He came, he saw, he conquered, he dabbed.
Austin Dillon saved enough fuel in his No. 3 Chevrolet to earn his first career Monster Energy Cup Series victory in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, the longest race on the NASCAR schedule. He outlasted seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson at Charlotte Motor Speedway and now has a spot in the playoffs all but secured.
No. 3 RETURNS TO VICTORY LANE
For the first time since Dale Earnhardt did it for the final time of his career late in the 2000 season (Oct. 15), the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing MENCS entry was in victory lane.
“When I really got emotional is when I looked up and saw the (No.) 3 on top of the board and I was standing there doing an interview,” team owner Richard Childress said. “That’s when I got emotional. It’s so special to see that 3 in the winner’s circle again.”
Austin Dillon and his brother Ty had raced the No. 3 throughout the NASCAR ranks. It has seen the winner’s circle in the Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series
“It hasn’t sunk in yet,” an elated Dillon told FOX in victory lane. “I can’t believe it. I was just really focused on those last laps. My fiancée wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And I never imagined I be here at the 600 Victory Lane. Praise the Lord and all these guys who work so hard; and my pit crew is the best on pit road. I love it for them. We’re in the (playoffs). It’s awesome.”
Dillon was one of eight drivers who opted to stay out and try to stretch their fuel to the end, but he was the only one to succeed. The almost 70-lap run saw Jimmie Johnson run out of fuel coming to the white flag, but Dillon saved just enough to coast across the start/finish line P1.
“I was just trying to be patient with the No. 48,” Dillon went on to say in victory lane, somewhere he hadn’t been in 133 races. “I could see him saving. I thought I’d saved enough early, where I could attack at the end, but I tried to wait as long as possible. And when he ran out, I figured I’d go back in and save where I was lifting, and it worked out. I ran out at the line, and it gurgled all around just to do one little (burnout) and push it back to victory lane.”
NEW CREW CHIEF, NO PROBLEM
Batting 1.000 is extremely uncommon in motorsports, but Justin Alexander is doing just that.
It was Alexander’s first race as a Cup crew chief for Austin Dillon, as Slugger Labbe left Richard Childress Racing to “pursue other opportunities.” Alexander also won his first career race at the XFINITY level with Dillon last season. Now, he’s a Cup winner, and his fuel gamble paid off.
“I really thought more guys were going to do this strategy, play this out,” Alexander said post-race in the media center following his first career Cup Series victory. “(Truex Jr.) was catching us fast […] I knew we were going to have to run hard at some point to stay ahead of them […] with 50 to go we told him what he needed. He did his job.”
Dillon credited the newfound partnership–a winning one at that–due to the unconventional background of Alexander as well as a fresh start and clean slate in the No. 3 camp.
“The only thing about Justin is I never worked with an engineer, a calm guy,” Dillon told reporters in the media center post-race. “(He has a) totally different background than what I’m used to, working with. He fits. It’s cool. This week was relatively just smooth. We didn’t argue. We talked about the race car. That’s what I needed. I needed someone that wanted to teach me, talk about it, not tell me what was wrong with it.”
The Toyota foursome of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five when the checkered flag flew. Kurt Busch, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. put the cap on the top ten from Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Some other notable finishers included Daniel Suarez in 11th, Jamie McMurray in 12th, Clint Bowyer in 14th, Joey Logano in 21st, Ryan Blaney in 24th and Danica Patrick in 25th.
Kyle Larson slammed the wall on lap 292, bringing out a caution and ending the No. 42’s evening, as he came home in 33rd. Kasey Kahne’s crash on lap 244 ended the three-time Coca-Cola 600 winner’s evening in 35th. Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski came home 38th and 39th after the two wrecked in a bizarre incident early in the race on lap 19.
Jeffrey Earnhardt’s No. 33 Chevrolet encountered an issue which may have leaked fluid on the front stretch. Shortly thereafter, Elliott’s No. 24 blew an engine after a piece of debris from Earnhardt’s car went through the grille and Elliott slowed considerably. Keselowski’s No. 2 couldn’t slow down in time and plowed into the back of Elliott, ending both of their evenings.
There was also a red flag that lasted about 90 minutes due to rain in the midst of stage two. Kyle Busch won stage one, Truex Jr. won stage two and Hamlin won stage three.
Kyle Busch, for whatever reason, was annoyed at the fact that Austin Dillon didn’t run out of fuel and his team didn’t strategize to beat them. So, in classic Kyle Busch fashion, he had a very abbreviated press conference that lasted for about 30 seconds.
“I’m not surprised about anything. Congratulations,” were all the words that came from Busch. He then lightly tossed the microphone onto the table and stormed out of the media center.
He also appears to pick his nose before answering the question. The NASCAR world is used to Busch’s antics, but there has to be a line where media members and fans step in and say enough is enough. That line is coming close to being crossed.
JOHNSON AND TRUEX JR. FALL SHORT
It looked as if it would be the same old same old, as Martin Truex Jr. dominated throughout the night, leading a race-high 233 laps in his No. 78 Toyota. But it was not meant to be.
Truex Jr. ended up coming home in third place when the checkered flag flew and gained some more playoff points after winning stage two. He was one of the drivers who didn’t opt to stretch his fuel to the end, but wound up with a top three finish to show for his efforts.
Johnson led 35 laps in his No. 48 Chevrolet but wound up in 17th when the checkered flag flew as he ran out of fuel coming to begin the final lap. The four-time Coca-Cola 600 winner almost made it five but will have to come back next season in hopes of righting his minimal wrongs.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Dover International Speedway for the AAA 400 Drive for Autism on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET on FOX. The Truck and XFINITY Series will also be in action on Friday and Saturday afternoon, respectively. Matt Kenseth is the defending winner of the MENCS event, as he held off Kyle Larson in the closing laps.