Dillon’s tiebreaker loss of Chase spot is also a heartbreaker

Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet, races Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet, races Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann's 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet, races Denny Hamlin, driver of the #11 FedEx Ground Toyota, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 23, 2016 in Talladega, Alabama. (Getty Images)

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Facing an overtime restart with two laps left in the Hellman’s 500 on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, crew chief Slugger Labbe reminded driver Austin Dillon of the relevant numbers.

Dillon had to finish no more than five positions behind Denny Hamlin to secure a spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Round of 8—as long as Hamlin didn’t win the race.

Dillon had done everything right to that point. He had earned a bonus point by staying out for an extra circuit and leading Lap 117 under the second caution of the afternoon. He gained three spots after a restart on Lap 186 and was 11th when the green flag waved for the final time on Lap 191.

On the final two laps, he worked his way forward to ninth before the checkered flag ended the race. Only one problem. Hamlin beat Kurt Busch to the stripe by .006 seconds—approximately two feet—to finish third.

The two drivers finished the Round of 12 tied for eighth with 3,078 points, but Hamlin won a tiebreaker for the final Chase spot because his third-place finish on Sunday was better than Dillon’s best Round-of-12 finish of sixth last week at Kansas.

“Yeah, it’s really close,” a disappointed Dillon said. “I guess it wasn’t our day to do it. It wasn’t planned for us to do that. We tried. We didn’t really have enough speed all day to do much. I’m proud of my guys, and all my teammates helped me as much as they could.  We just couldn’t get another spot.

“We got a couple there at the end on the last little straight, but the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) was the car we needed (to beat for eighth place), and it didn’t work out. Another top 10 at a speedway—it’s pretty nice to get that, but obviously not what we wanted.  The No. 22 (Joey Logano) won and the No. 11 (Hamlin) finished third, so it’s not what we needed, but we will take it and move on from here.”

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