It’s always the last few laps, and the inevitable crashes at Daytona International Speedway, that help determine who gets the checked flag.
But you have to race all 160 laps of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 (that’s miles) to get there. Sometimes you have race beyond that prescribed distance.
In 2021 the last few laps were actually eclipsed by overtime laps, and in overtime’s final lap Ryan Blaney emerged, winning as cars crashing behind him brought the race to an end.
The summer race at Daytona, long a Fourth of July tradition, is now a late-August thriller. It ends NASCAR’s regular season and in 2022 there are two racers — Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. — on the playoff bubble, sitting 15th and 16th in points, knowing only the top 16 drivers make the 10-race playoffs with a chance at the 2022 Cup Series championship.
If a 2022 non-winner, other than Blaney or Truex, wins Saturday night and gains automatic entry into the playoffs, Blaney and Truex will settle that final playoff spot by the updated points standings. Blaney enters Saturday with a 25-point edge over Truex.
NBC coverage of Saturday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 starts at 7 pm, with the green flag — weather permitting — scheduled for 7:45. Check listings because some local affiliates have diverted coverage to other channels in lieu of NFL coverage. Heading into Saturday afternoon, the forecast looks threatening, with showers and thunderstorms taking turns throughout the later afternoon and into evening.
NASCAR officials, race teams, and fans are hoping it’s one of those times when an approaching front fizzles or is redirected.
Follow along as The Daytona Beach News-Journal racing writers update:
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SIGN OF RESPECT:Still on the job at age 102, Daytona Speedway’s Juanita ‘Lightnin’ Epton, gets a break from work for honor
KYLE LARSON:After dumping Chase Elliott, a return to Daytona, and yes there’s a history
7:45 pm: ‘Green flag time’ has now come and gone at Daytona
The Coke Zero Sugar 400 was scheduled to go green at 7:45, but as you may have noticed, it didn’t. The holding pattern continues, with no official word from NASCAR regarding how long we’ll wait tonight.
Meanwhile, if you want to shore up your Daytona racing knowledge, take a look at this.
7:20 pm: A big fat ‘never mind’ from Daytona and the Coke Zero Sugar 400
Disregard that 6:45 update. It’s raining again.
Nothing hard, just a drizzle. In fact, while many of the hundreds of fans mingling in the FanZone have ducked under cover, many are still wandering about without getting overly soaked.
Doesn’t matter. NASCAR and Daytona need zero rain, and zero rain for long enough to dry the track, and another few hours to run a 400-mile race here.
Hate to say it, but if they can’t find a window tonight, Sunday isn’t exactly looking like a winner either.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something less gloomy to read, did you see what Jeff Burton said about his memories of superspeedway racing?
Or how about a recap of underdog Jeremy Clements’ crazy win in Friday night’s Wawa 25?
6:45 pm: Jet dryers are cranked to life at Daytona | Yeeee-ha!
The first chirping birds of spring. That first hint of cool air in autumn.
We all have our favorite hints of better things to come. For race fans on a rainy day, it’s the loud whine of the jet dryer.
NASCAR’s armada of dryers have fired up and begun slowly working around the track surface, which signals the weather has improved enough to take a shot at soaking all the moisture from the asphalt.
Unfortunately, there are still various shades of green on the surrounding radar and the hourly forecast suggests the current rain stoppage might be short-lived.
As always, we’ll see.
5:35 pm: Some rainy-day history for you
For all you weather trivia fans out there, here’s some Coke Zero 400s that have been affected by rain during the 21st century. . .
• Races delayed by rain that started on Saturday and ended in the overnight hours of Sunday morning: 2004, 2005, 2010.
• Breeds shortened by rain: 2014, 2019.
• Races postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon: 2014, 2019.
• Race moved to Sunday by NBC, then delayed, ending after midnight on Monday morning: 2015.
5 p.m.: Will Coke Zero Sugar 400 start on time?
It’s already rained, and quite hard, at Daytona International Speedway.
In fact, it’s still raining.
And word is, it’s gonna keep raining for a while. Hopefully not a long while, because the Coke Zero Sugar 400 is ticketed for a 7:45 pm green flag.
It’s not looking good, folks. One possible scenario: we could be looking at a replay of Friday night’s Xfinity Series race — NASCAR waited out the Doppler and eventually got in the entire Wawa 250, but only after a three-hour delay to the start.
The currently numbers say there’s a 92% chance of sustained showers at 5:30, 89% at 6, 72% at 7, and then “nosediving” to 71% at 8.
We’ll keep you posted.