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Austin Dillon wins at Daytona, breaks into NASCAR Playoffs

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With a huge help from Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick, after a rain delay of more than three hours, Austin Dillon battled his way into the NASCAR Cup playoffs and broke the heart of Martin Truex Jr.

Dillon’s win in Sunday’s rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway — his first of the season and second at the track — required the convergence of several different circumstances to come together.


MORE: Race Results | Ranking by points

After avoiding serious damage in a wreck from Turn 4 on Lap 125, Dillon survived a 13-car scrum on Turn 1 and took the lead before rain brought the race to a halt. After a red flag period of 3 hours, 19 minutes, 57 seconds, Dillon fell behind 2022 Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric and trailed him from the restart on lap 145 of 160 until he makes the winning move on turn 158.

As the cars reached Turn 1, Dillon tapped Cindric’s No. 2 Penske Ford team, and the Chevrolets of Dillon, Reddick and Landon Cassill passed as Cindric made a wonderful stop on the apron. Reddick, the race runner-up, closed in on the bumper of Dillon’s No. 3 Chevy and was fished with his teammate to the finish line, fending off a final run from Cindric, who finished third, just 0.140 seconds behind the winner.

“There was a lot going on there,” Dillon said. “I knew that if we got to the white (last lap) I was afraid someone would – if I waited too long I was afraid someone would wreck behind us, so I wanted to go from forward and take the lead. We were able to get it.

“I had a big run to him and then I had my teammate, 8 (Reddick), there. I knew we were in good shape until the end. He did a good job checking all kinds of races. Just a little too much thrust there and let him (Cindric) loose.

Cindric said the bump was fair game, considering what was at stake for Dillon.

“I think it’s fair game for any race in the season, but it meant a lot to him to win this race,” Cindric told Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass on pit road. “He had three cars that were definitely going to be able to work with him…

“I feel like he took the race too late and then he hit me straight into the corner. I’m just glad I saved him, glad I had a chance to get back on the pitch – but I hate losing.

Dillon’s win knocked Truex out of the playoffs and gave the last spot to Ryan Blaney, who finished three points ahead of Truex in the final regular season standings.

When heavy rain stopped the action with 21 laps to go, it looked like Dillon might take the win.

As the cars accelerated towards Turn 1 on Lap 138, sudden rain began to fall. The cars of Justin Haley, Daniel Hemric and Denny Hamlin went wild at the front of the field, and the cars behind them couldn’t stop on the slippery asphalt and rammed through the wreckage.

Dillon’s #3 Chevrolet, which was damaged in the wreckage on lap 125 – when it ended its rear-facing slide on pit road – was the first to emerge from the chaos of lap 138 at a cautious pace and soon after was confirmed as the race leader by NASCAR. .

“We hit rain in the middle of Turn 1 and just lost it,” Hamlin said of the 13-car pile-up. “We had rain on the front. So about 10 seconds before entering Turn 1, it was raining. I’m sure the fans felt it, and then they saw us all piling up there.

NASCAR opted to wait out the rain, dried the track and raised the red flag at 3:54 p.m. to a 15th-place finish, enough to eliminate eighth-placed Truex from the playoffs.

Cassill came fourth, followed by Noah Gragson, as only 10 riders finished on the lead lap and only 17 were racing at the end.

Early in the race, Blaney had a serious scare when it came to his playoff hopes. On Lap 31 Blaney’s #12 Penske Ford team was third in the bottom lane behind Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin when Jones’ #43 Chevrolet Petty GMS broke loose and lost momentum in the turn 2.

Blaney slammed into the back of Hamlin’s Toyota, spinning the No. 11 Camry toward the infield. As the bot lane compressed, Christopher Bell’s #20 Toyota sped behind Blaney, crossed the track, and slammed Blaney’s Mustang into the outside wall, severely damaging the right front quarter of Blaney’s car.

The eight-car crash eliminated Bell and Brad Keselowski from the race, robbing Keselowski of a playoff spot for the first time since 2013.

“Someone was shipwrecked in front of me,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but there was just a bunch of cars crashing in front of me. I had nowhere to go and couldn’t slow down in time, so I hate it for our team.

“We had a very fast race car. We were making our way to the front.

Truex got six points with a fifth-place finish in Stage 1 and earned a second result in Stage 2, good for nine points, as Blaney continued to drop laps to the lead pack. The first two stages reduced Blaney’s lead over Truex in the standings to 10 points, but a wreck on the straight at the start of the final stage stopped Truex’s charge.

On lap 102, second-placed Michael McDowell ran off the line with a run over leader Joey Logano, but Reddick’s off-center hit to McDowell’s rear bumper sent the #34 Ford into the outside wall. The contact sparked an eight-car melee that eliminated the machines of McDowell, Ross Chastain and William Byron.

The wreck ended playoff hopes for McDowell, who had restarted in the lead on lap 101. Truex’s car was also damaged, but not terminally. Ultimately, however, it was the damage from that wreckage that prevented the 2017 Series champion from maintaining enough of a gap on Blaney to earn the final playoff spot.

“It’s definitely a lot more stressful than I wanted to come here, but I just have to give Group 12 a lot of props, you know, to fix it and stick with it all day,” Blaney said. “That’s why you do it.

“Your day can start like this, and you stick with it and stay in the game. And that has certainly benefited us. »

NOTE: The Cup Series garage inspection went off without a hitch, confirming Austin Dillon as the winner.