DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Blaney won for the second consecutive week when the race Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway ended under caution in overtime with a typical fiery finish.
Tyler Reddick took the 16th and final spot in the playoffs with a seventh-place finish. Reddick needed only to beat Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon and hope for a repeat winner to earn his first playoff berth.
Reddick and Dillon were both in contention to make a desperate last gasp push for the win in the two-lap overtime sprint to the finish. But Blaney, who was second on the restart, cleared traffic with a push from Corey LaJoie and was well ahead of the pack when a crash ended the race.
Daniel Suarez, one of 10 drivers in the front pack trying to win the race to earn the automatic playoff berth, turned Kevin Harvick to trigger the multi-car crash. Suarez seemed to be pushed into Harvick from behind by Kurt Busch.
Blaney, the winner in Michigan last week, heads into next week’s playoff opener at Darlington Raceway with three victories this season in his Team Penske Ford.
“Yeah, we’ve got good momentum,” Blaney said. “We’d like to make it three in a row, we’ll see.”
The regular-season finale had fairly low stakes in that 15 of the 16 playoff slots were claimed before the start of the race. It meant only a first-time race winner could edge Reddick or Dillon for the final spot.
Neither had a smooth race: Reddick’s car suffered crash damage in an earlier incident and Dillon was first flagged for speeding on pit road and also battled a bad battery in his Chevrolet.
“I don’t know how to smile at this point, it was a lot tonight,” Reddick said. “I’m excited to be past it.”
Dillon had still rallied to fourth on the final restart but was collected in the race-ending crash.
“We gave it all we could and fought until the end,” Dillon said. “We’ll finish hard this year and build on next year.”
The only other competition at Daytona was for the regular-season title, which went to Kyle Larson, a five-time winner this season. The race for the regular-season championship and its playoff points was between Larson and Denny Hamlin, who entered Daytona trailing Larson by 28 points.
Hamlin held the regular-season lead for 22 weeks until Larson claimed it two races ago at Indianapolis. Larson overcame a 166-point deficit to Hamlin to earn the title.
“What an awesome year he’s had,” said team owner Rick Hendrick, who gave Larson a job this season after Larson missed all but four races in 2020 while suspended for using a racial slur.
Chris Buescher finished second, one spot short of earning the automatic berth into the playoffs he was seeking. But it was a 1-2 finish for Ford.
“To miss that playoff spot by one spot, that’s a tough ending to a day,” Buescher said. “I’m sure I’ll play it back and find something else different.”
Bubba Wallace was a season-best third but frustrated he had no help from any Toyotas at the end of the race. Hamlin, his team owner at 23XI Racing, was the closest Toyota driver to Wallace at the finish — way back in 14th.