Sometimes, everything can change in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in less than a second.

Entering the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last Saturday at Daytona International Speedway, Erik Jones had one top-five finish in the previous 17 races. He was shakily holding onto a playoff spot.

In a season in which victories have been rare for drivers not named Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch or Martin Truex Jr., Jones appeared to be in a mix of around 20 drivers who would battle for the 10 remaining playoff spots for the Race for the Cup after the 26-race regular season.

Harvick, Busch and Truex had combined to win 13 of 17 races. Clint Bowyer, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano were the only other automatic playoff qualifiers because of victories.

The way Busch, Harvick and Truex have been driving, there is a real possibility that, for the first time since NASCAR instituted the playoffs in 2004, fewer than 10 drivers would earn playoff spots from winning a regular-season race. The other playoff spots are determined by the points standings.

Jones, who had never won in his first 55 Monster Energy races and qualified for a pole position only once, was 14th in the standings but not by a secure margin. Then Saturday happened and the point standings no longer mattered for Jones.

On a wild night in Florida when only 20 of 40 cars finished and the race ran eight overtime laps, Jones, 22, passed Truex on the 168th and final lap and held on for victory by a 0.125-second margin.

Erik Jones smiling next to the trophy after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.
TERRY RENNA / AP
Erik Jones smiling next to the trophy after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday.

Jones' first career Monster Energy victory got him one of the coveted spots for the playoffs. The rest of the regular season still matters, but Jones is the seventh driver who knows he will at least have a shot at the Monster Energy championship.

Getting a win to secure a playoff spot is a difference maker. If playoff bids were determined only by the point standings, Dillon, who won the season-opening Daytona 500, would not make the field.

The pressure to win a race is building. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ticked off many racers Saturday, getting credited with instigating two of the eight crashes. NASCAR had a security patrol with Stenhouse as he left the garage.

Stenhouse, who is in 17th place in the playoff standings, offered no apologies for his role in the chaos.

Ross Chastain (15), Trevor Bayne (6), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) and Brendan Gaughan (62) collided along the front stretch during Saturday’s race.
Phelan M. Ebenhack / AP
Ross Chastain (15), Trevor Bayne (6), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (17) and Brendan Gaughan (62) collided along the front stretch during Saturday’s race.

"No, it's aggressive speedway racing," he said. "We needed to win to get in the playoffs, so it is what it is."

That could become the prevalent mindset and make for some exciting but desperate racing down the stretch of the regular season.

With eight races left, it's not unreasonable that anyone from Aric Almirola, who is in 12th place in the standings with a +96-point cushion from the cut line, down to Daniel Suarez, who is in 20th at -108, could find the right combination of points gained and points missed by others to find their way into the playoffs.

There are probably 10 drivers that realistically could earn one of the last five (12 to 16) playoff positions. That, of course, is assuming there aren't more first-time winners who snatch an automatic bid and lessen the number available.

Next up: Quaker State 400, July 14 at Kentucky Speedway (7:30 p.m., NBCSN). 2017 winner: Martin Truex, Jr.