NASCAR Cup Series

Austin Dillon charges on final lap, wins Daytona 500

6 Mins read
Austin Dillon celebrates his 2018 Daytona 500 victory
Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt lost his life in the 43rd Daytona 500. Six years later, on February 18, 2007, Kevin Harvick – who took over Earnhardt’s car in the aftermath of his death – won the 49th Daytona 500. Ten years after Earnhardt’s death, on February 18, 2011, former Earnhardt driver Michael Waltrip won the Camping World Truck Series race at Daytona International Speedway. On February 18, 2018, Austin Dillon brought the #3 car made famous by Earnhardt back to Victory Lane in the 60th Daytona 500 following a chaotic charge on the final lap.

Before the race, the newly-retired Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave the command as Alex Bowman, who replaced him in the #88 Hendrick Motorsports car for the 2018 season, started the Daytona 500 on the pole. It only seemed fitting for race day to feature Earnhardt tributes, which extended to the honorary pace car driver and former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning, who is a spokesman for Earnhardt and Bowman’s sponsor Nationwide Insurance.

Starting alongside Bowman on the front row was Denny Hamlin, while a pair of young drivers in Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott comprised the second row after winning Thursday’s Can-Am Duel. Hamlin led the first lap, while Bowman fell to sixth after three laps.

The first caution of the day came out on lap nine when Corey LaJoie‘s engine failed, and the leaders pitted. However, Hamlin’s day quickly deteriorated when he overshot his pit box and exited pit road in fifteenth; this matter was exacerbated when he was forced to return to pit road to serve a penalty for pitting outside his box. Kurt Busch won the race off pit road and led the field to the restart on lap 13. Hamlin eventually returned to the race after completing his punishment, but lost the draft and was off the pace. Bowman retook the lead three laps later.

On lap 18, Kasey Kahne narrowly escaped disaster as he was running in sixth. While racing Daniel Suárez, Kahne was bumped by the #19 and slid off the track. To keep his momentum going, Kahne sped through pit road without any concern, though he dropped to thirty-seventh in the process.As the race entered the twenty-lap mark, Erik Jones joined the fight for first with the help of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. After a battle with Bowman, Jones took the lead on lap 23. On lap twenty-nine, Kyle Busch pitted for a flat left-rear tire, continuing his misfortunes in the 500 when it comes to Goodyear tires; in the 2017 race, he was taken out in a crash after losing a rear tire. Stenhouse passed Jones for the lead on lap 34, leading for eleven laps before Chase Elliott became the new leader. Joey Logano also briefly led until Elliott reclaimed first.

The second yellow flag waved on lap 52 when Ky. Busch cut another left-rear tire and hit D.J. KenningtonJamie McMurray also suffered damage when he ran over debris from Busch’s car. The top ten did not pit, so Elliott and Ku. Busch were on the front row for the restart with five laps remaining in the first stage. Busch led for the remainder to win the stage, but chaos ensued in two forms during the five laps: Logano pitted before the field crossed the start/finish line to mark two laps left, and as pit road is closed with two laps remaining, this raised the possibility of him being penalized. No penalty was ultimately called. On the final lap of the stage, Stenhouse got loose on the backstretch and saved the car, but Kyle Larson was bumped by Jones, turning him and clipping Suárez. Jones slid up the track and collected Jimmie Johnson and Ty Dillon, while William Byron was also involved in the wreck. The rest of the top ten consisted of Bowman, Blaney, Stenhouse, Martin Truex Jr.Michael McDowell, Harvick, Elliott, Paul Menard, and Trevor Bayne.

Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. at the 2018 Daytona 500

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

After the carnage to end the first stage, the second began on lap sixty-seven with Bowman and Ryan Blaney as the leaders. Blaney claimed the lead two laps later, holding it until the next caution on lap 93. Two laps earlier, Byron cut a tire, but stayed on the track. Eventually, debris came out of his car to warrant the yellow flag. Truex stayed out to become the leader for the lap 97 restart, but Blaney quickly retook it. Elliott caught up to Blaney to place the Duel winners in the top two spots.

On lap 101, Elliott was pushed by Brad Keselowski up to Blaney’s bumper, during which the #9 was turned and spun. Elliott crashed into Keselowski, Kahne, Harvick, Danica Patrick, and David Ragan, ending their races. It was a rough way for Patrick to end her NASCAR career; the 2013 Daytona 500 pole-sitter was relegated to a thirty-fifth-place finish in her 191st and final Cup start.

Blaney remained the leader for the restart on lap 108, while Team Penske ally Menard joined him on the front row, and dominated the rest of the second stage to win. Logano and Aric Almirola finished behind the two to create a Ford top four, followed by McDowell, Truex, Darrell Wallace Jr., Bayne, A. Dillon, and Hamlin.Before stage three began, Truex was penalized for an uncontrolled tire during his pit stop. Penske team-mates led the field to the start of the final stage on lap 126, with Blaney continuing his run. As the cars pulled into single-file, Blaney extended his successful run; he would lead a race-high 118 of 200 laps.

With 29 laps to go, with the exception of Hamlin, the leaders entered pit road for the final green flag stops. Logano was caught speeding as he approached the pits and was punished as a result. Although Hamlin briefly led for staying out, Blaney retook the lead on lap 174.

On lap 191, Byron spun in turn four to produce the fifth accident-related caution of the race. This set up a Blaney/Truex front row for the restart with seven laps left, though Blaney was overwhelmed by Hamlin and Ku. Busch passing him on both sides. Almirola took the lead with five laps left, though Blaney refused to relinquish the spot as he claimed it back with the drafting help of Hamlin. With three laps remaining, Busch made contact with Blaney and spun, with Stenhouse, Bowman, Brendan Gaughan, andMatt DiBenedetto also being involved. This led to an overtime situation as Hamlin became the leader alongside Almirola. Of the top ten, Almirola, Chris Buescher, Dillon, Menard, Wallace, A.J. Allmendinger, and Truex had never won a Daytona 500 (Hamlin, Logano, and Ryan Newman were the exceptions).

Almirola assumed the lead at the start and was in prime position to win his first 500 in his first start with Stewart-Haas Racing. However, Dillon had the momentum and caught up to Almirola, reaching his bumper on the backstretch. The two drivers collided and Almirola was turned into the wall. Dillon pulled away to win his second Cup race and the first Daytona 500 win for Richard Childress Racing since Harvick won the 2007 race. It is also the first 500 victory for the #3 in 20 years, when Earnhardt won the 1998 event.

Austin Dillon celebrates his 2018 Daytona 500 victory

Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

“I said my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does,” Dillon stated. “My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the #3. There is a lot of pressure behind that. But I’m willing to take that and go with it.”

“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.”

Wallace edged out Hamlin for second by .002 seconds. It is the highest finish by a black driver in NASCAR since Wendell Scott won his only race in 1963 and the best 500 run for an African-American since Scott’s thirteenth-place in 1966. Before the race, Wallace received the support of baseball legend Hank Aaron and Formula One driver Lewis Hamilton. In the morning prior to the green flag, Hamilton tweeted, “Hey @BubbaWallace! Wishing you the absolute best today in your race. Smash it!!”

In an emotional post-race press conference, Wallace was greeted by his family and was hugged by his mother. “I just try so hard to be successful at everything I do,” Wallace said. “[M]y family pushes me each and every day, and they might not even know it. But I just want to make them proud.”

After the last lap wreck, Almirola was forced to settle for eleventh. The Florida native was visibly heartbroken by the finish and commented, “It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the year and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on.”

However, he was not upset at Dillon’s actions, which Dillon defended by saying, “He should do the same thing to me in the same situation.” Almirola added Dillon was “trying to win the Daytona 500 just like I was.”

The next race on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar is the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Keselowski is the defending race winner.

2018 Daytona 500 Results

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Justin is not an off-road racer, but he writes about it for The Checkered Flag.
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