NASCAR Daytona Notebook: Bubba Wallace Grabs Final Playoff Spot, Keslowski Puts Out Fire

nascar cup series coke zero sugar 400
NASCAR Notes: Who Made Playoffs, Who Put Out FireChris Graythen - Getty Images

Bubba Wallace was exhausted but elated when he stepped from his 23XI Racing Toyota following Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. With his 12th-place finish, the 29-year-old Wallace had made the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs for the first time in his career. He said the accomplishment goes on his Mt. Rushmore.

“I don’t have a lot of things on my Mt. Rushmore,” Wallace says. “I got two faces with my two wins. I’ll put this as the third face up there. I don’t have much emotion, just relieved, drained mentally. Glad we’ve got the day off tomorrow because I’ll be hurting on Monday.

nascar cup series coke zero sugar 400
Bubba Wallace was the center of attention after qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Playoffs on Saturday night.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

“You come to Daytona, and you focus so much on controlling the things that you can control. My stubborn ass never wants to listen to people telling me that. I finally did that, and we are locked in. What an incredible feat for our 23 team.”


After a few more interviews, Wallace spotted crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker III sitting in his wheelchair on pit road talking with reporters. Wallace, with a large smile on his face, rushed over to Barker and hugged him.

“We have really good people and I always tell my people how good they are,” Barker says. “Now there’s proof. It makes us stronger … the sky’s the limit. I believe in momentum. We have positive momentum going in (to the playoffs).”

Barker admitted that coming into the race “I prayed a lot.” He said their strategy was to get enough points and then try to win, but, also, “if somebody had already won … in front of us shove them.”

“It was tough because there were so many Fords left and no Toyotas,” said Barker, who admitted he relaxed a little when Ty Gibbs was eliminated from the race.

23XI Racing co-owner Denny Hamlin said he was proud for the organization to get both of its cars in the playoffs in just its third season.

“We’ve seen a really big shift for Bubba getting better,” Hamlin said. “He’s stepping up and I look forward to seeing what he does.”

Wallace’s teammate Tyler Reddick gained entrance into the playoffs with a victory earlier this year at Circuit of the Americas.

nascar cup series coke zero sugar 400
Ty Gibbs was one of several drivers caught up in a big wreck in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.Sean Gardner - Getty Images

‘The Big One’ Foils Gibbs Playoff Hopes

Ty Gibbs entered Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona 32 points below the playoff cutline. He knew if the 160-lap race didn’t have a new winner this season, the final playoff position would come down to him and fellow Toyota driver Bubba Wallace.

Throughout the race’s first half the 20-year-old Gibbs drove like a veteran, racing at the front of the field and easily handling the draft in the high-speed chess game. Then on lap 95, with Gibbs challenging Ryan Blaney for the lead, Gibbs clipped Blaney in the right rear after getting shoved by Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell. That turned Gibbs and Blaney into the outside wall.

“I may have got a push in a bad spot, but we were going for the Stage win,” Gibbs says. “

Blaney said he didn’t see much, just a “big white thing that I was headed towards at a rapid mile per hour and then it was over.”

“I guess the 20 (Christopher Bell) kind of got Ty in a weird spot … and just got into my right rear and off she went,” Blaney says. “It stinks to end our night that way.”

Blaney said he thought the large crash would happen multiple times before it occurred, but further back in the pack and not at the lead.

“There were plenty of times we were three wide where the fifth row on back could have easily wrecked and we didn’t,” Blaney says. “Then it figures right when we get the lead, I get wrecked.”

Blaney said he was glad there was a SAFER barrier where he hit and the way his car reacted was a “big testament to the new front clips.”

“That would have hurt a lot more if we didn’t have the new front clip on it … but still pretty hard,” Blaney says.

Austin Cindric said when the wreck occurred on the final lap of Stage 2, they were running faster than they had all race.

“I keep looking at my lap times and you know when the intensity picks up when you start running faster lap times,” Cindric says. “I, obviously, made the decision that I was far enough back that I should have just bailed, and I was kind of half frightened at that point as far as if I was close to the back or not and, obviously, still too close.”

Suarez Comes Up Short in Playoff Bid

nascar cup series coke zero sugar 400 qualifying
Daniel Suarez finished 17th in the final regular-season NASCAR Cup standings, 47 points behind Bubba Wallace for the final Playoff spot.Chris Graythen - Getty Images

Daniel Suarez slowly walked around his Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet on pit road, examining it. He asked for time to collect himself. The 31-year-old Suarez had just missed the NASCAR Winston Cup playoffs by 47 points.

Trackhouse Racing President Ty Norris walked over to Suarez and put his arm around him, but it provided little consolation.

“I’m just a little bit disappointed,” Suarez said after finishing 20th Saturday night at Daytona. “I don’t feel like this year with this effort we deserved to be in the playoffs. I don’t feel like we have done a good job executing races and being consistent. We have had the speed, but we haven’t been able to execute.

“We knew we needed to set ourselves for the last Stage and we didn’t do that. We didn’t do a good job reacting to the situation. The last call to come to pit road was like a last-minute thing and then we got a little bit of damage. The car wasn’t the same after that and we just couldn’t move forward. We have to learn from this.”

Keselowski Develops Unique Way to Extinguish Car Fire

When NASCAR stopped the race to clean the track after a 12-car crash in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, Brad Keselowski began spinning his Ford in circles. It looked weird, but Keselowski had a perfectly good explanation. He was extinguishing a fire that was in his car.

“I was sitting there under the red flag (and) it just started smoking really big out of the left-front rocker panel,” Keselowski said. “I knew that meant it was about to catch fire and I was going to get knocked out of the race.

“The only way to stop that was to get air moving through the car. Being under the red flag, I had to improvise. There was a pad at the bottom of the race track. I knew I couldn’t drive around the race track without getting in serious trouble, but I figured I could get away with driving on that pad. I just ran on that pad until the flames and the smoke disappeared and called it good.”

Keselowski said he didn’t know what caused the fire.

“Most likely it came from the foam insulation overheating as the car was sitting with stagnant air,” Keselowski says. “Hard to say if some of the foam broke up in the race and dropped on the exhaust crack. There’s a number of things that could have caused it. It’s not really fair for me to speculate.

“Once it happened, I knew I had to do everything I could to fix it or the car was going to catch flames and burn down to the ground and we were going to be out of the race. I could look like a fool or burn to the ground.”


NASCAR Cup Series Race - Coke Zero Sugar 400

Daytona International Speedway

1. (11) Chris Buescher, Ford, 163.

2. (12) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 163.

3. (2) Aric Almirola, Ford, 163.

4. (23) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 163.

5. (14) Joey Logano, Ford, 163.

6. (31) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 163.

7. (18) Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 163.

8. (27) William Byron, Chevrolet, 163.

9. (10) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 163.

10. (37) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 163.

11. (30) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 163.

12. (4) Bubba Wallace, Toyota, 163.

13. (39) Michael McDowell, Ford, 163.

14. (26) Austin Hill(i), Chevrolet, 163.

15. (36) Chandler Smith(i), Chevrolet, 163.

16. (15) Christopher Bell, Toyota, 163.

17. (25) Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 163.

18. (24) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 163.

19. (33) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 163.

20. (22) Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 163.

21. (28) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 163.

22. (29) Josh Berry(i), Chevrolet, 163.

23. (38) BJ McLeod, Chevrolet, 163.

24. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 163.

25. (20) Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 163.

26. (19) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 162.

27. (7) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 161.

28. (3) Harrison Burton, Ford, 160.

29. (17) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 160.

30. (1) Chase Briscoe, Ford, Accident, 156.

31. (9) Ryan Preece, Ford, Accident, 155.

32. (35) Todd Gilliland, Ford, Overheating, 131.

33. (21) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 102.

34. (32) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 96.

35. (5) Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, Accident, 94.

36. (8) Ryan Blaney, Ford, Accident, 94.

37. (16) Austin Cindric, Ford, Accident, 94.

38. (6) Riley Herbst(i), Ford, Accident, 94.

39. (34) Brennan Poole(i), Ford, Accident, 93.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 158.389 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 34 Mins, 22 Secs. Margin of Victory:.098 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 3 for 18 laps.

Lead Changes: 22 among 17 drivers.

Lap Leaders: C. Briscoe 1-22;D. Hamlin 23-34;M. Truex Jr. 35-37;J. Logano 38-46;A. Allmendinger 47-49;C. Elliott 50-51;A. Allmendinger 52-54;R. Chastain 55-57;A. Allmendinger 58-59;R. Chastain 60-75;R. Blaney 76-79;R. Stenhouse Jr. 80;A. Almirola 81-83;H. Burton 84-87;D. Suarez 88;H. Burton 89;K. Busch 90-94;B. Keselowski 95-100;W. Byron 101;M. Truex Jr. 102;C. Briscoe 103-147;K. Harvick 148-161;C. Buescher 162-163.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Chase Briscoe 2 times for 67 laps; Ross Chastain 2 times for 19 laps; Kevin Harvick 1 time for 14 laps; Denny Hamlin 1 time for 12 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 9 laps; AJ Allmendinger 3 times for 8 laps; Brad Keselowski 1 time for 6 laps; Kyle Busch 1 time for 5 laps; Harrison Burton 2 times for 5 laps; Martin Truex Jr. 2 times for 4 laps; Ryan Blaney 1 time for 4 laps; Aric Almirola 1 time for 3 laps; Chris Buescher 1 time for 2 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 2 laps; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 1 lap; William Byron 1 time for 1 lap; Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 19,20,4,54,22,23,2,11,14,99

Stage #2 Top Ten: 6,8,99,48,24,45,9,3,1,22