Austin Dillon led once Sunday, but that’s all he needed. Dillon shoved Aric Almirola out of the way on the final lap of an overtime finish Sunday to take the famed No. 3 Chevrolet to a Daytona 500 victory 20 years after the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. won his first, and only, Daytona 500.
The win was the second of his Monster Energy Cup career, his first coming in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway last May.
“I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon said. “I hate it for the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona. This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane 20 years ago. This one is for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and all those Sr. fans.”
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace in his Cup debut finished second by inches has he fought with Denny Hamlin across the finish line, with both cars throwing sparks after coming together at the line.
“He (Denny Hamlin) says I cut his tire down,” Wallace said. “It looked like the same move he pulled on (Ryan) Blaney at Martinsville. We had some momentum and we beat him, so it’s all good. The Daytona 500 put that aside. My nerves are shot right now. The King (Richard Petty) comes in all mad at me and says after all I told you what was the first rule I told you to do. I’m like ‘I don’t know I lost my breath’ and he said ‘don’t wreck the car’ and we … oh. Thank you to the King for keeping me young, keeping him young as well.”
Behind Hamlin, Joey Logano, who had been penalized earlier and lost a lap, rallied to finish fourth Chris Buescher finished fifth.
Attrition took its toll Sunday with three large crashes that sidelined many stars, and several favorites. Among those who crashed out was Jimmie Johnson, last years Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, who won the first stage, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Kasey Kahne, and in her final NASCAR race, Danica Patrick.
A total of 25 cars were around at the finish, 10 on the lead lap.
The final overtime finish was setup when Ryan Blaney, who led the most laps on the day 118, had the lead with three laps to go. Hamlin, who had lost a lap earlier in the day when he was penalized for pitting outside the box, was looking for the lead. He took the lead in turn 4 and was leading when the field entered turn 1. Blaney was trying to fight back for the lead and got into Kurt Busch and a multicar crash erupted.
“It was just hard racing,” Blaney said. “You say it all day. I was trying to be aggressive blocking the lead and kind of fell back and got a good run back up towards it. Man, the 11 blocked the 41 and the 41 kind of went high last minute and I was on his left rear and I turned him. I feel bad about that. He kinda changed lanes last minute and I couldn’t react quick enough. It stinks. We led a lot of laps. It just wasn’t meant to be. But it was a good showing. Hopefully we go into Atlanta and have a decent run.”
The overtime finish ensued with Dillon in victory lane and Almirola, in his first race with Stewart-Haas Racing, with an 11th place finish.
“It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500,” Almirola said. “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. He got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing and we’ll have another shot next week.”
In all there were eight cautions. Blaney won the second stage, and leaves Daytona with the championship points lead.
The second race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series heads to Atlanta for the Quik Trip Folds of Honor 500 next Sunday.