In an emotional finish, Austin Dillon returned the iconic 3 car to Victory Lane at Daytona, 20 years after Dale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500.
It didn’t look like Dillon would take the top spot but as often happens at Daytona, he led the only lap that mattered. After watching the Clash and the Duels, I expected a race filled with crashes and we certainly got it, but for different reasons that I thought. I was expecting more single car spinouts and more wrecks deeper in the field. But noooo, this group of cats decided early on that it was worth racing for every stage as if it was the last lap. As it finished, there were only 10 cars on the lead lap and only 25 cars still running at the end, well, 24 if you count Aric Almirola who crashed at the end.
The cars were definitely a handful but not as bad as they were in the Duels and the Clash. What was a head scratcher to me was the fact that usually we see the big wrecks happen deeper in the field with lesser cars piloted by younger guys and the leaders usually stay out of trouble until the end when they all lose their ability to think. But this race was marred by the leaders crashing, mostly because of blocking. It didn’t always happen because of contact. All it took was the leader to mistime his block, get passed on his left and aerodynamics took care of the rest.
Ryan Blaney looked like he was going to be the race winner after leading 118 of the 207 laps. It took about half the race and numerous cars getting wrecked before the field settled down into something resembling a Daytona race. Cars finally got inline seeing that there were only 60 laps left with green flag pit stops coming. Blaney held off everyone lap after lap and left us wondering if he would be able to hold off Denny Hamlin or Joey Logano. Few thought that Chris Buescher, Dillon or Aric Almirola would be fighting for a win.
But as the laps wound down, Hamlin and Logano split Blaney and all bets were off. Suddenly, drivers that weren’t normally part of the mix were in the mix! Seven cars that started outside the Top 10 had a real chance to win. Five of those started outside the Top 15. Almirola ended up being the guy that benefitted from Blaney’s misfortune. He assumed the lead with the white flag and saw redemption. But the cars behind him teamed up and Dillon came charging hard on the outside and just as he got to Almirola, Aric threw a poorly timed block that allowed Dillon to get to the left rear of the 10 car and that was all that was needed. A light touch and no air on the rear of the car and it was Dillon racing for the checkers with Hamlin and Wallace scraping each other and the wall in a shower of sparks as they fought for 2nd place.
As improbable as the Dillon win was the emotional 2nd place finish for Bubba Wallace, Jr. Blaney learned some valuable lessons and if he keeps racing like that, he will get a win this season.
After dominating last year, Toyota had only 3 of their 7 cars in the Top 20 and only one in the Top 10.
Thanks to Stage Points, race winner Austin Dillon Is not the points leader. Kurt Busch and Blaney won the stages and Blaney leads the points ahead of Logano and Dillon by virtue of the Stage win and leading the most laps. But Dillon is a lock for the playoffs with his victory so he couldn’t care less about the points right now.
And on the topic of “playoffs”, I still hate the term. Why does NASCAR feel the need to rip off format terms from stick and ball sports to use for racing? “Playoffs” and “Overtime” really don’t mean anything to race fans. Instead of trying to attract fans of other sports with words they are familiar with, how about concentrating on keeping the fans you have and getting new fans accustomed to racing terms? Daytona is not he “Super Bowl” of NASCAR. Daytona is the kickoff to the season and Homestead is where the winner is crowned. I daresay most drivers would rather have the championship title at the end of the season instead of being the Daytona 500 champ. While the 500 is coveted, being series champion is a far bigger deal.
Bah, I preach to the choir. It ain’t gonna change.
Too bad the leader got spun, but it was part of restrictor plate racing.
Liked the new plate package, saw lots of racing.
Interested to see how this package plays at Talladega.
Hope the drivers calm down before the next plate race.
Now, on to real racing at Atlanta.