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Friday February 3rd, 2023 1:07AM

Keselowski, 14 others vying for last 2 NASCAR playoff spots

By The Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Brad Keselowski likes his chances at Daytona International Speedway, which is somewhat strange considering his recent results at the famed track.

Keselowski has crashed eight times in his last 11 starts at the superspeedway and finished worse than 30th six times. He’s hardly the only unlucky one at Daytona, where unusual winners and odd top-10s are as common as three-wide racing and multicar wrecks.

So maybe Keselowski should feel confident heading into Saturday night’s regular-season finale, where the 2012 Cup Series champion and 14 others are vying for the final two playoff spots.

“It goes without saying, but this race is going to be wild,” Keselowski said. “I told the team that if I can be one of the last 10 cars left on the last restart, we’ll have a shot and that’s about all you can ask for, especially in this type of scenario.

“We know we have speed and feel really good about our chances. We just need everything to align to make it happen.”

In his first year as a driver/owner at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, Keselowski needs a victory to make the postseason for the 10th consecutive year. It’s the longest streak of anyone outside the current playoff field.

Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton, Cole Custer, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Todd Gilliland, Justin Haley, Erik Jones, Michael McDowell, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Bubba Wallace are the other do-or-die guys.

Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. are the only drivers who haven't yet locked up playoff spots and can make it without winning at Daytona. At least one is guaranteed to get in. Blaney won the exhibition All-Star Race and sits third in points, 143 behind regular-season champion Chase Elliott. Truex leads the series in stage wins and ranks sixth in points.

If Blaney or Truex wins at Daytona, the other automatically gets in on points. If a driver already locked into the postseason lands in victory lane, both Blaney and Truex would make the 16-driver field based on points. If there’s another new winner Saturday, whoever ends the night with more points between Blaney and Truex would advance.

It’s a little complicated and yet somewhat simple. Either way, it should lead those on the outside looking in to take more chances than usual.

“I think the end could be very chaotic,” defending series champ Kyle Larson said. “Obviously you have to get to the end to have a shot to win. I don’t know if the first couple of stages will be that crazy. I don’t know what’s going through other drivers’ minds, guys who are in position that they have to win to make the playoffs.”

THE FRONT-RUNNERS

Despite failing to win a race, Blaney and Truex have been two of the more consistent cars all season and got help Thursday when Kurt Busch announced he would miss the start of NASCAR’s playoffs with concussion-like symptoms that have sidelined him for six weeks. His team, 23XI Racing, withdrew the medical waiver that was holding Busch’s postseason spot.

The decision meant Blaney and Truex are no longer racing each other for the final spot. Now both could get in.

“To me, the strategy at Daytona is to just try to stay up front as much as possible or as close to the front as you can and hope that when the big crash happens, it’s behind you,” Truex said. “As much of a wild card race as this is, I think we’ll have a good shot at winning and it’d be a great time to get our first superspeedway win with everything on the line. It’d be quite a story.”

Blaney needs 31 points to clinch a playoff spot and could do it during the race. If he scores no stage points, he would need to finish sixth or better.

THE WILD CARDS

Almirola (2014), Stenhouse (2017), Austin Dillon (2018 Daytona 500), Jones (2018), Haley (2019) and McDowell (2021 Daytona 500) have a Cup victory at Daytona. And Wallace has run about as well as anyone at Daytona, finishing runner-up last August and again in February.

Like Keselowski, all of them should feel they have a shot.

“Anybody who’s top 30 in points can win that race,” Kyle Busch said. “We’ve seen Front Row Motorsports win. We’ve seen Spire win. We’ve seen teams that don’t normally win races be able to score victories in the speedway races, so that just heightens the anxiety level for everybody. …

“You’ve got to be good, but there’s still a lot of luck involved.”

ODDS AND ENDS

Elliott is the 10-1 betting favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, just ahead of Wallace, Blaney and Denny Hamlin. Those three are each 12-1. Larson and Joey Logano are 13-1 choices. ... The 37-car field includes 14 previous winners in 2022, 15 guys vying for the final two playoff spots, five drivers ineligible for the Cup postseason because they're getting points in another series and three guys already eliminated: Corey LaJoie, David Ragan and Cody Ware.

___

More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP Sports, AP Online Auto Racing, NASCAR
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