Despite crashing out of the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night, Tony Stewart secured enough points to crack the top 30 in the championship standings and now officially finds himself on the provisional NASCAR playoff grid.
Stewart won the Sprint Cup race at Sonoma last weekend but also needed to get inside the top 30 to become fully playoff eligible. He entered Daytona nine points out of the threshold but made it despite getting caught up in a wreck with 12 laps remaining on Saturday night.
Many of those Stewart was racing to get inside the top-30 had actually been involved in the 22-car crash on lap 89 of the 160-lap event, minimizing the damage of his own crash near the finish.
“We knew we might be able to gain points here, but you know it’s a coin toss that you might get in a wreck here,” Stewart told NBC Sports after his crash. “For us it was more trying to take care of us, and when that big wreck happened, that really opened the door for us to really take care of us. Two of the three guys around us in points got caught up in it.”
Stewart ran as high as fourth on Saturday night and a top-5 could have built an even larger cushion for the final nine regular season events. But Stewart shouldered the blame for his crash and the missed opportunity that came with it.
“I hadn’t been loose all day, but I got loose, and then I over-corrected for it and drove it in the fence – definitely my fault,” Stewart said. “We were one of the teams that didn’t take tires (during a previous) caution, and we put tape on the nose. I was a little bit tight and a couple laps before that I came off of (Turn) 4 and Casey Mears luckily was paying attention because I ran him all the way up the racetrack.”
Several other drivers saw their playoff fortunes change during the course of the race, thanks to either a good result or their inclusion in the Big One. Trevor Bayne was a driver on the more fortunate side of the pendulum as he finished third and is just 17th in points and only 10 markers out of the final playoff spot.
“We missed the big one and barely missed the other wreck in Turns 1 and 2, so I’m thankful for that,” Bayne said. “But overall it was just a really solid points day for us. It’s not a win that we needed to get in the Chase, but it’s a great step in the right direction for making it in on points.”
The updated playoff forecast appears below. Stewart is 30th in points but is 11th on the Chase Grid due to his victory. As a result, the cutoff to make the Round of 16 on points has now moved to 15th.
13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. +28
14. Ryan Newman +20
15. Ryan Blaney +4
16. Jamie McMurray -4
17. Trevor Bayne -10
18. Kasey Kahne -13
19. AJ Allmendinger -16
20. Kyle Larson -19
21. Ricky Stenhouse -21