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NASCAR Cup: Austin Dillon returns No. 3 to Daytona 500 victory lane

Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 DOW Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, celebrates his victory Sunday, February 18, 2018 after winning the 60th running of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Tom Copland/HHR for Chevy Racing).

Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 DOW Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, celebrates his victory Sunday, February 18, 2018 after winning the 60th running of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Tom Copland/HHR for Chevy Racing).

By AMANDA VINCENT

Twenty years ago, a seven-year-old Austin Dillon was in victory lane at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, trying to climb on the Harley J. Earl trophy that had eluded Dale Earnhardt for 20 years, until Earnhardt finally claimed his one and only Daytona 500 win in 1998. Fast-forward 20 years, and Dillon claimed his own Daytona 500 trophy Sunday, returning the iconic No. 3 to Daytona 500 victory lane.

“This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane 20 years ago,” Dillon said. “This one is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those Sr. fans.  I love you guys. We are going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year!”

Dillon led only the last lap of Sunday’s race that went into overtime because of a multi-car crash inside two laps to go. He lined-up fourth for the final restart, one of only seven cars on the lead lap without race-wreck damage. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin and Aric Almirola lined up on the front row for a final two-lap sprint to the checkered flag.

Hamlin took the lead on the restart, with Almirola still challenging, but on the final lap, Dillon and Almirola made contact that sent Almirola into the wall and Dillon into the top spot.

“I did what I had to do there at the end,” Dillon said. “I hate it for the No. 10 (Almirola) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona. “

After the wreck, Almirola wound up 11th.

Another iconic entry, the Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43, with Darrell Wallace as its new driver, finished second in the first race of Wallace’s first full season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition.

“All-in-all a great day for our Click N’ Close Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 team,” Wallace said. Just an incredible experience for me to be able to be here for my first Daytona 500.”

Hamlin finished third, Joey Logano was fourth after a pit-road speeding penalty inside the final 30 laps, and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five.

Ryan Blaney led a race-high 118 laps in the race that was scheduled for a 200-lap distance. He was the winner of the second 60-lap stage of the race and was dominating the second half before a move to block inside the final 10 laps cost him the lead a few additional positions. Blaney also was collected in the multi-car wreck that sent the race into overtime but still managed a top-10 finish, finishing seventh.

“We led a lot of laps,” Blaney said. “It just wasn’t meant to be. But it was a good showing. “Hopefully, we go into Atlanta and have a decent run.”

Kurt Busch was the winner of the opening stage that ended on lap 60, inheriting the lead during the first caution that came on lap nine. Hamlin had taken the lead at the start of the race, but overshot his pit stall and, then, received a one-lap penalty when his gas man began to fuel the car before Hamlin got it completely into his pit box. Hamlin got back on the lead lap at the end of the first stage.

“It looked great to start, great to end and terrible in the middle,” Hamlin said of his day. “Made a mistake, there, on pit road on the first pit stop and slid through and didn’t give my FedEx team a chance to get a good fuel-only stop and so we went back and almost went two laps down and got it back and battled back.”

Busch was up front in the late laps of the race, but like Blaney, he was involved in the crash inside the final two laps of the race’s scheduled distance, but unlike Blaney, he was unable to salvage a top-10 finish.

Other top-10 finishers included Paul Menard in sixth, Ryan Newman in eighth, Michael McDowell in ninth and A.J. Allmendinger in 10th.

While Hamlin’s race wasn’t perfect, his problems were less significant than those of all three of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates. Both Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones were involved in a crash at the close of the opening stage. Kyle Busch, after making an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire on lap 29, crashed with another flat tire on lap 51.

The crash that claimed the cars of teammates Suarez and Jones also collected Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and William Byron. Byron was able to continue, but he suffered a flat tire on lap 93 and spun into the infield just before lap 190. The other two Hendrick drivers, Chase Elliott and pole sitter Alex Bowman also fell victim to multi-car crashes — Elliott on lap 102 and Bowman in the final crash of the race’s scheduled distance.

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Posted by on February 19, 2018. Filed under Breaking News,Featured,Monster Energy NASCAR Cup,NASCAR. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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