by Andrew Kim
In 1998, the late seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, Dale Earnhardt Sr., piloted the No. 3 car to his frst triumph in NASCAR’s Great American Race, the Daytona 500, after 20 years of previous attempts resulting in disappointment. Twenty years later, the number 3 car, driven by a next generation driver, returned to victory lane in the Great American Race.
Prevailing in an overtime restart and surviving the late carnage, Austin Dillon powered away from the field to win the 60th annual running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway for his second NASCAR Cup Series career win, and for his first Daytona 500 win in his 160th series career start.
Dillon, who started the race in 14th-place, spent the majority of the event near mid-pack and managed to dodge several multi-car crashes that wiped out a multitude of veteran racers and former Daytona 500 winners, placing himself in contention for the upcoming closing laps. Restarting in fourth-place with two laps remaining, Dillon powered his way to the runner-up position as he bump drafted Aric Almirola into the lead by the time the field started the final lap of the race. With two corners remaining, Dillon narrowed the gap between himself and Almirola and had appeared to set up a pass for the lead on the outside lane until Dillon touched and turned Almirola into the turn two wall.
As Almirola’s car slapped the wall and slid back to the apron of the track, Dillon received one bump from rookie contender Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. to power away from the field and claim the checkered flag for the win. With his win, Dillon became the 39th driver to win the Daytona 500 and the second driver to win the 500 after leading only in the final lap of the race. The victory marked the third Daytona 500 win for Richard Childress Racing and the first NASCAR win for Chevrolet’s new Camaro ZL1 stock car.
“I did what I had to do there at the end. I hate it for the No. 10 [Aric Almirola] guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona. This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back in victory lane 20 years ago. This one is for [the late] Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those [Dale Earnhardt Sr.] fans. My grandfather, [team owner Richard Childress], has done everything for me. There is a lot of pressure on me to perform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. I’m willing to take that and go with it.” Aric Almirola, who was in position to pull an upset victory in his debut driving the No. 10 Ford for StewartHaas Racing, ended the race in 11th-place. Despite the disappointment, Almirola managed to smile, taking pride in his strong performance prior to the last-lap accident.
“It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. [Austin Dillon] got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing and we’ll have another shot next week.” Behind race winner Austin Dillon, rookie Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr. edged out veteran Denny Hamlin by 0.002 seconds to claim the runner-up position in only his first Daytona 500 start and his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career start. With his accomplishment, Bubba Wallace posted the highest-finishing position by an African American driver in the Daytona 500 as he surpassed the 13th-place finish made by the late NASCAR Hall of Famer Wendell Scott in 1966.
Even after the race, Bubba Wallace was overwhelmed with emotions following a tumultuous 2017 season, where he was left without a full-time ride midway into the season but received an opportunity to drive the No. 43 Chevrolet for legendary driver and team owner Richard Petty and was pleased with his strong start to his rookie season.
“Just an incredible experience for me to be able to be here for my first Daytona 500. We know how much stress this team has been through in the last three or four months just trying to put this program together. Thank you to [Richard Petty] for giving me this opportunity, putting them in second-place. I’ll take it.” Joey Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 winner, rallied from being one lap behind the leaders to finish fourth while former rookie driver Chris Buescher finished fifth.
All told from start to finish, the 2018 Daytona 500 featured 24 lead changes among 14 drivers as only 10 of the 40 starting competitors finished the race on the lead lap. The race also included eight cautions, three of which featured multi-car crashes that eliminated key veterans, former champions and next generation drivers from the race.
With two laps remaining, Ryan Blaney ignited a 12- car accident that started when he turned Kurt Busch, the reigning Daytona 500 winner, in turn one. The wreck ended winning chances for Blaney and Busch along for Alex Bowman, the pole-sitter of the race, and Martin Truex Jr., the reigning NASCAR champion. Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson ended his race in 38th-place after being collected in a six-car wreck on lap 60 in turn 3 that included Kyle Larson, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and William Byron. Danica Patrick, who made her 191st and final career start in NASCAR, was caught up in a six car wreck on lap 102 and the damage was enough to end Patrick’s race in 35th-place. She will be making a one race return in the IndyCar Series to compete in this year’s Indianapolis 500 on May 27 before retiring from racing to pursue other opportunities.
The next destination for the NASCAR Cup Series will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 25. For more live updates, stats or recaps, visit NASCAR.com and NASCAR Race View to follow the competitors in each race.