Daytona 500

Austin Dillon wins an emotional Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, FL - FEBRUARY 18: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 DOW Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 60th Annual Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on February 18, 2018 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)
Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Austin Dillon celebrates after wining the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The No. 3 is No. 1 again at Daytona, on a day, in a race, and at a place that will forever be linked with the great Dale Earnhardt.

Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 on Sunday, driving the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet that Earnhardt piloted for most of his career. Earnhardt was behind the wheel of No. 3 when he won his only Daytona 500 in 1998, and he was behind the wheel three years later when he was killed in a wreck on the race’s final lap.

Dillon’s victory, in the 60th running of ‘‘The Great American Race,’’ came 17 years to the day after Earnhardt’s fatal crash.


Dillon wasn’t a factor in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet until the final lap in overtime, when he got a push from Darrell ‘‘Bubba’’ Wallace Jr. that helped him get to leader Aric Almirola.

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Dillon spun Almirola, then whizzed on by to give Childress, his grandfather, another victory in the beloved No. 3.

‘‘My grandfather has done everything for me, and everybody knows it,’’ Dillon said. ‘‘There’s a lot of pressure on me to perform because I've had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No. 3 — there’s a lot of pressure behind it, but I'm willing to take it and go with it.’’

As for the aggressive move that wrecked Almirola? Dillon said that he was just doing what has to be done to win at Daytona.

‘‘We just had a run, and I stayed on the gas,” he said. “It’s what it is when you’re at Daytona. It is so awesome to take the 3 car back to Victory Lane, 20 years ago. This one’s for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those Senior fans. I love you guys. We’re going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year.’’


Childress was overjoyed.

‘‘I just . . . the emotions just flowing, to be able to win, with the 3 car, having it in the winner’s circle, my grandson, 20 years after Dale won in ’98, so special,’’ Childress said.

The final scoring tower showed the No. 3 on top, followed by the No. 43 — two of the most seminal numbers in NASCAR.

Wallace, the driver of that No. 43 and the first black driver in the Daytona 500 field since 1969, completed the 1-2 finish for Chevrolet and Childress’s engine program.

Wallace sobbed in his post-race news conference after his mother came to the front of the room to give him a hug. The two had a long embrace in which she told Wallace repeatedly, ‘‘You finally did it.’’


After another moment with his sister, Wallace sat at the dais sobbing into a towel. His finish was the highest by a black driver since Wendell Scott was 13th in 1966.

‘‘Pull it together, bud, pull it together,” Wallace told himself. “You just finished second.’’

Wallace, from Mobile, Ala., received a telephone call from Hank Aaron before the race. And Lewis Hamilton, the four-time Formula One world champion and only black driver in that series, tweeted his support to Wallace earlier in the day.

Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner, finished third in a Toyota.

Ryan Blaney, who led a race-high 118 laps, faded to seventh place after giving the win away in regulation. He wrecked Kurt Busch, the defending race winner, while trying to reclaim his lead, and the contact damaged Blaney’s Ford as well.

It spoiled what could have been a Team Penske party. Car owner Roger Penske had three contenders who were considered favorites on Sunday, but all came up empty.

Brad Keselowski wrecked early while pushing for the lead, and although Joey Logano finished fourth, it wasn’t what Penske expected from his drivers.

The day was also a bust for Danica Patrick, who made the Daytona 500 her final NASCAR race. With new boyfriend NFL quarterback Aaron Rodgers cheering her on, Patrick was involved in a seven-car wreck on Lap 101 and finished 35th.