Austin Dillon won the 2018 Daytona 500, his first career win in the “Great American Race.” Dillon won with car owner, and grandfather, Richard Childress. Dillon’s first win in the 500 came 20 years to the day of Dale Earnhardt Sr’s lone victory in the event.
Dillon won the race of attrition at Daytona International Speedway in fierce fashion, making contact and turning race leader Aric Almirola entering Turn 3 of the final lap. Dillion got a strong push from Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. down the backstretch on the final lap of the second overtime. Dillon made contact with Almirola’s rear bumper when Almirola jumped into the top lane to block a run from Dillon. “I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon said. “I hate it for the No. 10 (Almirola’s) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.”
Dillon expressed gratitude and expressed his expectation for, not only his fans, but Dale Sr. fans as well. “This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane. This one is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those (Dale) Sr. fans. I love you guys. We are going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year!”
Dillon isn’t a stranger to the big stage in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Dillon earned his first win in the series in 2017 in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That race was won on fuel-mileage. The 60th running of the Daytona 500 was an up on the wheel battle. Dillon had confidence going into the race, and even more after lining up in fourth on the final restart. “I knew we were in a good spot,” Dillon said. “And I have to thank Darrell Wallace, Jr.—he did a great job. Finishing one-two with ECR (Earnhardt Childress Racing) engines. What a day. Thanks, Darrell, for that push. I had to make it happen in the end,” Dillon said. “I said (after) my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does. My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform, because I’ve 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.” There’s certain pressure for Dillon, however, he’s willing to accept the pressure. “ 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. I just can’t thank the Lord enough for this opportunity,” he said.
Dillon’s win was the first for the new Chevrolet in the series, the Camaro ZL1.
Wallace, in his first attempt in the Daytona 500 came home second .002 seconds ahead of Denny Hamlin, who finished third. Hamlin led the field to green to start the final overtime period. Hamlin, however, was the lone Toyota driver on the lead lap, which played a role in finding a drafting partner for the final two-lap shootout, a challenge. Wallace’s finish at Daytona is the best finish in the 500 by an African-American. With his runner-up finish, Wallace surpassed the previous best of 13th, posted by Wendell Scott in the 1966 Daytona 500.
Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion finished fourth, overcoming many different issues throughout the day, while Chris Buescher came home fifth.
The final finishing order wasn’t indicative of how most of the race unfolded. Ryan Blaney, who finished seventh, led 118 of the 207 laps, but incurred damaged to his No. 12 Ford on lap 199, when Kurt Bush spun in front of him on the high-side entering Turn 1, which spawned a 13-car accident. Pole winner Alex Bowman and defending series champion, Martin Truex Jr. were also involved.
Jimmie Johnson lost his third car of Speedweeks when his No. 48 chevrolet got caught in a nine-car wreck on lap 60, the final lap of Stage 1. That incident also collected the strong Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez.
Danica Patrick, who made her final start in NASCAR, was caught up in a six-car wreck on lap 102. She ended her NASCAR career in 35th place. Pre-race favorite Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick were also collected in that incident.
Kurt Bush won the first stage, while Blaney won the second.
See below, the inaugural episode of Track Talk, a new, weekly NASCAR opinion podcast.