The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season will come to an end this Saturday night under the lights at Daytona International Speedway with the running of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and thanks to the results from Dover’s doubleheader weekend, the anticipation for a race has never been higher. Going into Dover all eyes were on the battle for the final spot in the sixteen driver field that would be advancing to the playoff round of the schedule.
Jimmie Johnson entered Saturday’s race trailing his Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron by 25 points for the final transfer spot into the playoff round but had to like his chances of cutting into that lead as Dover has been the sight of 11 checkered flags for the seven-time series champion. Saturday’s race was the kind of day that he needed and couple that with a very poor showing by Bryon, he was able to take a three-point advantage into Sunday’s race.
Bryon’s team lead by crew chief Chad Knaus (a seven-time series champion crew chief) rallied on Sunday to retake the lead in the standings but it was a battle to the checkered flag.
Johnson and his team took a gamble during the last pit stop of the day during a caution flag on lap 289 of the 311 lap race. He took on only two tires while the rest of the lead cars took on four which put him in the lead on the restart. His two tires proved to be no match for eventual race winner Kevin Harvick and second place finisher Martin Truex Jr. but the track position was good enough for him to hold on to third place. Byron finished in fourth but he was able to add more stage points to his race total so he will now take the green flag at Daytona with a four-point lead over Johnson.
Matt DiBenedetto’s Dover weekend results has added to the drama for the final playoff spot as it has now become a battle between three drivers for the final two playoff spots. DiBenedetto finished 20th on Saturday and 17th on Sunday which now has him going to Daytona with a slim five point lead over Byron and nine points ahead of Johnson.
While these three drivers will be driving against each other on Saturday night, their crew chiefs and spotters will also be keeping a close look on who is leading the field. Winning a race is still the most direct path to the playoffs and there is a chance with a “wild card” race on the high-banked turns at Daytona that the winner could come from a driver outside of the top-16 in points.
If that does happen those three drivers will find themselves fighting it out for the final spot in the playoff field. Kevin Harvick’s win on Sunday was somewhat overshadowed by the points battle going on for the final playoff spot but there is no way you can overlook the season that the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is in the process of putting together. The win clinched the regular season championship and more importantly earned him the 15-Playoff point bonus that follows him throughout the first nine races of the playoff schedule.
It was also his seventh checkered flag of the season with each one coming after the sport returned to racing on May 17.
The trip to victory lane was the 56th of his career which ties him with Kyle Busch for ninth on the all-time win list. The win was also a huge one for Ford as it was the manufacturer’s 700th all-time win in the NASCAR Cup Series. Harvick has only been behind the wheel of a Ford for three-plus seasons and during that span has notched 21 wins for the manufacturer which ranks him 13th on the all-time win list for Blue Oval drivers.