Austin Dillon Returns The Famous No. 3 To Victory Lane At Daytona

Austin Dillon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 60th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. [Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

Austin Dillon celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 60th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway. [Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

By Joe Jennings

Austin Dillon streaked to victory in the 60th running of the Daytona 500, returning the legendary No. 3 back to victory lane for the first time at Daytona since the late Dale Earnhardt did it in 1998.

Legendary car owner Richard Childress fielded the winning Chevrolets for both Earnhardt and Dillon. Dillon, grandson of Childress, went to victory lane as a 7-year old in 1998 and 20 years later, he returned as the victor in the “Great American Race.”

Interestingly, a young fan gave a lucky penny to Earnhardt, which he affixed to his dashboard and the same situation took place a day ago when a young boy gave Dillon, which he put in his Dow Chevrolet.

“It is unbelievable to have the (No.) 3 back in the winner’s circle 20 years later. 20 years ago I stood here with Dale and today with my grandson Austin,” said the very emotional Childress. “This is a very emotional day for us. I am speechless. This is a storybook tale.”

Dillon worked his way into contention as the race wound down and was running second to leader Aric Almirola on the last lap of the 207-lap overtime event. Pressing forward, Dillon bumped Almirola, sending the latter into a wall.

Leading only one lap, Dillon edged ahead of Darrell “Bubba” Wallace in Richard Petty Racing’s Chevrolet. The latter is operating under a new business alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

“I never thought about winning until we took the lead, and I knew we were in a good spot if we could get a push down the backstretch,” the 27-year old said. “I went low and the No. 43 went low, and I just had more momentum than he had. I caught him and turned him, and we won the Daytona 500. It is pretty cool to see the No. 3 and 43 running in front.”

After the last pit stop, Dillon came out in ninth and got help pushing his way to the front.

Said Almirola, who ended up 11th, was chagrined with the outcome, “It was the last lap and we were all trying to win the Daytona 500. We were racing pretty aggressively, and I put on every move I could do but I wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and hooked me. My heart is broken.”

Driving the Click ‘n Close Chevrolet, the popular Wallace was quite emotional before and after the race. Beforehand, he received best wishes from Hall of Fame baseball player Hank Aaron and F1 champion Lewis Hamilton.

Afterward in the media center, he broke down for a minute or so after discussing the outpouring of support he had received from family and friends.

“For my first Daytona 500, I wanted to log a lot of laps and not wreck the car. This has been an unbelievable last week and half, from being followed by cameras and everything,” Wallace stated. “This has been a great week for this team. Second isn’t horrible as it was a good day but I love to win.

“I tried to stay calm at the end. We battled through a lot of adversity on every lap. It was a great night. We are a small budget team with a lot of poise and attitude, and a lot of stuff to fight through.”

Denny Hamlin persevered to a solid third place in the FedEx Express Toyota.

Joey Logano gave Ford its best finish – fourth.

Chris Buescher took fifth ahead of Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Michael McDowell and A. J. Allmendinger.

Blaney led 118 laps.

Pole winner Alex Bowman ended up 17th after finishing 205 laps.

The action started early today when front-runner Hamlin sustained a one-lap penalty for a pit stop penalty. By lap 60, the end of stage 1, he regained the lost lap and had the lead late until getting pushed out of the way, ending up third in his Toyota.

Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch tagged a wall early-on after sustaining the first of two flat tires, ending his shot for victory. He finished seven laps down in 25th.

As lap 60 neared with the field tightly bunched, a seven-car crash eliminated Jimmie Johnson and two Toyota’s from Joe Gibbs Racing, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez. Trevor Bayne, Ty Dillon and William Byron also were involved.

Bayne and Byron continued, although Byron had a tire issue 30 laps later.

At 250 miles, Ryan Blaney and his Ford held command and he led 28 of the opening laps. The Fords of Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick were second and third with Chase Elliott in fourth.

The running order changed moments later when the second multi-car crash took place at the front when Blaney, Elliott and Keselowski tangled, catching Harvick, Danica Patrick and two more.

While Blaney wasn’t caught, the runs of Elliott, Keselowski, Harvick and Patrick were over.

For Patrick, she was scored 35th in her last NASCAR Cup race.

The 500 took 3 hours and 26 minutes at an average speed of 150.545 miles per hour. The margin of victory was 0.260 seconds.

Kurt Busch won Stage 1 and Blaney Stage 2.

Eight caution flag periods consumed 37 laps and there were 24 lead changes among 14 drivers..

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