NASCAR: Austin Dillon ends a victory drought, steals another playoff spot

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A bold decision from Dillon and teammate Tyler Reddick allowed Richard Childress Racing to recapture NASCAR glory at Texas Motor Speedway.

How ’bout that cowboy?



Once known for his array of cowboy hats in the garage area, Austin Dillon took home a long-awaited in Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. Dillon and rookie teammate Tyler Reddick united to create a one-two finish for Richard Childress Racing.

“Having Tyler right there to work with, he has a teammate that he’s really working good with,” team owner Richard Childress said afterward. “To see both those guys racing for the win, I was hoping they didn’t wreck each other. It was pretty cool to see RCR in the front.”

RCR is perhaps best known for winning six NASCAR Cup Series titles with Dale Earnhardt in the No. 3 Chevrolet. On Sunday, Dillon piloted the same car to victory lane for the first time in 88 races. Their previous victory came in the 2018 Daytona 500 and Sunday saw them sweep the top spots for the first time since October 2011 (when Clint Bowyer held off Jeff Burton to win the fall Talladega event).

Dillon, the grandson of Childress, has driven the No. 3 since 2014. His Chevrolet is the first to adorn the No. 3 since Earnhardt’s passing at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. Sunday marked Dillon’s third win in the car, having previously won two of NASCAR’s crown jewels. He also won the 2017 Coca-Cola 600 via fuel mileage.

“Sports are sports. You got to have someone you don’t like,” Dillon said of fans’ perception of him. “Maybe it’s just my background, where I come from.  But I got a lot of people that love me, too.  It doesn’t bother me at all really. They can either get on the bandwagon and love me. It’s okay. It’s part of sports. Haters are going to hate sometimes, but we’ll be all right.”

Both Dillon and Reddick hovered in the middle of the pack for most of the 334-lap event. Reddick worked his way back from two laps down by the time the final, 124-lap stage rolled around. Ryan Blaney had won the first two segments, lasting 107 laps each, en route to leading a race-best 150 circuits. It appeared the race would come down to Blaney and Denny Hamlin as green flag pit stops cycled through, but Quin Houff’s accident with 28 laps set up a chance for teams who stretched their fuel runs (last pitting at circa lap 220) to pit under easier circumstances.

With Blaney, Hamlin, and other contenders still a lap down before the pit cycle was complete, both Reddick and Dillon enacted bold strategies for the finish. Reddick took fuel only, while Dillon opted only for left-side tires. The fresher wheels allowed Dillon to move ahead of his teammate and build a sizable lead.

Two separate incidents (both involving Hamlin) brought out the yellow flag twice, forcing Dillon to undergo the restart process all over again. He was able to re-establish his lead on each occasion while Reddick held off hungry contenders like Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. With the win, Dillon more or less clinched a spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Logano came home third while Busch and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

A surprise winner rose to the occasion in the final laps for the second straight week, following up rookie Cole Custer’s win at Kentucky Speedway last weekend. Reddick and his No. 8 Chevrolet are currently 14 points behind Jimmie Johnson for the final postseason spot.

The NASCAR Cup Series will enter the second half of its 36-race season with the Super Starter Batteries 400 on Thursday night at Kansas Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Race Notes

  • Harvick made his 700th Cup Series start on Sunday, becoming the 18th driver to do so and second on the active circuit (joining Kurt Busch). He ironically began his Cup career at RCR in 2001, taking over for Earnhardt after his passing (in a rebranded No. 29 Chevrolet). Harvick leads the point standings by 91 points over Blaney at the midway mark.

 

  • The red flag came out on lap 220 for a multi-car wreck that ended the days of Custer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Ryan Preece. Martin Truex Jr. also sustained heavy damage.

 

  • Kyle Busch and Timmy Hill each partook in all three national series events at Texas this weekend. Busch in fact won the Xfinity and Truck races on Saturday, but had the former win revoked after his No. 54 Toyota failed postrace inspection (runner-up Austin Cindric was granted the win). Hill’s best finish was 17th in the Xfinity event, but he was honored by the speedway for winning the O’Reilly Auto Parts 125, part of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series held during the coronavirus-induced pause.

 

  • Hendrick Motorsports had a brutal day at Texas, with only Chase Elliott (12th) finishing the race. Johnson hit the wall and finished 12 laps down in 26th while William Byron’s day ended early after wrecking with Ty Dillon (Austin’s brother). Byron is two points behind Johnson for the final playoff spot. Alex Bowman, locked into the playoff after winning at California, crashed with Hamlin late in the race and finished 30th.

 

  • Pole sitter Aric Almirola led 35 laps and finished 10th, extending his streak of top decalogue finishes to seven.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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