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What to Watch: Full guide to the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway

Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona (⏰ 7 p.m. ET | 📺 NBC | 📻 MRN, SiriusXM)

Everything you need to know for Sunday’s Cup Series regular-season finale, the 26th points-paying NASCAR Cup Series event of the 2021 season.

Where: Daytona International Speedway, aka The World Center of Racing, a 2.5-mile track located in Daytona Beach, Florida
Starting Lineup:
Kyle Larson will lead the field to green under the lights, accompanied by teammate William Byron on the front row. See the full lineup.
Green flag: 7:44 p.m. ET
TV/Radio: NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Forecast: Possible thunderstorm in the afternoon. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 80. East southeast wind 10 to 15 mph, according to
Grand Marshal: Noah Lyles, Tokyo 2020 U.S. Olympic medalist and 200-meter world champion in track and field
Race Distance: 160 laps, 400 miles
Stages: 50 | 100 | 160
Pit-road speed: 55 mph
Caution car speed: 70 mph
Daytona 101: Get the full lowdown
Entry list: See who’s in the field
Pit-stall assignments: See who is pitting where | Expert breaks down pit-road selections

Daytona Racing Night
Mike Ehrmann | Getty Images

Five to watch

Here are five big story lines we’ll be following at Daytona:

1. We have reached the regular-season finale, meaning a driver will be leaving Daytona International Speedway with an incredible trophy in hand. The only question is: Will it be Kyle Larson or Denny Hamlin? Hamlin has had control over the season standings for most of the season to date, despite being winless. But Larson’s summer streak has put a halt to Hamlin’s reign and the N0. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver is in ideal position to secure the 15 bonus points for the playoffs that come with the regular-season championship. Heading into the finale, Larson leads Hamlin by 28 points — the largest deficit the veteran has faced all season. If there’s one thing we know about Daytona, it’s don’t count out Hamlin. See the full standings here.

2. The Cup Series playoffs’ Round of 16 looms large with 15 drivers already gearing up for a 2021 Championship 4 bid in Phoenix, Arizona later this year. Just one final race decides who moves on to the title hunt and who might need to regroup for next season. Richard Childress Racing teammates Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon have been locked in a friendly battle over the last few races, but Reddick’s grip on the final points position is still strong — plus 25 over the cutline. If history has any say, Dillon should be the most comfortable of the two, having already won at the daunting Daytona track. But pump the brakes. The battle for the final position isn’t just between the two RCR contenders, it extends much further below them. In addition to the RCR duo, if any driver in 17th through 30th position in the points standings gets a win, he is automatically in. The temperature in the field just got a little hotter. See the drivers locked in the bubble battle. | Explore the clinching scenarios.

3. Every time the Cup Series heads to Daytona, or any superspeedway for that matter, all eyes seem to turn to Denny Hamlin. How does he do it? How is he so consistent at the most unpredictable track type on the schedule? Hamlin has won two of the last five races at Daytona and has finished in the top five in six of the last seven superspeedway races. Another win at The World Center of Racing would give him four in his career, placing him in a tie for seventh-most all time. Needing a high-pressure win — which would shockingly be his first of the 2021 campaign — it all comes down to one of Hamlin’s best tracks. Already locked into the playoffs on points, the regular-season title honors (trophy and points) and all the momentum heading into the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway would be that much sweeter for the No. 11 camp. He is undoubtedly the driver to beat.

4. This year has been the season of new winners. From Michael McDowell‘s season-opening win at the Daytona 500 to Aric Almirola‘s clutch victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the entire season has been filled with new tracks and unpredictability. Through 25 races, the Cup Series has seen 13 different drivers in Victory Lane. Though slowed drastically by Kyle Larson‘s blazing-summer run, there has still been a substantial amount of parity this season as a whole. And the same holds true at a track like Daytona. Nine different drivers have combined to win the last 10 races there. If there has ever been a season (or a single race) to bet on the underdogs, this is it.

5. Joe Gibbs Racing superstars Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have had a rough time of it at superspeedways in recent memory. Busch has failed to finish the last three races at Daytona, and his best superspeedway finish in the last eight tries is 14th. Truex notched finishes of 20th or worse in 10 of his last 11 trips to the big ovals and is 0-for-65 in superspeedway races in his career. Currently, Truex sits second in the projected playoff standings, followed by the younger Busch brother in third. Will the dynamic JGR duo fare better this weekend under the lights?

Race-day staples2021aug23 Matt Dibenedetto Pr

Our biggest pieces of the week — get covered for race day from all angles.

Power Rankings: Will Matt DiBenedetto come in clutch at Daytona? | Scope the ranks
Paint Scheme Preview: Shining bright under the lights | See the schemes
Fantasy Fastlane: See who to use, avoid | Full Fantasy advice | Set your roster
Preview Show: Jonathan Merryman and Alex Weaver preview the race | Watch the show

Get in on the action

Think you know NASCAR? Put your mettle to the test with gaming, fantasy.

• Bet on it: Betting odds for Daytona | See the odds
• NASCAR betting:
See how the sport is ascending, according to an expert | Read more
• Locking in the lines: Playoff scramble impacts odds for Daytona | Read more
• Q&A:
Vegas native Brendan Gaughan talks NASCAR betting, growing up in casinos and more  | Full conversation
• No risk, big reward: Take a shot at winning cash prizes with the free-to-play Jackpot Races app | Hit the jackpot
• Play it LIVE:
Full guide to 2021 NASCAR Fantasy Live game | Get the FAQ

Fast facts

Hamlin Vs Larson
Brian Lawdermilk | Getty Images

Hard-hitting, race-relevant statistics, brought to you by the experts at Racing Insights.

Excluding 2013, seven drivers have raced their way into the postseason in Race 26, the regular-season finale.
Every driver 15th in points through 30th in points could make the playoffs by winning.
If Kyle Larson earns 32 points in the race, he becomes regular-season champion regardless of what Denny Hamlin does. 
Martin Truex Jr. has 65 superspeedway starts, leading all active drivers who are winless at the track type.
Corey LaJoie has finished top 10 in three of the last four races at Daytona, and Spire Motorsports won here in 2019 with Justin Haley.

Catch the pack

Read up on all the headlines from the week leading up to Saturday’s race.

• On the move: Kurt Busch is heading to 23XI Racing for the 2022 season | Read more
• Don’t forget my number:
Number placement is moving forward on the Next Gen car |Read more
• Partnering up:
Xfinity named presenting partner for Cup elimination races | Read more
• Unfinished business:
Crew chief Todd Gordon chasing one more title | Read more
• Back in Petty blue:
Erik Jones returning to Richard Petty Motorsports in 2022 | See details
• Remembering Robin Miller:
Motorsports media personality dies at age 71 | Read more
• Ever been to Dawsonville?:
Take a tour of Chase Elliott’s hometown — documentary airing on Peacock now | See the images
• Partner-driven technology:
NASCAR launches global Technology Partner Platform initiative | Learn more

Say what?

The best quotes from big names in the sport heading into this weekend’s race.

“With a playoff spot still available, I’m sure it’s going to be intense. (Second place in standings) Denny (Hamlin) runs well at Daytona, so I am glad we have a bit of a cushion in the points. But that lead can be gone in an instant, so I hope to avoid all the craziness and have a good solid finish.” — Kyle Larson, driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

LONG POND, PENNSYLVANIA - JUNE 27: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Acronis Ford, waves to fans on the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Explore the Pocono Mountains 350 at Pocono Raceway on June 27, 2021 in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

“Daytona is always exciting because of the unknowns that it presents. For me, it hasn’t been too kind over the years. We’ve had strong cars more often than not and not much to show for it because of being caught up in the big wrecks. In February, I felt like we had a great car all week and then got caught up in that big wreck early and had to ride around in the back all day. We’ll go down there this week and try to run up front all night and see what happens.” — Martin Truex Jr. driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

“I think about growing up I never raced for points in anything. We never purposely raced to try and win a track championship or any national events that were big ones. We wanted to go where everybody was showing up and go win that race, and so that was something that I grew up not really racing for points. It’s was you maximize your weekend and it will get you the maximum amount of points that you’re capable of. Winning every race will win you championships, so it’s something that I don’t have a whole lot of experience in doing and actually kind of dislike doing because of it, and I think that it always has to be on your mind as we look towards the playoffs, but in our scenario now we don’t have to think about the points side and we haven’t for a couple weeks now. Now, it’s go to the race track and figure out how to win a race.” — Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford

Anything I do to help him, hurts me. Anything he does to help me, hurts him. So, we really can’t work together at all, unfortunately. At the end of the day, I still want an RCR car to be in the playoffs over anybody else, obviously. And he feels the exact same way about that. But for him to do everything for his team to get into the playoffs, he can’t be helping the 8 and I can’t be helping the 3. It’s kind of a weird spot. But, for sure, I know where he stands because I’m the same way. We want an RCR car to be in the playoffs this year. It’s just a difficult place to be in because we’re obviously not going to go out there and screw each other over because neither one of us will make the playoffs potentially if someone new wins. It’s just a very complex situation.” — Tyler Reddick, driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet on battling his teammate for the final spot in the playoffs. Reddick and Dillon are the only drivers who can make the playoffs without having to win at Daytona.