Wed | Feb 26, 2020

Austin Dillon's Daytona 500 win special

Published:Sunday | February 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM


It was a battle of attrition last Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.

One by one, or at times, four by four, the big boys, the betting favorites, went down in a heap of sparks, skid marks, and twisted metal. By the time it ended, 25 of the 40 cars were still running, many of them badly damaged. Jimmie Johnson, Danica Patrick, Kevin Harvick, and many others ended their day early. For Johnson, a two-time winner, it was his third wreck this week.

In the end, 27-year-old Austin Dillon confounded the experts by taking the checkered flag for his first Daytona 500 victory and his second win in 159 races on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Dillon won NASCAR's most prestigious race by driving the No. 3 to victory 20 years after Dale Earnhardt Sr. captured his only Daytona 500 title in the same car. Dillon, whose brother Ty was also in the race, drives for his grandfather, Richard Childress, who was the team owner for Earnhardt during six of his record-tying seven Cup Series championships.

It was Earnhardt's son, Dale Jr, who started the race by saying, "Drivers, start your engines."

Dillon won in the first overtime when leader Aric Almirola crashed after being pushed by Dillon while taking the white flag.




The final lap was the only one Dillon led the entire race, just as Kurt Busch did in 2017.

"I said my first win (the 2017 Coca-Cola 600) I couldn't beat it, but this does," Dillon said. "My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to preform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure.

"The same with the No 3. There is a lot of pressure behind that. But I'm willing to take that and go with it. I'm just thankful for all the people that support us along the way. Dale Earnhardt, Jr and his family for letting us bring this number back. It comes full circle."

Childress was visibly overcome during a Fox TV interview.

"Being able to win with the 3 car 20 years after Dale won in '98 is so special," Childress said. "I can't let the fans know enough how special this is."

Right behind Dillon was rookie Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr, the first African- American driver to race full time on NASCAR's premier series since Wendell Scott in 1971. His second-place finish was the highest for an African American since Scott finished 13th in 1966.

Wallace received a phone call before the race from fellow Mobile native and baseball legend Hank Aaron, who gave him some quick words of inspiration. Wallace was driving the iconic No. 43 car that Richard Petty drove to a record seven Daytona 500 victories.

Wallace and his mother, Desiree, embraced and cried in the media centre afterward.

The Vegas betting favourite, Brad Keselowski, went down halfway through the race. He was not a happy camper.

"We had a great car and were in a great position," Keselowski said. "I guess that's the way it goes. There was nothing I could do. We were all wrecked."

That's the kind of day it was at stock-car racing's most famous track on Sunday.