William Byron prevails at Daytona Coke Zero Sugar 400

NASCAR got what it wanted when it scheduled the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway as the 2020 regular-season finale for the Cup Series. Multiple drivers had chances to clinch one of the three open playoff spots heading into a Saturday night race at one of motorsports’ most unpredictable tracks.

And what a race it was. An unusually clean event became chaotic in the closing laps in typical Daytona style. After a pair of “big ones” took out much of the field including playoff bubble driver Jimmie Johnson, his Hendrick Motorsports teammate (and fellow bubble driver) William Byron won an exciting drag race to the finish line over another HMS driver, Chase Elliott.

Byron clinched his spot in the playoffs with his win, and Matt DiBenedetto (12th-place finish Saturday night) finished the regular season six points ahead of Johnson (17th on Saturday) for the 16th and final postseason position.

“Honestly the emotions for me were just to make it happen, try to get where I needed to be,” Byron said after the race when asked about his thoughts during the red flag before NASCAR overtime. “I was taking every single run in the last five, six laps of that race. I think that’s what you’re supposed to do. It’s what Dale Jr. has taught me at JRM days. Really was able to work it out.

“Very fortunate that the runs did work out because a lot of times they don’t. This time they did, so it was great.”

NASCAR at Daytona race results

Elliott came out of nowhere for his second-place finish on a wild last lap, and as he and Byron neared the finish line, the driver of the No. 9 HMS Chevy was conent pushing his teammate to the win.

“Just kind of happened to be at the right place I feel to make up some spots on that last lap,” Elliott said. “Was in a position where I didn’t think me making a move on William was going to benefit myself. It was better to kind of stick to him, get him shoved out in front of the 11 and those guys, hope he would be able to hold on from there.”

Added third-place finisher Denny Hamlin, who restarted NASCAR overtime with the lead, on the closing laps: “Just disappointed I didn’t do a good job. I don’t know, lack of focus, whatever it is. Just 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, you just to make sure you make the right moves. …

“Just a crazy race. Everyone kind of out there for themselves, all pushing and shoving, body slamming and whatnot. Decent finish. I hate having control and not finishing.”