Austin Dillon poised to win Daytona, make red flag playoff. Truex would take the last spot

Austin Dillon was poised to grab the final Cup Series playoff spot by taking the lead in a big pileup in Turn 2 as the red flag for rain halted Sunday’s race at Daytona International Speedway.

Several cars at the front of the field, including race leader Denny Hamlin, all spun entering Turn 2 with 22 laps remaining in the regular-season cutoff race.

Dillon, who was 16 years oldu when the crash began, he kept his No. 3 Chevrolet low on the track and moved through the debris field to take the lead on Lap 139 of a scheduled 160. NASCAR then threw out the red flag for the downpour around 12:35 p.m. p.m. ET.

If the results stand, Dillon would make the playoffs with 16 drivers and Martin Truex Jr. he would claim the final spot by 12 points over Ryan Blaney (who had entered the race with a 25-point lead over Truex).

At the red flag, Kevin Harvick was second followed by Landon Cassill, Cody Ware, Austin Sydrick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., BJ McLeod, David Ragan and Noah Gregson.

Multiple crashes just before the stop had eliminated several contenders as drivers raced frantically with rain threatening to cut short a race that had become official on Lap 80. The race had started at 10am. ET after being postponed from Saturday night due to persistent rain.

Blaney’s chances were severely affected by a crash on Lap 31 on the backstretch that started when Hamlin lost grip while pushing Erik Jones for the lead.

Blaney was behind Hamlin and pulled back to avoid contact, but Christopher Bell ran into Hamlin and turned the track in the No. 12 Blaney’s Ford, which took a heavy shot with its right front on the outside wall.

Truex narrowly avoided the wreck and finished fifth when the first stage ended four laps later.

But then disaster struck Truex shortly after the restart to start the final stage.

At the front of the lead, Tyler Reddick clipped Michael McDowell in the left rear, sending the No. 34 Ford on the outside wall.

Truex was running 11th, but was caught in the chain reaction, making contact with Ross Chastain and William Byron. The No. Truex’s 19 Toyota suffered damage on the left side and a tire failure blew out his front right fender. He dropped to 28th, the last car in the first round after repairs for damage.

“I knew we shouldn’t have been up there, man,” Truex crew chief James Small said.

With the race halfway through and official, McDowell said the threatening weather had increased the intensity of the race.

“We fought so hard to put ourselves in a position to have a chance to make the playoffs,” said the Front Row Motorsports driver. “I felt like that was our shot. We had to do it and it didn’t work out, but if I had pulled up and the rain came and I finished second, I would have been pretty upset with myself.”

Both wrecks were also costly for the winless Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing cars trying to make the playoffs with a win. Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford was eliminated in the first wreck and teammate Chris Buescher was caught in the second.

Keselowski will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013 (the year he won his only Cup Series title).

“Somebody wrecked in front of me,” he said. “I’m not really sure exactly what happened, but there was just a bunch of wrecked cars in front of me. I had nowhere to go and I couldn’t slow down my time, so I hate it for our team. We had a very fast racing car. We were moving to the front, but we’ll cheer for Chris Buescher now, I guess.

“It’s disappointing, but any time your season ends in one race, you have a lot more to do than just that one race. Our team put a lot of effort into getting this car ready. They brought a great car, so I was hurt that we didn’t get a chance to show it off.”

Stage 1 Winner: Joey Logano

Stage 2 Winner: Kyle Busch

Drivers who had a bad race: After starting from the pole position, Kyle Larson was unable to lead a lap and retired after just 14 laps with engine trouble in his No. 5 Chevrolet. “I guess it was the timing belt maybe, or something like that,” he said. “I didn’t really have a lot of clues. I’m sure they’ll dig into the data and see if it was happening earlier than when he actually let it go there.” … Rookie Ty Gibbs was caught in the early crash and missed several laps due to the damage.

Next: The Cup Series playoffs will open Sunday, Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway with the prestigious Southern 500 (USA, 6 p.m. ET).

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