2020 NASCAR Cup Series preview: Daytona 2

It all comes down to this. 

The 2020 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, through six-plus months of COVID-19 postponements, late-race surprise finishes and championship-caliber racing moments, will be concluded under the lights at Daytona International Speedway Saturday evening. 

With 18 drivers vying for the final three playoff spots, the race will serve as the final opportunity to lock in a playoff bid before the postseason officially gets underway. 

Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin, the two leading championship contenders, will start on the pole and in 10th, respectively. Both drivers have combined for 13 wins during the regular season (seven for Harvick and six for Hamlin), 31 top-five finishes (17 for Harvick and 14 for Hamlin), 37 top-10 finishes (21 for Harvick and 16 for Hamlin), 1,873 laps led (1,111 for Harvick and 762 for Hamlin) and 14 stage wins (seven for each driver). During the 2020 Daytona 500, both drivers finished inside the top five (Hamlin won the race and Harvick finished fifth). 

While Harvick and Hamlin are already locked into the playoffs, fringe drivers hovering above or below the 16-driver playoff cutline will have to battle and potentially gamble their way into the round of 16. 

William Byron and Matt DiBenedetto currently sit above the cutline by four and nine points, respectively. During the Daytona 500, both drivers finished 40th and 19th, respectively. Over the past seven races, Byron has finished inside the top 15 six times and inside the top 10 three times. DiBenedetto, meanwhile, has finished inside the top 15 four times and inside the top 10 twice. Both drivers will start sixth and 15th, respectively.

While Byron and DiBenedetto currently sit above the cutline, Jimmie Johnson and Erik Jones currently sit just below it. After Johnson took a risky two-tire gamble at Dover and finished third, the 44-year-old for Hendrick Motorsports is four points underneath the cutline. Jones, meanwhile, sits 50 points underneath the cutline. Both drivers will look to improve off of their 35th and 18th-place finish in the Daytona 500. Johnson will start seventh and Jones will start 20th.

Stages for the race will end on lap 50, lap 100 and the finish on lap 160. Coverage for the race will begin at 7:30 p.m. EST on NBC. The Motor Racing Network will provide radio coverage.

Starting lineup:

Pit stall assignments:

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