DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Daytona is known as the "wild card" in the Race to the Chase, the final 10 races of the regular season leading up to NASCAR's postseason. The track certainly lived up to expectations Saturday night as things tightened up considerably in the battle for the wild card -- the two positions in the Chase given to the two drivers with the most victories ranked 11th to 20th in points.
Thanks to top-five runs by Joey Logano and Ryan Newman, and a seventh-place finish for Kasey Kahne, the wild-card hunt is as close as it's been this season with eight races remaining.
Despite crashing on the final lap and finishing 24th, Kyle Busch (12th) holds on to the first wild card. Logano (14th) has a hold on the second wild card, but by a point over Newman. Kahne is fourth on the list, but trails Logano by just seven points. In all, the four drivers with victories ranked 11th through 20th are separated by a scant 20 points.
*Video: Wild card hopeful sandwich on pit road
"It was big for us," Newman said bluntly after his fifth-place finish in Saturday's Coke Zero 400. "We might have lost a playoff berth, but we are still in plenty of contention."
Newman came very close to seeing his Chase hopes take a big hit early in the race. On Lap 82, during the first caution of the race, Newman exited his pit box, made contact with Gordon on the outside, swerved into Kahne on the inside and ultimately spun on pit road. He ended up hitting the No. 2 of Brad Keselowski, who was in the middle of his stop.
"The No. 24 [Gordon] just didn't give us any room," Newman said. "I watched him come off pit lane behind us and he had plenty of time to get to the outside lane -- which, I mean, he's been around the sport long enough to know that's what you do. He just didn't give us enough room. He hurt two of his teammates and that's disappointing."
There was enough damage to Newman's No. 39 Chevrolet for him to come back twice more under that caution for repairs, and again on Lap 91. Newman fell as low as 33rd, but stayed on the lead lap and worked his way back up front, giving credit to his team for their success.
"The guys did a good job fighting back," he said. "We got lucky there. I thought we were going to be about 20th and we came home fifth."
Logano had problems of his own he had to overcome.
On Lap 125, chaos ensued on the entrance to pit road as Jimmie Johnson slowed and got rear ended, causing a multi-car pileup in the process. Logano was involved and spun at least three times through the infield grass and had moderate damage after contact with other cars. The No. 20 team made repairs the rest of the night and the hard work -- and a little luck -- paid off.
"It was crazy; crazy to say the least," Logano said. "We missed a lot of the big wrecks, which is good. We did get one wreck and we got lucky we didn't get hit too hard and we fixed our car. We got lucky we didn't get back out in time behind the field and they all wrecked, so we got lucky there. And the last [crash], I was in the middle of it and was getting pushed around and bumped around a lot.
"We got pushed, got sideways, saved it and I was able to pass the rest of them. I saw the No. 16 go through my rearview mirror really, really close and I was like, 'Whoa, that was a close one.' There were a few moments in my Daytona weekend my heart may have stopped a few times."
Like Newman, Logano is just happy to survive Daytona, leave with a great finish and move on to New Hampshire.
"A day like this is huge," Logano said. "Any time you get top-five finishes it's a big day. To get this one out of the way, this is one you just never know. Taking a solid finish home is exciting."
For Newman, this finish meant so much more. He has been in a funk since his Martinsville victory in April and this was just what his No. 39 team needed heading into New Hampshire and the final eight races of the regular season.
"Well it was a good points day for us -- some other guys had some trouble," Newman said. "To get our first top-10 since Martinsville and our win -- it was so long ago, that's what our team needed. We've just got to keep plugging away.
"Loudon is a place which Stewart-Haas has done an awesome job at in the past and we look forward to going there. It's a place that we're good at and we need to go up there and be great."
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