DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Austin Dillon put the No. 3 back in victory lane in the Daytona 500.
Dillon drove the iconic car number made famous by Dale Earnhardt to the win 17 years to the day the Hall of Famer was killed in an accident on the final lap of the Daytona 500. The win also comes during the 20th anniversary celebration of Earnhardt’s only victory in “The Great American Race.”
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. Dillon spun Almirola then whizzed on by to give Childress, his grandfather, an iconic victory in that 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 was doing what has to be done to win at Daytona.
“We just had a run and I stayed on the gas. It’s what it is when you’re at Daytona,” he said. “It is so awesome to take the 3 car back to victory lane, 20 years ago. This one’s for Dale Earnhardt Senior and all those Senior fans. I love you guys. We’re going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year.”
Wallace, the first black driver in the Daytona 500 field since 1969, finished second in a 1-2 finish for Chevrolet and Childress’ engine program.
Denny Hamlin, the 2016 winner, finished third in a Toyota.
Ryan Blaney, who led a race-high 118 laps, faded to seventh after giving the win away in regulation. He wrecked Kurt Busch, the defending race winner, trying to reclaim his lead and the contact damaged Blaney’s Ford.