Tag Archives: Austin Dillon

Harrowing Daytona finish highlights safety, sportsmanship

(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. crossed the finish line, Austin Dillon hurled into the catchfence.

Daytona International Speedway—a restrictor plate track—is as prestigious and dangerous as they come. The mix creates an allure one can’t ignore. The high speeds and close racing make for the type of weaving and cutting a skilled seamstress would take pride in.  The historic venue has been a stage for the most prideful moments in the sport of racing.

It’s also been the platform for the fiercest ones as well.

Sunday night was one of those moments.

The start of the Coke Zero 400 was late. Excruciatingly late. Weather shoved the sort into late-night infomercial territory, and many knew that peculiar things tend to happen in that realm. With the green flag waving around 11:45 p.m. ET, the masses settled in for a night full of adrenaline, speed, and nail biting.

In some way, they all hoped this would be worth the all-nighter. Drivers and crews desired a trophy and Chase berth by dawn. Spectators wanted their money’s worth, unsure of what that might entail.

Regardless of all wishful thinking, the festivities began.

Earnhardt was the clear favorite; starting from the pole, the No. 88 shot out front every possibly chance. His fellow Hendrick Motorsports teammates were also fast, yet no one was in the two-time Daytona 500 winner’s zip code. As the race progressed, he leaned on Denny Hamlin to draft him. Hamlin—who made risky moves work all night—obliged, and the two led a six- to seven-car breakaway in the race’s last 50 laps.

Slicing and dicing is a crucial part of restrictor plate racing, and it must be done with precision. A driver has to get it right, or things will get messy. That happened multiple times throughout the night, with two large wrecks taking out various contenders. Smaller incidents paused the action, giving everyone the opportunity to breathe and regroup.

As the laps dwindled away, urgency intensified. Minutes and hours ticked away. Time was running out—for the competitors who wanted to make a move and for the supporters who needed to clock in.

It came down to a green-white-checkered finish. The field restarted side-by-side, and they remained that way until the width expanded. As Earnhardt pulled away, followers scrambled to gain positions.

The white flag waved. At any other track, it was half past “go time,” but this was the moment Daytona—and the GWC rule—was designed to create. Its result, however, was not part of that plan.

Hamlin got loose and spun next to the finish line. The No. 11 came back and tapped Dillon, who proceeded to go airborne. More cars collected underneath the No. 3 as it flew into the catchfence. Debris rained into the stands as the machine bounced back onto the racing surface. Brad Keselowski’s car was skidding sideway down the frontstretch and slammed into Dillon’s side, putting the Richard Childress Racing car on its hood.

The mangled machine stopped at the end of pit road. Earnhardt’s pit crew rushed to the damage, falling to the ground and peering into the cockpit. The entire NASCAR community held their breath as more people flocked to the scene.

The sight of every crew member standing and giving a thumbs up filled every viewer with relief and emotion—and then fear.

Four fans sought treatment in the infield care center, while one went to the hospital in stable condition. There are two reasons no one was injured more seriously—the catchfence and the Daytona rising project. The tall, reinforced barrier did its job, keeping Dillon’s car inside the track. The expensive reconstruction plan pushed the grandstands away from the fence, placing a wide walkway between the fans and the action.

Praise is necessary. So is action.

There will be outrage over the incident; columns about danger will come out of the woodwork, and some mainstream media will broadcast this in a crooked way. A lot of good can come out of this accident if logic prevails.

The image of Earnhardt’s crew members rushing to Dillon’s side is the personification of sportsmanship. While their driver claimed victory, they chose to provide aid. Fellow competitors are thankful he survived such a terrifying accident.

Sunday night serves as a reminder to those who drive and those who observe. This is a dangerous sport. These athletes put their lives on the line to do what they love, and fans seek enjoyment from their risky lifestyle.

There is much to take away from that night, yet one is quite prevalent—there is always room from humanity and improvement in sports.

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Dillon and Blaney both impress in Xfinity race at Las Vegas

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(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

With Kyle Busch out indefinitely, another NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver had the chance to dominate the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Austin Dillon glided to victory, facing some slight interference from Ryan Blaney in the final laps. The 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion started on the pole in the No. 33 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. ‘Domination’ is the only word to describe it.

What stuck out in the end was Blaney’s perseverance and maturity. The Team Penske driver, who now runs a partial Cup schedule with Wood Brothers Racing, scuffled with Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones with around 30 laps to go. Blaney hit Jones’ left rear tire and caused the No. 20 to get loose and hit the wall. Jones was up front all day until that incident.

In the closing laps, Dillon and Blaney raced with intensity and intelligence. It was a constant battle of roping the No. 33 in, setting up the pass, and then gathering it up all over again when it didn’t work out. The Penske car overdrove the final turn and fell back as Dillon took the checkered flag. The maturity didn’t end there; when interviewed for his runner-up finish, Blaney apologized first and foremost for the accident with Jones.

If there was anything to take away from the NXS event at Las Vegas, it was the dominating performance by Dillon and the smart racing by Blaney. With these two on the rise in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, the future can’t look anything but bright.

Larson comments on racing with Busch, ROTY battle

Rich in history, it’s not surprising that Darlington Raceway is challenging for fresh-faced NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Larson.

“Each lap you run, your car gets worse,” the Rookie of The Year candidate told the media Friday afternoon. He believes that, out of the tracks on the schedule, Darlington is “the most on-edge.”

The press conference was to announce Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s new partnership with Oscar Mayer to introduce P3 Portable Protein Packs to the NASCAR population. The topic soon turned to the young driver and the gains he’s been making on the racetrack. Larson currently resides 15th in points after earning two tops 5s and three top 10. In the Rookie of The Year standings, the driver of the No. 42 has a nine-point lead over a stout field, one that includes another top contender in Austin Dillon.

About the battle with Dillon, Larson noted, “[Austin Dillon] is really good at finishing races…I want to win [the Rookie of The Year honor] really bad.”

The driver has been busy in 2014, running NASCAR Nationwide Series races in addition to the full Sprint Cup schedule. He won his first NNS event at Auto Club Speedway, competing against NSCS veteran Kyle Busch for the victory. The two have raced side-by-side many times, although Larson assured they are just doing their jobs.

“I wouldn’t say [Kyle Busch and I] have a rivalry. We’re just racing each other hard each week.”

His performances in NNS races may not be earning him points, yet the finishes have propelled TCGR to third in the series’ owner standings.

Larson’s first year in the top-tier of NASCAR has produced many headlines, and, with his ability to adapt, there are many more to come.

Him, The Man: Earnhardt’s Legacy

Out of all the things I’ve seen in my life, it’s a moment I didn’t witness that echoes in my head everyday. Familiarizing myself with all the events that occurred doesn’t silence it, either. Instead, it adds fuel to the fire.

I’ve watched television specials. I’ve visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s display. I’ve read pieces written by those who’ve known, interviewed, and raced against him.

Him, The Man.

The legend that seemed larger than life and still does. With a mischievous smile and browbeating stare, why they call him “The Intimidator” is understandable. How he drove was the perfect mix of aggression and intelligence.

I am young. I never saw Earnhardt race.

Over the years, as the world moves farther away from February 18, 2001, NASCAR and its fans hold it close. Every year on this day, candlelight vigils are held at the site of Dale Earnhardt Inc. Tokens of memorabilia once bought, handmade signs, and tears are left outside the team he built. Nothing brings NASCAR people to their knees like that day. You mention his name, and people get nostalgic. You mention the number, and things turn vicious.

A sliver of bone once lodged itself within Earnhardt’s nerves back in 1999. Due to this, his right arm would fall numb. He raced with his left and would rest the sleeping limb. But he still raced. Just like that bone, the memories wash over us from time to time. Despite this, we have to continue on. Continuing on is letting that No. 3 return to its rightful place, on the racetrack. And continuing on is the only choice that we have, that NASCAR has.

I am young. I never saw Earnhardt race. The legacy, however, surges through me because I am a NASCAR fan. That is worth something.

With the No. 3 back on track, the latest generation will now know who glorified that number, why it’s important, and what it represents. Austin Dillon will do everyone proud. Angry seas may now rest. Dillon’s grandfather/car owner and Earnhardt’s best friend Richard Childress wouldn’t tarnish the vestige that still hangs in so many hearts. Acceptance is the next step. It’s the only step.

And what exactly does that slanted numeral embody?

Hard work. Never lifting. Humanity. Racing not only because it’s a skill, but because it’s an essential part of living.

It embodies an everyday hero that drove like he stole it each race.

It embodies him.

Him, The Man.

Dillon wins Daytona 500 pole, shares front row with Truex

Qualifying for the Daytona 500 is different from other races, and the Sunday before The Great American Race is the first half of the procedure; a regular, single-car qualifying session takes place, yet the only positions that matter are first and second. The front row is determined, and then two qualifying races set the rest of the field. Those events, the Budweiser Duels, will happen Thursday night and be broadcasted on Fox Sports 1.

In a three-hour TV slot, 49 cars put up times, beginning with NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The lineup was arranged by random draw, and rookies making first-time attempts were mixed in with seasoned veterans and champions. It’s a great way to start off the season.

Another great way? Having a huge storyline that fuels interest and enthusiasm. NASCAR got that today.

In the number that legend Dale Earnhardt Sr. made iconic, rookie Austin Dillon claimed the pole. When no one could knock him down, fans were split down the middle; half cheered and raved, while some were skeptical and playing conspiracy theorist. No matter the feeling, the No. 3 holding the top spot at Daytona International Speedway brought out emotion in everyone. Car owner and grandfather Richard Childress was visibly thrilled, for seeing his grandson and his old friend’s number come out on top.

That’s not the only feel-good story we’ll have heading into next weekend.

Second place goes to Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 for Furniture Row Racing, who also runs Earnhardt-Childress engines like Dillon. Truex raced for Michael Waltrip Racing last year, making The Chase yet affected by the Richmond International Raceway controversy in September. If being pulled from the “playoffs” wasn’t upsetting enough, the negative publicity shoved his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, away from MWR. This resulted in him having to find another ride, but it hasn’t stopped him. The drive put the single-car team on the front row, the organization known for helping Kurt Busch get back on his feet last year. There’s no doubt that Truex is already doing great things to further Furniture Row Racing’s success.

After everything was said and done, I asked fans on Twitter to describe the qualifying session in one word. Here are some of the answers I received: meaningless, ugh, fixed, boring, and annoying. Sounds like people are ready for the new qualifying system, which begins at Phoenix International Raceway.

The Budweiser Duels will begin at 7 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 on Thursday, February 20th.

NASCAR doing NASCAR things: fans left flabbergasted as Dillon wins championship

Flabbergasted. That is the only way to describe how individuals in and around NASCAR feel after the finale NASCAR Nationwide Series event Saturday night.

Homestead-Miami Speedway is one-and-a-half miles in length, but its width makes it anything but boring. Three- and four-wide? Bumping and grinding? It’s the perfect place for excitement. However, the quality of racing isn’t what left people speechless. Great battles were seen, but something overtook all of that.

With nineteen laps to go, a crash occurred, collecting Regan Smith, Jeremy Clements, and Mike Wallace. There was enough damage and debris to call for a red flag. NASCAR kept it under cautions. As a result, the drivers drove TWELVE laps under yellow before they went racing again. Before this happened, Sam Hornish Jr. was in the perfect position to strike and grab the title of champion. With Dillon’s car being sub-par yet holding on to the tiny gap in points, that was his moment.

NASCAR’s carelessness led to that moment being crushed. This isn’t the first time the sport has been blatantly manipulated by its inside sector. The red flag needed to be thrown, and they failed to do so. NASCAR doing NASCAR things.

This all caused the championship to fall into Dillon’s lap, though he put his lap in the perfect position to catch the opportunity. He went winless this season but maintained consistency when it mattered. The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion has now earned two titles for the No. 3 in his career, and he shows no intention of slowing down.

The most dominant car in NNS this year was the No. 22, who was driven by Joey Logano to help lock up the owner’s championship. Roger Penske had to feel torn on that championship stage, looking at the larger trophy that wasn’t in his driver’s possession. Yet, as always, The Captain was all class.

An honor went to Kyle Larson, also: Rookie of The Year. His talent is indescribable, and he’s moving up into Sprint Cup next year. The future is bright.

Unfortunately, the end of the race was dim. The race -won by Brad Keselowski- summed up the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series season: a few high notes were drowned out by the obnoxious clangor of preventable discord. Story of the NNS life.

Final Point Standings

1. Austin Dillon (–)
2. Sam Hornish Jr. (-3)
3. Regan Smith (-72)
4. Elliott Sadler (-90)
4. Justin Allgaier (-90)
6. Trevor Bayne (-94)
7. Brian Scott (-127)
8. Kyle Larson (-179)
9. Parker Kligerman (-187)
10. Brian Vickers (-210)

A different type of unexpected: McMurray tames Talladega

Though Sunday was full of great racing and close-calls, the Sprint Cup Series finish at Talladega Superspeedway left the drivers relieved and everyone else underwhelmed. Many expected The Big One to strike, yet an incident involving Austin Dillon occurred during the last lap in turn two. This set the field up for a finish under caution.

Pack racing filled most of the track, bringing that nail-biting experience fans crave at a restrictor-plate venue. The lead changed every lap, a few cautions dotted the day, and everyone made it out safe. That paints the picture of a perfect race.

However, with seven to go, the cars began to thin out, and a single-file line formed. The top ten seemed content with their positions as the laps dwindled. Nobody was making a move.

With less than a lap left, Dillon was poised to change that, and it backfired. He was in third, set to break away with second-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. and make a run. Earnhardt Jr. didn’t attempt it, and Dillon went for a spin.

The yellow flag flew as the No. 14 was thrust into the air by Casey Mears, twirling vertical in the air like a ballerina, landing on four tires afterwards. Per the NASCAR rulebook, the caution ended the race and froze the field, determining Jamie McMurray as the race winner. A restrictor-plate ace, his win for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing wasn’t a complete surprise.

What many fans are asking is, “Why were the drivers in a single-file line? Were they scared of wrecking?” That answer is (partially) yes. After last year’s melee, some drivers were most likely apprehensive about going for it. Although it created a “sub-par” finish, it was a smart idea.

Talladega always brings the unexpected, yet this was a different type of unexpected. One that we aren’t use to. But, and this is very important, it was a safe finish after a day of hard racing. That’s something to cheer about.

Point Standings after Talladega

1. Jimmie Johnson (–)
2. Matt Kenseth (-4)
3. Kyle Busch (-26)
3. Kevin Harvick (-26)
5. Jeff Gordon (-34)
6. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-52)
7. Greg Biffle (-53)
8. Clint Bowyer (-57)
9. Kurt Busch (-61)
10. Carl Edwards (-68)
11. Ryan Newman (-72)
12. Joey Logano (-75)
13. Kasey Kahne (-101)