreditOneBank. pic.twitter.com/1zwi1jWCNj
JOHNSON: Misses playoffs, bid for record eighth title in final season
The first 141 laps of the scheduled 160 produced green-flag competition sandwiched between planned caution periods (competition, end of stages).
On the Lap 142, when James Davison and Brendan Gaughan had a Turn 3 incident, that opened the door to NASCAR’s Pandora Box of cautions breeding cautions at Daytona.
On Lap 151, with the laps of the regular season fading away, rookie driver Tyler Reddick made a bold pass of race leader Kyle Busch, the defending series champion looking for his first win of 2020.
Unfortunately, when Reddick tried to get in front of Busch, their stock cars touched, sending Busch’s No. 18 Toyota into the Turn 4 wall igniting a 10-car melee.
“It was a slide job that went wrong,” Busch said.
Reddick apologized but said Daytona brings out unexpected demons at night.
“I tried to make a move for the lead with about eight laps to go, and it didn’t work out like I planned,” he said. “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.”
What a wild wreck late at @DISupdates.
Tyler Reddick goes to block, but it doesn’t work. #NASCARpic.twitter.com/aOjvcJDt8N
Reddick, who came out of that mess posted in second place in the running order behind Hamlin, was taken out six laps later in an 11-car, sheet-metal crushing fracas.
That Big One was created by Joey Logano fighting for the lead in Turn 1.
At that point, the race was headed to two overtime laps and extended to 164 laps. Several cars crashed on the last lap because of the damage suffered in the earlier wreck.
The 16-driver playoff roster was finalized when the checkered flag was shown for this crazy and dramatic event.
Byron and DiBenedetto were the benefactors while Johnson, who will likely race IndyCars and sports cars next season, became the odd man out of the postseason.
“It’s unfortunate, but that’s plate racing,” Johnson said. “We had a really good car. In the last couple of months, we have been getting our act together and running well. I’m definitely disappointed not be in the playoffs. That was our goal at the start of the year.”
Johnson failed to score points in two races, which came back to haunt him Saturday night. His stock car was disqualified after a race at Charlotte then he missed the race at Indianapolis after testing positive for COVID-19.
“We only missed the playoffs by six points,” he said. “I mean, my God. I won’t dwell on it. We did all that we could this year.”
Johnson's seven Cup titles are tied for the most in series history with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt Sr. His 83 career Cup Series wins is tied for sixth on the all-time list.
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