DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — In such an unpredictable season, to even think one knows what will happen in tonight’s Cup regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway is an exercise in futility.
The only thing to know about tonight’s race (7 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock) is that the 13 drivers who can move into a playoff spot with a win were reminded just how one night can change a season.
All they have to do is look at Jeremy Clements, who won the rain-delayed Xfinity race that ended in the third overtime at 1:28 a.m. ET Saturday. It was only his second Xfinity win. The first came five years ago to the day at Road America. Even so, he’s going to be in the Xfinity playoffs.
Daytona already provides each driver in the field hope but Clements gives more credence to how close some drivers could be to the playoffs.
Seven of those 13 drivers who could move into a playoff spot have won a Cup race at Daytona: Erik Jones, Aric Almirola, Austin Dillon, Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Brad Keselowski.
Of the six remaining playoff-eligible drivers who have not won at Daytona, Bubba Wallace has finished second there three times, including the last two races, and Chris Buescher’s best finish is third. Others who could make the playoffs with a win Saturday night are Cole Custer, Harrison Burton, Ty Dillon and Todd Gilliland.
Of course, there are 14 other drivers who have won this year and will look to add to their win total, including regular season champion Chase Elliott and Austin Cindric, who won this year’s Daytona 500.
Cindric’s victory made it six consecutive years a Cup driver won at a superspeedway for their first career series win.
But this season also had its share of unusual developments on and off the track.
Who would have figured that where Kyle Busch — the only active driver with more than one Cup title — would race in 2023 would be uncertain in August?
Or in a season where wheels come off from time to time that Erik Jones would lose several laps at Kansas as his crew could not get a wheel off during a pit stop at Kansas.
Or Chris Buescher’s car catching fire early in the race at the Indianapolis road course and him staying in it as the fire is extinguished and then going on to finish in the top 10.
Or Cody Ware having to avoid a flying tent on the Indianapolis road course.
Or the finish that was but then wasn’t in the All-Star Race where Blaney thought he won and lowered his window net and then thought he might lose, as he struggled to put the net up and then winning again by holding the field off for the $1 million prize.
Or whatever games Denny Hamlin was playing against Ross Chastain at Gateway after Chastain wrecked him.
So, yes, go ahead and guess what might happen, but in reality, no one really knows what will take place.
Due to local programming, the Cup Series race on Saturday will air on WBAL 11.2 MeTV in Baltimore, WKCF in Orlando, KTVK in Phoenix and WMOR in Tampa. Check local listings in Lancaster/Harrisburg (Pa.), Philadelphia and Washington, DC. Viewers in all markets can live stream the race on Peacock, NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app.
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