Opinion: Why Ryan Blaney will win Cup championship despite being the last driver to make the Playoffs
Imagine being Ryan Blaney for a moment.
You’ve been top-five in points since the sixth race of the season, yet somehow, some way, you have to sweat it out all the way until the waning laps of the regular season finale at Daytona – Race 26.
Welcome to NASCAR in 2022.
Blaney – like everyone else – had to wait out a 3-plus hour rain delay last Sunday while relying on his crew to keep his car in raceable condition after an early wreck.
For much of the day, the ever-consistent Blaney found himself behind fellow winless driver Martin Truex Jr. in points as a result of his wreck, and making matters worse, Austin Dillon passed a train of cars to take the lead after a big wreck in a rain-soaked Turn 1 before NASCAR could display the yellow flag.
Not only did that give Dillon the 15th spot on the Playoff grid temporarily as he came into the race needing a win – it meant that Blaney was out of the Playoffs.
Talk about a precarious and unenviable position to be in with just 21 laps to go.
Fortunately for Blaney, NASCAR made the obvious decision to wait out the rain and restart the race when the skies cleared.
Because of the aforementioned wreck that propelled Dillon to the lead, several of the cars involved were unable to continue, allowing Blaney to pass enough of them when the race resumed that he wound up three points ahead of Truex when Dillon crossed under the checkered flag.
(By the way, Dillon made the race-winning move with three laps remaining, otherwise Austin Cindric may have won his second race of the season and Truex and Blaney both would’ve made the Playoffs anyway. Not much is simple about NASCAR anymore, folks.)
So, when the day was over in Daytona, Blaney left the track knowing the goal was accomplished, albeit with even more nervousness than he and his team had planned for.
While Blaney may have been the last car to earn a postseason berth, any objective fan would acknowledge that he shouldn’t have even been in that position to begin with. (I know, I know, “But he couldn’t even win one race. He deserved to miss the Playoffs!” or something like that.)
Blaney has been a model of consistency this season, and there’s still something to be said for that attribute.
Blaney was 212 points above Erik Jones – the proverbial cutline – heading into Daytona. 212!
But because of the new winner, Dillon, who himself had 275 fewer points than Blaney coming into Daytona, Blaney almost missed the Playoffs.
Regardless of how asinine I may think that is, the point is that Blaney clearly deserved to be in the Playoffs, and it isn’t crazy to view him as one of the favorites.
Which is why he is my pick to win the championship in November.
Let’s take a look at some numbers, shall we?
While he doesn’t (yet) have a win – unless of course you count the All-Star Race – Blaney finished third in the regular-season standings; earned five stage wins; 3 poles; eight top-fives; and 12 top-10s.
He has the fourth best average finish in the garage, and the second best average running position. Blaney has also been outside the top-10 in points on just one occasion the entire season – way back after Race 3.
Blaney has led 417 laps this season to boot, but perhaps the most important factor working in his favor? Second through 16th on the Playoff grid are separated by only 20 points (Blaney is tied for sixth with 2013 points).
Traditionally we have seen two or three drivers with a hoard of Playoff points, followed by two or three with slightly fewer, and then the bottom 10 or so have practically none in comparison.
That simply isn’t the case with the advent of the Next Gen car and parity in the sport. This to me means that consistency is precisely what is needed to separate oneself from the pack in these Playoffs.
In the opening round of the Playoffs, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see him win at Bristol, a track he’s led 484 laps in 12 career races.
In the Playoffs’ second-round tracks, Blaney has an All-Star victory at Texas, two career wins at Talladega, and a win in the inaugural edition of the Charlotte ROVAL race in 2018.
The third round of the Playoffs sees two of Blaney’s best tracks: Las Vegas (eight career top-10s) and the season’s penultimate race at Martinsville (six top-fives and 377 laps led in 13 races).
For the forgetful, the championship race is once again at Phoenix Raceway. What are Blaney’s stats there, you ask?
In the last seven races in the desert, Blaney has four top-fives and 306 laps led. Just this season, he started on pole, won a stage and led 143 laps. While he hasn’t yet claimed victory there, Blaney and crew have a tremendous notebook from which to build come November.
What a storybook ending it would be for Blaney – who assuredly had thoughts of what-if-I-miss-the-Playoffs just a week ago – to ride his consistency through the Playoffs to his first Cup championship.
I for one expect it to happen, and believe Blaney will propel himself to “Elite” level in NASCAR’s top series once and for all.
On a dominant day that almost wasn’t, Tyler Reddick earned his second career Cup victory, winning in the Cup Series’ return to road racing after his triumph at Road America on Fourth of July weekend.
Despite leading a race-high 38 laps, Reddick almost lost hold of his victory on the final restart.
Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain missed Turn One, deciding to charge ahead and use the access lane instead. By making the move, he was able to nose ahead of Reddick into Turn Three, though Reddick was able to pass him back in a frantic dash with two laps remaining.
“Just trying not to be in the carnage there in Turn One – I thought we were four-wide,” Chastain said of the evasive maneuver. “(I) couldn’t go any farther right and just decided to take the NASCAR access lane.”
Chastain was ultimately issued a penalty by NASCAR, relegating him to a 27th place finish.
With his second victory, Reddick now sits firmly in the Playoffs with four races remaining in the regular-season.
“I was like ‘uh-oh,’ but that was a scenario that had been talked about,” Reddick said of losing the lead briefly to Chastain via the access road. “I couldn’t believe he got ahead of me, I was kind of waiting to see if he was going to have a penalty …
“Just really glad to be able to do it here in Indianapolis. This is one really special place to race, (and) really excited to be able to kiss the bricks.”
As a result of Chastain’s penalty, Daytona 500 Champion and Cup rookie Austin Cindric came home in the second position, his second top-five result in the last four races.
Fellow rookies Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland were also able to survive the carnage of the day, finishing third and fourth, respectively; it was each driver’s best career finish.
Bubba Wallace turned in his third top-five finish of the season in fifth place, followed by Joey Logano, AJ Allmendinger (Saturday’s Xfinity winner), Michael McDowell, Cole Custer and Chris Buescher – whose car caught fire earlier in the race.
Championship-leader Chase Elliott was running second to Reddick on the second-to-last restart, but was spun and finished 16th.
Looking to the Playoff picture, Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. were able to expand their leads over Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, who had multiple run-ins with Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman during the race, causing Harvick to finish 33rd.
Blaney – who was also spun while contending late – has a 121-point cushion over Harvick, while Truex has a similarly comfortable 96-point advantage.
In the hardest crash of the race – and one of the hardest in recent memory – Kyle Larson had an undisclosed failure with his car, causing him to destroy the right-side of Ty Dillon’s Chevy Camaro while making the right-hander into Turn One; both drivers were OK after the incident.
Stage One was won by Indiana-native Chase Briscoe while Stage Two was won by Christopher Bell. Bell led 17 laps but had trouble on a restart late and finished 12th.
Elliott retains his lead in the standings by 125 points over Blaney.
The NASCAR Cup Series returns to action next Sunday with the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on USA.
A dominant car for Justin Allgaier and JR Motorsports resulted in his second win of the season and first career victory at Nashville Superspeedway on Saturday.
It was by no means easy, though, as strategy dictated the latter portion of the race.
On Lap 116 of 188, Jeffrey Earnhardt spun from 12th place while battling Sheldon Creed as Allgaier led the field after winning Stages 1 and 2.
All but eight drivers – including AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Jones, Noah Gragson and Daniel Hemric – elected to pit for their final set of sticker tires under caution.
Though as they say, cautions breed cautions.
On the ensuing restart, Jeb Burton got into the left rear of Creed, also collecting Joe Graf Jr., ending the latter two drivers’ days. The race stayed green from there however after the Lap 131 restart, for the final 58 laps of the day.
That left Allgaier enough time to make his march back to the front of the field a year after finishing runner-up to the Xfinity Series’ winningest driver, Kyle Busch, at the same track.
Allgaier regained the lead from Allmendinger on Lap 149 and set sail for the final 40 laps of the race.
“What a heck of a race. Been coming here a long time and love this racetrack,” Allgaier said.
“Been trying to go to victory lane so bad and haven’t been able to do it. Today was for the dirt racers though – it was slick, it was hot, we were sliding around. Just proud of this team.”
Allgaier led a season-best 134 laps, and when asked the last time he had such a dominant car was, Allgaier said simply:
“I don’t think ever.”
Trevor Bayne was able to finish second after having various problems on pit road throughout the day; Riley Herbst hit one of his crew members, and the team later had an equipment interference penalty.
Bayne has three more starts this season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Rounding out the top-five were Herbst, Ty Gibbs and Sam Mayer.
Gibbs and Mayer – who fought previously after an on-track dust-up at Martinsville in April – had another run-in on Saturday.
With about 40 laps remaining, Mayer took advantage of Gibbs leaving space on the bottom of the track in turn three, driving underneath him. Gibbs’ car got loose from the air with no contact being made until Gibbs used the side of Mayer’s car to straighten his back up.
Gibbs was later able to pass Mayer back without further incident.
Completing the top-10 were Friday night’s Truck Series winner Ryan Preece, Earnhardt, Austin Hill, Ryan Sieg and Brett Moffitt.
Allmendinger holds the lead in the standings by 25 points over Gibbs.
The Xfinity Series returns to action next Saturday with the Henry 180 from Road America. Coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA.
Friday’s Truck Series Charlotte winner and resident watermelon farmer in the NASCAR garage, Ross Chastain, has ascended to the top of the Cup Series in short order.
Chastain – driving for second-year Trackhouse Racing – has victories at Circuit of the Americas and Talladega, to go along with seven top-fives and eight top-10s through 13 Cup races.
With the hot start, Chastain has sent a message to the field through the first half of the regular-season:
He is a bona fide championship contender.
The question, though, must be asked: Are we really surprised?
Chastain has long been revered for his ability to get the most out of his typically subpar equipment. Whether it was driving for Premium Motorsports in Cup or Johnny Davis in the Xfinity Series, and to a lesser extent Niece Motorsports in Trucks, NASCAR fans, drivers and pundits alike have known this to be true for several years.
So it wasn’t terribly surprising, then, that when he got his first big opportunity in 2018, he didn’t disappoint.
Driving in three Xfinity races for Chip Ganassi Racing, Chastain won one race; finished second in another; led 270 laps; earned a pole; and won four stages. And those numbers don’t even tell the full story.
Chastain dominated the first two stages at Darlington only to get tangled up with not-so-happy Kevin Harvick, relegating him to a 25th place finish that day.
All of that led to the announcement that Chastain would drive full-time for CGR’s Xfinity program in 2019. Early that year, though, the owners of car sponsor DC Solar had items seized from their headquarters and personal home by the FBI, and were later found to have run a Ponzi scheme to the tune of $1 billion.
Nix that plan.
Because CGR was forced to shutter its Xfinity operation, Chastain wound up running a partial Xfinity schedule that amounted to 13 starts for Johnny Davis, and six for Kaulig Racing.
Midway through that season, Chastain switched his points declaration to the Truck Series as he was also driving full-time for Niece (not to mention a full-time Cup schedule for Premium).
As it were, Chastain had to go from zero to hero, starting with zero points eight races into the Trucks regular-season because of the switch, leaving him with just eight races to reach the top-20 in points and win a race to make the Playoffs.
He was able to do it with two (three?) race wins in addition to his win at Kansas prior to the points change. At season’s end, Chastain finished two on-track positions short of hoisting the championship trophy that was ultimately won by the winless Matt Crafton.
Perhaps more clearly than ever, it was evident that the watermelon man could wheel a race vehicle.
Along came 2020, and Chastain found his full-time home in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing – it was with that team he won the July Daytona race the season prior while lighting the Trucks world on fire.
Though he didn’t find victory lane, he was able to amass 15 top-fives and 27 top-10s in 33 races, finishing seventh in the final standings.
That earned him a promotion – and return – to CGR full-time in Cup a season ago, replacing the departed Kyle Larson as he moved over to Hendrick Motorsports.
While the numbers didn’t necessarily show it – three top-fives and eight top-10s – Chastain found speed throughout the latter portion of last season and had reason to be optimistic that Justin Marks would hire him to drive his second car at Trackhouse after purchasing Ganassi’s NASCAR assets.
Hire him he did, and Marks has reaped the rewards throughout the first half of 2022 and the debut of the Next Gen car.
Chastain is tied with William Byron for the most wins in Cup (2); has the fifth-best average finish (13.5); has led the fourth-most laps (273); and sits fifth in traditional points (second on the Playoff grid).
For a second-year Cup operation, even the visionary Marks couldn’t have possibly expected this much early success from Chastain.
But again, we should no longer be surprised; that is why I will leave with this declaration:
Chastain will plant the (watermelon) seeds necessary and win the Cup Series championship in November.
Stats courtesy of NASCAR Stats Hub and Racing-Reference.info.
On a beautiful and sunny day at the renamed Dover Motor Speedway, Josh Berry and the No. 8 JR Motorsports team captured the checkered flag for the first time in 2022, and for the third time in Berry's career.
Leading the final 55 laps of the race, Berry was able to get around teammate Justin Allgaier in an exciting battle during the final stage as the two drivers were the class of the field for much of the day.
Allgaier led a race-high 67 laps and won Stage Two, ultimately finishing runner-up to Berry. Their teammate, Sam Mayer, won Stage One and led 18 laps, but had to recover from a lost wheel and later a pit road speeding penalty. He was able to rejoin the top-five in the closing laps, finishing fifth.
A complimentary Berry gave a nod to his pit crew during his postrace interview.
"The pit crew did a phenomenal job today, they executed when we needed it," he said. "We were there when it counted.
"Both times I've raced here, I've gone toe-to-toe with Justin (Allgaier) the whole time -- he is so good here."
A dejected Allgaier had thoughts of what could have been after his pit crew lost several spots on pit road throughout the day, including the final stop when they lost three more, causing him to restart fifth with less than 50 laps remaining.
"Yeah, it's just disappointing. I feel like we gave one away," Allgaier said after his 34-race winless streak was extended another week. "We felt like that last run there, we were really good. ... Just came up a little bit short."
The fourth JR Motorsports driver, Noah Gragson, came home fourth and earned his fifth-career $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.
Breaking up the JRM party in third was Ty Gibbs; AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Jones, Sheldon Creed, Riley Herbst and Ryan Sieg rounded out the top-10.
Jones led 59 laps but had to come back down pit road after his pit stop before Stage Three to tighten lugnuts, effectively ending his day.
The margin of victory was .604 seconds, and there were five cautions for 36 laps.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series returns to action next Saturday for the Mahindra ROXOR 200 at Darlington Raceway on Throwback Weekend. Coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1.
Making just his second Truck Series start since his seven-win 2016 campaign, Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron -- driving in this race for Spire Motorsports -- captured his eighth-career Truck victory, and first at Martinsville.
Leading a race-high 94 laps, Byron was able to overcome a 32nd place starting position after qualifying was rained out earlier in the day.
"It was a lot of fun. Great crowd here at Martinsville," Byron said on the FS1 telecast. "I've never won a race at Martinsville -- I struggled here when I was in late models. ...
"Thanks to Spire, all the guys back at their shop. They don't have a lot of guys, but they do it right," he continued.
Zane Smith led all 50 laps in Stage One. Because several drivers stayed out after the conclusion of the first stage, Smith -- who pitted -- had to work his way back up to fourth by the conclusion of Stage Two.
After all of that hard work he was met with a speeding penalty on pit road during the second stage break, and ultimately battled back to finish ninth.
Defending series champion Ben Rhodes won Stage Two and led 47 laps with arguably the best long-run truck on the night. Several late cautions, however, negated his truck's strength, and he settled for a fifth place finish.
Johnny Sauter -- who got tangled up with Hailie Deegan earlier in the evening -- came through the field from a 36th place starting spot to finish second. It was his first Truck start since Daytona in February; Deegan finished 19th.
Running near the front of the field on Lap 133, Stewart Friesen was spun by Christian Eckes after Rhodes pushed him up the track; Friesen wound up 13th, one spot behind Eckes.
Also in the top-five were Kyle Busch in third and John Hunter Nemechek in fourth, who earned his second consecutive top-five finish.
Rounding out the top-10 were Chandler Smith, Matt Crafton, Grant Enfinger, Zane Smith and Tyler Ankrum.
In all, there were 11 cautions for 71 laps and the margin of victory for Byron was 1.138 seconds.
Ben Rhodes regained the points lead over Chandler Smith, and now leads by four points.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action next Saturday on the dirt at Bristol Motor Speedway. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on FS1.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For the second offseason in a row, Ty Dillon didn’t know if he would have a ride. Flashback to the end of 2020 and the closing of Germain Racing when they sold their charter to 23XI Racing, leaving Dillon unsure of his plans for 2021.
As it were, he was able to secure four races with Gaunt Brothers Racing in Cup, several races with Joe Gibbs Racing, Jordan Anderson Racing and Our Motorsports in Xfinity, and one additional race in Trucks with Bret Holmes Racing.
Not having that full-time job title was taxing to the point where he didn’t know if he should simply give-up on his career. It also meant what “part-time” has always meant in racing: He had zero assurances of being able to run a full season in any series moving forward.
Waiting anxiously once again throughout the offseason leading into 2022, the 30-year-old Dillon eventually heard the news any driver in his position yearns for – a full-time Cup ride was waiting for him at Petty GMS Motorsports.
Yes, that Petty. NASCAR Hall of Famer, Richard Petty.
Petty and longtime Xfinity and Truck team owner Maury Gallagher announced in December that Gallagher would buy a majority stake in Richard Petty Motorsports. The merger meant the team would field a second car in addition to Erik Jones after Petty’s second charter reverted back to the team from Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 following their lease agreement for 2021.
Enter Ty Dillon.
That car – originally numbered 94 – became his, now numbered 42 in honor of Richard’s dad, Lee.
Because it is a chartered car, Dillon knew he was locked into this year’s Daytona 500, a far cry from a season ago when he missed the field by one position in his Duel race as an open car.
So, coming into 2022 with both a sense of renewal and security, Dillon isn’t taking this opportunity for granted. That couldn’t have been more evident than in his comments after an eventful Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum two weeks ago.
There, he was perhaps the brashest driver that used his front bumper the most. As Fox Sports’ Mike Joy put it, “Ty Dillon has hit everything but the lottery today!”
If that quip weren’t unflattering enough, making matters worse for Dillon was his disqualification in the Clash's last-chance qualifying race after jumping the final restart.
A rough start to the season meant Dillon had something to prove in his return to full-time Cup action on Sunday.
Talk about a familiar story for a driver who has long been served a cold dish of nepotistic remarks, being that he is the grandson of legendary car owner Richard Childress.
Not to be deterred, Dillon was able to survive the usual hectic nature of the day on Sunday, waiting patiently around the back-half of the top-20 for most of the day until finding himself just outside the top-10 in the closing laps.
While he wasn’t able to seal the deal and earn his second Daytona 500 top-10, the 11th place finisher was satisfied with the strong result for he and his new team.
“Our Camaro was fast all day, just a matter of staying out of it and getting the day that we wanted.
“We accomplished our goals today, so it’s a good start to our year.”
Reflecting on the gravity of the day – amid all the uncertainty of the last two years – Dillon was simply grateful:
“To not even know if this year was going to happen again – be in this race again – to have an awesome team like Petty GMS and get our foot started in the right direction … I’m so happy.”
Dillon will look to build upon a positive first race during NASCAR’s “West Coast Swing,” beginning at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, this Sunday.
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Coming into the 64th running of the Daytona 500, 21-year-old Cup rookie Harrison Burton was looking to repeat what “Cinderella” Trevor Bayne accomplished as a 20-year-old rookie some 11 years ago: Win the Daytona 500 for the famed Wood Brothers Racing.
He had plenty reason to think he had as good a chance as Bayne did – he topped the speed chart in final practice Saturday, finished third in his duel Thursday, and lined up eighth on the starting grid for NASCAR’s biggest race in front of a sellout crowd.
Proving his speed was no fluke, Burton found his way to the lead on Lap 39 and once again 20 laps later with the aid of a Brad Keselowski push.
That pushing persisted for a few more laps – until it became too much to handle.
While running in second place off turn two on Lap 63, Burton spun off the nose of Keselowski and turned down the track into the third-place car of William Byron, ending he and Byron’s day.
The wreck also collected three of the four Joe Gibbs Racing entries – Martin Truex Jr. was the leader and evaded the mess – as well as Ross Chastain and Alex Bowman. Keselowski, Bowman, Kyle Busch and Christopher Bell were able to continue.
Though Burton wound up on his roof, he quickly landed back on four wheels as the flip was relatively tame.
“I don’t know. I’ve never had another one upside-down, so I don’t have any reference,” Burton said of the wreck. “I don’t know if it was the (rear) diffuser that did it or what, but once I got backwards I just blew right over. … I didn’t get hit hard at all.”
While it did appear he was hit hard by Keselowski to initiate the wreck, Burton wasn’t so quick to pin the blame on the RFK part-owner.
“I don’t think it was too hard, I just think it was in the wrong spot,” Burton said of the wayward push from Keselowski.
“With the new car you’ve got to push in the middle. It’s just different – the bumpers don’t line up as well. He got a little too far right and it shot me down (the track).”
Ever the optimist despite the early end to his Daytona 500 hopes, Burton will look forward to next weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway – the track where he earned his first Xfinity win in 2020.
“At the end of the day, everyone knew we were here. We were leading when we crashed.
“Our Wood Brothers group brought a fast Ford down here and we were showing it.”
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It’s that time again. The roar of the engines returns to the high banks of Daytona International Speedway today for the 64th running of "The Great American Race." With anticipation running high with the debut of NASCAR’s Next Gen car – a sellout crowd has been announced for the festivities – this race promises to be worthy of its nickname.
Defending champion Kyle Larson picked up right where he left off in Phoenix, securing his first career Daytona 500 pole. Hendrick teammate Alex Bowman joins him on the front row, the fifth straight year Bowman will help lead the field to green.
Formula 1 veteran Jacques Villeneuve (Team Hezeberg) and Xfinity series regular Noah Gragson (Beard Motorsports) were the top open cars in qualifying Wednesday night, locking them into the 40-car field. Both drivers will be competing in their first Daytona 500 after failing once previously to make the show – Villeneuve missed the mark in 2008 while Gragson was unsuccessful a season ago.
Kaz Grala and JJ Yeley were left to battle it out in Duel 1, while Greg Biffle and Timmy Hill were set to – pardon the pun – duel in Duel 2.
Driving for boxing legend Floyd Mayweather’s brand new The Money Team Racing, Grala was able to execute a last-lap pass of Yeley in turn two, earning him his second consecutive start in the 500 and a 35th-place starting spot.
Because Hill went down a lap relatively early in the going in Duel 2, Biffle – returning to the Cup series for the first time since 2016 with NY Racing Team – knew what he had to do: Not lose the draft, and bring it home in one piece. Indeed, he was able to accomplish both tasks, finishing 13th in his duel; he starts 28th today.
With any new season comes a great deal of change in the sport – and this year is no exception.
Upstart Team Trackhouse – led by former driver Justin Marks and music star Pitbull – are in their second campaign after a modestly successful first year with Daniel Suarez. Expanding rapidly, the team purchased the assets of Chip Ganassi Racing late last season and moved into Ganassi’s shop for 2022, adding Ross Chastain to pilot the No. 1 car.
His predecessor, Kurt Busch, moves over to Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin’s 23XI Racing to drive the No. 45 Toyota Camry TRD. He joins Bubba Wallace who captured his first career Cup victory last fall at Talladega.
2020 Xfinity series champion Austin Cindric moves up to Cup to drive the No. 2 Team Penske Ford, formerly driven by 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski. Keselowski moves over to the renamed Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (RFK), gaining part-ownership in the team and joining new teammate Chris Buescher. Each driver won their respective Duel on Thursday night, giving RFK ownership of the second row. Ryan Blaney and Joey Logano once again round out the Penske trio.
21-year-old Harrison Burton also earned a promotion to Cup to replace Matt DiBenedetto in the famed Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. Burton won four races in 75 career Xfinity starts for Joe Gibbs Racing, finishing eighth in the final standings last season. DiBenedetto moves down to the Truck series full-time, taking the wheel of the No. 25 truck for Rackley W.A.R. in their second Truck series season. DiBenedetto finished 10th in the Truck season-opener Friday night.
Xfinity standouts Kaulig Racing will make their first foray into full-time Cup racing this season as Justin Haley takes the reigns of the No. 31 LeafFilter Chevrolet. They will also field a second full-time car – the No. 16 – which will be piloted by A.J. Allmendinger (14 races); Gragson (14); and 2021 Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric (8, including the Daytona 500). Allmendinger and Hemric – who moves over from Joe Gibbs Racing – will also compete full-time for Kaulig in the Xfinity series, where they will battle Gragson and JR Motorsports for the title.
Ty Dillon makes his return to the Cup series full-time after running only four Cup events in 2021 for Gaunt Brothers Racing. He joins Erik Jones at the newly-merged Petty GMS Racing, with Jones in the No. 43 and Dillon in the No. 42.
Todd Gilliland takes over driving duties of the No. 38 Ford for Front Row Motorsports as Anthony Alfredo returns to the Xfinity series full-time with Our Motorsports. 2022 marks Gilliland’s first season in Cup, following nearly 100 truck races that netted him two victories since 2017. Gilliland joins 2021 Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell in the Front Row stable, as McDowell – starting sixth – looks to follow Hamlin’s lead from 2019 and 2020 and repeat in NASCAR’s biggest race.
Coverage begins with "Race Day" at 11 a.m. ET on FS1, moving over to Fox at 1 p.m. ET. Race coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on Fox and MRN, with the green flag scheduled to drop at 3:06 p.m. ET.
DAYTONA, Fla. – Austin Hill won the Xfinity series season-opener at Daytona for his first career Xfinity win in his first race for Richard Childress Racing. Using a run down the backstretch on the final lap thanks to a push from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Riley Herbst, Hill was able to swoop to the inside of race leader A.J. Allmendinger and held serve until a race-ending caution flag was displayed after a melee ensued behind the leaders.
Myatt Snider, driver of the No. 31 Jordan Anderson Racing Chevrolet, was sent airborne into the backstretch catchfence in the scary, fiery wreck. He was treated and released from the infield care center and said his left foot is sore. He was scored in 22nd place.
“We timed it perfectly. Obviously that caution came out but we had a heck of a run, so who knows what would have happened there,” an elated Hill said after climbing from his car.
“I was able to drag back, the (No.) 98 gave me a heck of a push, we were able to get by him (Allmendinger), and this is so crazy. … Now we're with RCR, first race with them. We were able to get the job done.”
Hill admitted he thought the bottom lane would prevail and that he was "out of it," but it eventually worked out in his favor.
"Coming to the white (flag), the inside lane was moving pretty good, but I was able to suck the 9 (of Noah Gragson) back a little bit. ... The thing that helped me most was the 16 (of Allmendinger) had a two-or-three car-length gap and he got way too far out in front. There was nothing he could do to block the run I had."
Defending champion Daniel Hemric swept the stages and led a race-high 38 laps but got caught up in a 10-car wreck on the frontstretch on Lap 92, resulting in a 28th place finish.
In all there were six cautions for 28 laps (three for incident and one for debris in addition to the stage-ending cautions), and 21 of the 38 cars finished on the lead lap.
Allmendinger was runner-up, while Gragson, Herbst and Justin Allgaier completed the top-five.
Rounding out the top-10 were Sheldon Creed in sixth, Anthony Alfredo in seventh, Ryan Sieg in eighth, Josh Bilicki in ninth and Brandon Brown in 10th.
The Xfinity series returns to action next Saturday at Auto Club Speedway in California. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.