The story couldn’t have written itself any better.
Twenty years ago this weekend, Dale Earnhardt Sr. piloted his historic No. 3 car to victory in the Daytona 500. It was the only Daytona 500 win of his legendary career, and three years later he passed away in the same race.
On Sunday, that No. 3 car visited Victory Lane again in the 500, this time courtesy of Austin Dillon. Dillon made a last-lap pass by Aric Almirola, whom he sent spinning in the wall, and then cruised to a wide lead and his second career win.
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When Dillon crossed the finish line, there was a burnout. There was spinning, and there was chaos.
And then, almost as lively as two decades ago, there was celebration.
Stage 1: Reigning Daytona 500 champion Kurt Busch won the stage, but the biggest moment was the huge crash on the last lap of the stage. Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and Charlotte native William Byron all got collected in it, but Byron was able to continue racing.
Stage 2: Another crash – this time, it was Danica Patrick, Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott and Kevin Harvick – wiped out more of the field, but the actual racing was otherwise more orderly. Ryan Blaney held the lead for most of the second stage and ultimately held on for the stage win.
Stage 3: Blaney held the lead until two laps to go, when Kurt Busch spun and caught 11 other cars with him. On the restart, Almirola took the lead, but Dillon bumped him from behind and cruised to a win in the 60th Daytona 500.
After finishing 11th in points last year, Austin Dillion is confident he has a chance to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship in 2018 Davie Hinshawdhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
Three who mattered
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Austin Dillon: He wasn’t in contention until the very end of the race, but Dillon made a pass on the last lap and rode to his first-ever Daytona 500 win.
Denny Hamlin: Hamlin started second, fell back an entire lap due to a penalty, and clawed his way all the way back into contention, ultimately finishing third.
Danica Patrick: Her final NASCAR race did not finish the way she would have liked, nor did she even finish at all, thanks to a crash midway through the race.
▪ While two medium wrecks took out the notable names midway through the race, the “Big One” eventually came at the end with two laps to go.
▪ In practices and qualifying races all week, drivers tended to fall into a single-file line due to difficulty with handling. That wasn’t the case on Sunday though, as drivers went four-wide and frequently changed positions.
▪ Dale Earnhardt Jr. delivered a heck of an opening as the race’s grand marshal.
During the second stage of the Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 18, 2018 NASCAR drivers Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott and Kasey Kahne got loose coming out of Turn 3 at Daytona International Speedway with all three wrecking. Harvick was able to conti Jeff Sinerjsiner@charlotteobserver.com
They said it
“This one’s for Dale Earnhardt Sr.” – Dillon.
Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
Where: Atlanta Motor Speedway, Hampton, Georgia.
When: Sunday, 2 p.m.