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Austin Dillon wins Daytona by bumping Cindric; Blaney in, Truex out of playoffs

After clearing a big crash before weather delayed the race, Austin Dillon was able to take the victory at Daytona International Speedway in the exciting last Cup race before heading to the playoffs.

Austin Dillon won the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway to snatch a NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot, taking the lead by shoving Austin Cindric aside with three laps remaining.

Ryan Blaney secured the final playoff spot on points, and Martin Truex Jr. was eliminated

In scoring his fourth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series, Dillon won a race that already had been postponed since Saturday night and then was stopped for more than three hours by rain Sunday afternoon.

On a restart with 16 laps remaining, Dillon was passed by Cindric, who had a drafting push from Truex.

STATS PACKAGE: Results, points standings after Sunday at Daytona

But Dillon, who had drafting help from Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick and fellow Chevy driver Noah Gragson in the closing laps, got back to the leader’s bumper with 10 laps remaining, and he nudged Cindric out of first and down the banking with a well-timed bump in Turn 1.

"We stayed ready,” Dillon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “And I have to thank my teammate Tyler Reddick (and) everybody that makes this thing happen.

“Man, we’re in the Playoffs. There was a lot going on there. I knew that if we got to the white (flag),if I waited too long, I was afraid somebody would wreck behind us, so I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. We were able to get it.

“I had a big run to (Cindric), and then I had (Reddick) back there. I knew we were in good shape there to the end. He did a good job checking up any kind of run. I felt like I had good teammates and Chevrolet behind me. If I could get the lead, (Cindric) would not be able to hold onto the draft.”

Cindric, the Daytona 500 winner seeking a clean sweep at the World Center of Racing, finished third behid Reddick after the Team Penske driver rebounded with drafting help from a few other Fords.

"I got hit by another race car going 200 mph,” Cindric said. “Glad I saved it. Glad I had a shot to come back through the field. He is racing for a playoff spot. Totally expect to get drove through. Just a matter of time. Pretty bummed. I mean, we had a shot to win today. We put ourselves in position. Not a scratch on it. Dang it.

“I knew I was a sitting duck. I felt like I was Xfinity racing again. I was the only Ford out there. One lap longer, might have had a shot. I don’t know. Frustrating just to be that close. Kind of pissed about it, but can’t be too upset. In the Playoffs and have a lot to fight for. Great opportunity.”

Landon Cassill finished fourth, and Noah Gragson rounded out the top five.

Dillon took his first lead nearly four hours earlier by emerging from a major pileup in Turn 2 just before a red flag for rain halted Sunday’s race after Lap 139 at Daytona International Speedway. Only 17 of 37 cars were running at the finish as three multicar wrecks took their toll.

Several cars at the front of the field, including race leader Denny Hamlin, all spun on damp asphalt at the entry to Turn 2 with 22 laps remaining in the regular-season cutoff race as a rain shower hit the 2.5-mile oval.

Dillon, who had been 16th when the crash started, kept his No. 3 Chevrolet low on the track and scooted through the debris field to take first on Lap 138 of a scheduled 160. NASCAR then threw the red flag for a downpour around 12:35 p.m. ET.

The red flag was lifted shortly before 4 p.m., and the green flew again at 4:05 p.m. The race finally ended about 20 minutes later.

Blaney, who finished 15th despite having a heavily damaged car that was six laps down, claimed the final spot in the 16-driver playoffs by three points over Truex.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014 despite being fourth in the regular-season standings.

"Just not fast enough to keep up with those guys,” Truex, who finished eighth and remained winless at Daytona, told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We got the restart we need and got into a decent spot there. Just couldn’t keep up. I was wide open the whole last run there. It’s a shame. It stinks.

“But just too much damage to have enough speed to do what we needed to do. Hindsight is always 20/20. We gave away plenty of points throughout the season, but it is what it is.”

Two multicar crashes in the 40 laps preceding the red flag had eliminated several contenders, as drivers raced frantically with the threat of rain shortening a race that had become official on Lap 80. The race had started at 10 a.m. ET after being postponed from Saturday night by rain.

Justin Haley, who had won a rain-shortened race at Daytona in 2019 by inheriting the lead under yellow just before inclement weather, tried to repeat history Sunday. The Kaulig Racing driver took the lead on Lap 129 as most of the field pitted under yellow.

Haley was battling for the lead with Hamlin when he also spun because of the wet conditions. He was one of multiple drivers who criticized NASCAR for failing to stop the race sooner.

“Yeah, it was raining for a good lap before we got into Turn 1, my spotter said,” Haley told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “Coming out of (Turn 2) the previous lap, it was raining and we just lost traction. It’s pretty unacceptable.

CRITICAL CALL: Drivers question why race wasn’t stopped earlier for rain before wreck

“I thought we did a good job all day. It’s just tough. I fight for my ride, fight for my life, every day. We take these small opportunities and try to make something of it. It’s unacceptable.”

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

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

“We’re very fortunate,” Blaney told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman after the race. “That’s for sure. It was not a good day getting going and getting up early. At that point, our fate was not really in our hands. All we could do is try to keep working on it and fix it to where we could make laps.

“Thankfully, we were able to get enough cars throughout the wrecks that we kind of just kept moving up and were able to get in. That’s definitely a lot more stressful than I wanted coming into here, but I just got to give a lot of props to the 12 group, you know, for fixing it and sticking with it all day. That’s why you do it. Your day can start off like that, and you just stay with it and stay in the game. And it was definitely beneficial for us. Appreciate them. We’ll go race for a championship.”

Truex barely managed to avoid the early wreck and finished fifth when the first stage ended four laps later.

But then disaster struck for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver shortly after the restart to begin the final stage.

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

Truex was running 11th but was caught in the chain reaction, making contact with Ross Chastain and William Byron.

Truex’s No. 19 Toyota suffered left-side damage, and a tire failure blew out its right-front fender. He fell to 28th, the last car on the lead lap after repairs for damage.

“I knew we should not have been up there, dude,” Truex radioed crew chief James Small.

Truex had finished second in Stage 2, earning 15 points on Blaney during the race.

“The Bass Pro Toyota is pretty beat up from that first incident, but we’re in (the playoffs) right now,” Truex told Burns during the delay. “Just see what happens here. Just typical Daytona. Had good speed, around the front, good stage points and then pow, in the middle of it. Just kind of the way it goes here. Wrong place, wrong time. Now maybe right place right time. This place is wild. You never know.

“It’s not driving great and doesn’t have much speed left like it did earlier, but heck, nobody does now.”

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

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

Both wrecks also were costly for the winless cars of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing that were 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.

Buescher rebounded and was racing for the lead with Hamlin when his No. 17 Ford was caught in the wreck just before the red flag.

“We wiped out all the lead cars, so whoever wins this race wasn’t even in contention,” Buescher said. “It’s just ridiculous from my point of view.”

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

“Somebody wrecked in front of me,” he said. “I’m not really sure exactly what happened, but there were just a bunch of cars wrecking in front of me. I didn’t have anywhere to go and couldn’t slow down in time, so I hate it for our team. We had a really fast race car. We were working our way to the front, but we’ll cheer on Chris Buescher now, I guess.

“It’s frustrating, but whenever your season is down to one race you’ve got a lot more going on than just that one race. Our team put a lot of effort into getting this car ready. They brought a great car, so I hurt for them that we didn’t get a chance to show it.”

Stage 1 winner: Joey Logano

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Drivers who had a good race: Several lesser-known types managed to avoid being eliminated in the early crashes, namely: Landon Cassill, Cody Ware, BJ McLeod, David Ragan and Noah Gragson. All finished in the top 10.

Drivers who had a bad race: Uhhh, are we talking just guys who were eliminated by wrecks? Because that would include: Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Gilliland, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell. ... Rookie Ty Gibbs was caught in the early accident and lost multiple laps because of the damage. ... After starting from the pole position, Kyle Larson was unable to lead a lap and retired after only 14 laps with an engine problem in his No. 5 Chevrolet. “I guess it was the timing belt maybe, or something like that,” he said. “I didn’t really have much of an indication. I’m sure they’ll dig through the data and see if it was happening earlier than when it really let go there.”

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