Ryan Blaney wins at Daytona ahead of a massive last-lap crash

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 28: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 28: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 BodyArmor Ford, celebrates after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Ryan Blaney won his third race of 2021 at Daytona on Saturday night as a massive crash happened behind him.

Blaney took the lead on a two-lap restart to end the race and had a big lead over Kevin Harvick when Harvick got turned by Daniel Suarez to trigger a huge crash on the backstretch on the final lap. It was a similar ending to the Daytona 500 in February when Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski crashed while racing for the win and Michael McDowell scored the upset victory.

The final restart was set up by a crash exiting turn 4 when Chase Elliott blocked Matt DiBenedetto's pass for the lead. That crash also collected a bunch of cars. 

Tyler Reddick held on to the 16th and final playoff spot despite being in the crash triggered by Elliott's block. He beat his teammate Austin Dillon for the final spot because a driver without a win didn't win Saturday night's race. 

Chris Buescher finished second but was disqualified after the race because his car failed post-race inspection. Had Buescher won, NASCAR would have been in the awkward position of celebrating his win to get into the playoffs over Reddick before rescinding it after inspection. 

The playoff field is set

Saturday's race was the final race of the regular season ahead of the 10-race playoffs. Kyle Larson was in the crash on the final lap and finished 21st but won the regular season title over Denny Hamlin. He will unofficially start the playoffs with more than twice the playoff points of any other driver.

1. Kyle Larson, 2,052 points

2. Ryan Blaney, 2,024

3. Martin Truex Jr., 2,024

4. Kyle Busch, 2,022

5. Chase Elliott, 2,021

6. Alex Bowman, 2,015

7. Denny Hamlin, 2,015

8. William Byron, 2,014

9. Joey Logano, 2,013

10. Brad Keselowski, 2,008

11. Kurt Busch, 2,008

12. Christopher Bell, 2,005

13. Michael McDowell, 2,005

14. Aric Almirola, 2,005

15. Tyler Reddick, 2,003

16. Kevin Harvick, 2,002

The playoffs will be three rounds of three races and a final winner-take-all finale in Phoenix. Four drivers will be eliminated after every round and four will race for the title at Phoenix. Larson is the heavy favorite to be one of the four drivers at Phoenix after his speed during the regular season. 

The postseason begins next Sunday night at Darlington in the Southern 500. 

Rules changes don't ultimately matter much

NASCAR changed the car rules for Daytona and Talladega after the massive last-lap crash in the 500 and Joey Logano's car going airborne at Talladega in the spring. Logano's car landed so hard on its roof that the rollcage bent inwards toward his head.

Cars were slowed down slightly and aerodynamic tweaks were made to try to keep them from catching each other so quickly in the draft. While drivers noted in the early laps that the racing felt different to them, it likely didn't look visually different to the average fan. And the changes didn't prevent any cars from getting wrecked either. 

The penultimate wreck of the race involved 11 cars and the final crash involved nine. Those two crashes followed an eight-car crash that necessitated an almost 15-minute red flag in the third stage. Saturday night's race was the eighth race Cup Series race at either track that ended with a two-lap race to the finish and/or had a crash on the final lap. 

Massive crashes are simply part of the game at Daytona and Talladega. And while NASCAR is to be applauded for making Cup Series cars safer whenever possible, Ryan Newman's crash at the 2020 Daytona 500 and Logano's crash at Talladega are evident that the sanctioning body is walking a fine line between entertainment and ensuring that every driver leaves every race at the two tracks able to race again. 

Race results

1. Ryan Blaney

2. Chris Buescher [DQed, officially finishes last]

3. Bubba Wallace

4. Ryan Newman

5. Ryan Preece

6. Justin Haley

7. Tyler Reddick

8. Alex Bowman

9. Chase Elliott

10. BJ McLeod

11. Josh Bilicki

12. Erik Jones

13. Kurt Busch

14. Denny Hamlin

15. Aric Almirola

16. Kevin Harvick

17. Corey LaJoie

18. Austin Dillon

19. Ross Chastain

20. Daniel Suarez

21. Kyle Larson

22. Chase Briscoe

23. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

24. Joey Logano

25. Cole Custer

26. Matt DiBenedetto

27. Anthony Alfredo

28. David Starr

29. Cody Ware

30. Martin Truex Jr.

31. Garrett Smithley

32. Joey Gase

33. Christopher Bell

34. Brad Keselowski

35. Kyle Busch

26. Kaz Grala

37. Landon Cassill

38. William Byron

39. Quin Houff

40. Michael McDowell

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