Austin Dillon described his run to third place in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway as “wild and fun.”
One look at his battered No. 3 Chevrolet was enough to understand the wild side. But fun?
“For us, fun was just watching my team work in the pits,” Dillon said. “I had guys climbing on the hood, beating the hood down. I had guys putting screws everywhere in the car to keep it together. It worked out for us.”
To say Dillon’s day was eventful would be an understatement. He was swept into two of the day’s multicar accidents, including the 21-car “Big One” on Lap 162. By then, the Richard Childress Racing Chevy had already incurred damage in a seven-car wreck just before the 100-lap mark.
The car was never damaged enough to require a trip to the garage — just lots of trips down pit road for repairs under caution — a total of 17 stops, according to the team.
Oddly enough, the taped-up race car was still capable of plenty of speed. In fact, Dillon thought he thought he had a shot at the win (which went to Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski) on the final lap even though he took what turned out to be the only restart in overtime from 17th place.
“Seventeenth to third, that was pretty cool,” Dillon remarked. “One guy came up to me in the suite, said in Dale’s [Earnhardt] last win here, he came from 15th to first. Maybe if we started 15th, we could have got there.
“If you go look at the car, you would never expect it to get to third,” he added. “I actually think with it being so draggy and beat up, the 1 car [Jamie McMurray] hooked to us at the end and he just pushed me all the way through three and four, gave me a heck of a run. Once I left that air, though, there wasn’t much I was going to be able to do once that happened. It was my one shot off of Turn 4, and I tried it.
“It was fun to be up front there at the end and amazing to be part of a group of guys that work their tails off for me. I’m so proud of them. Man, fun day.”
In addition to seeing his grandson Dillon bring his battered car home third, Richard Childress also had the thrill of watching his other grandson, Ty Dillon, take over Tony Stewart’s Chevrolet and cross the finish line in sixth place.
It would be a career-best Sprint Cup Series result for the younger Dillon brother, but Stewart gets credit for the finish because he started the race. Ty Dillon took over the No. 14 Chevrolet in a planned driver swap at the first caution, as Stewart heeded the advice of doctors and gave up the car to avoid crashing and reinjuring the fractured spine that caused him to miss the first eight races of the season.
Dillon took over the Stewart-Haas Racing Chevy on Lap 53, executing the driver change in 1 minute, 17 seconds to remain on the lead lap. From there, he managed to dodge most of the carnage and did exactly what was asked of him in the role of relief driver.
“I really appreciate Ty,” said Stewart. “He’s been a rock star through this whole thing and especially this weekend. He’s done all the heavy lifting, and I just got in to ride around for 50 laps and turn it over to him.”
Despite the strong finish, Dillon thought he could have done better.
“It was just wild and crazy,” Dillon said, summarizing his first Cup Series experience on a restrictor-plate track. “We had a really strong car. Fighting from behind, it’s hard to get it up front. I felt like if we could lead a pack at any point, we would have put ourselves up front.
“Once I first got in the car, we drove right up to into the top 10 really quick and we had some air on the nose and was able to go. But I just kind of got mired back. I made some mistakes being my first time here racing.
“But we were able to dodge crashes and survive here, which is the big thing. We made some good moves at the end to get us into to the top six or seven.”
With Stewart back full time starting next week at Kansas Speedway, Dillon will run selected upcoming races in a car run by Circle Sport/Leavine Family Racing. He is competing full time in the Xfinity Series this year with the goal of advancing to a full-time Cup ride in 2017, whether in a fourth RCR entry or for another team.
Xfinity Series: Rulebook hands win to Elliott Sadler
For several minutes after the Sparks Energy 300, it was a surreal scene as the cars of Brennan Poole and Elliott Sadler sat facing each other, about 50 feet apart near the start/finish line of Talladega Superspeedway, as the drivers waited for NASCAR to decide who actually won the Xfinity Series contest.
Sadler helped trigger a wreck that unfolded behind the leaders as they raced to the line. Running in second place exiting Turn 4, he got into the back of leader Joey Logano, sending Logano’s car slewing out of control while Sadler veered across the double yellow line toward the infield grass, putting two wheels off the pavement.
Sadler maintained control of his JR Motorsports Chevrolet and wrestled it back onto the racing surface, but Logano smashed hard into the outside wall and NASCAR immediately illuminated the caution light. Meanwhile, Poole and Justin Allgaier slipped past and crossed the stripe ahead of Sadler.
Cue the waiting, as NASCAR reviewed video evidence to determine who was at the head of the field when the yellow light went on, just a second or so before the lead cars reached the finish line.
To the disappointment of Poole and many others, series officials determined that Sadler was still ahead of Poole when the caution was called. The rulebook therefore awarded the victory to Sadler even though he did not cross the line first.
Reaction was swift and divided, and the conversation waged on into the following day. Experts like FOX Sports commentators Jeff Gordon and Darrell Waltrip could not agree whether NASCAR was right to call for a caution so quickly when the race was so close to being resolved.
“Look, they’re only a few hundred feet from the start-finish line,” Waltrip commented Sunday during the network’s pre-race show for the Sprint Cup Series race. “I guess from a driver’s perspective, I would have let them finish.”
“When the 1 car [Sadler] hit Logano, that really I think looked like a terrible incident,” Gordon said. “Luckily, everyone was safe, but you could maybe say they should have thrown a caution.
“To DW’s point, the finish line is right there,” Gordon added. “I just felt for Brennan Poole. He felt like he won that race, he crossed the line first, and to have to wait to find out who the winner was is unfortunate.”
Poole took the news better than a lot of others.
“As I was waiting there, I was thinking hopefully the caution didn’t come out as early as I think it came out and I’m hoping we race to the line,” said the 25-year old, who is in his first full-time Xfinity Series campaign for Chip Ganassi Racing. “But at the same time I’m thinking, ‘I hope NASCAR gets it right.’ I want the guy who deserves to win the race be the winner and go by the rules. And according to the rules, Elliott was the winner.
“I can’t get mad about it. It just is what it is. Just really cool to have an opportunity to race for a win. It’s been an exciting last couple weeks and certainly this afternoon is one of the most exciting times in my racing career.”
Sadler is the first Xfinity Series regular to win a race this year. Sprint Cup Series drivers claimed the first eight races of the season, with Kyle Busch taking half of that tally. Busch was not entered in the Xfinity race at Talladega.
But people weren’t talking about Sadler’s win as much as they were talking about the rule that gave it to him.
“We took our time in the tower,” said Xfinity Series managing director Wayne Auton. “We used every bit of film that we had; slowed down, speeded up, we arrived at the finish we did by using every piece of technology that we had to our availability.
“I think all of you saw the 1 and the 48 [Sadler and Poole] come and sit at the start-finish line, which was pretty cool, to just have both drivers sit there really calm. They knew we were checking it.
“The rule is that you cannot go below the yellow line to advance his position,” he concluded. “[Sadler] did not advance a position. In fact, he was forced down there when him and the 22 car [Logano] made contact. In our eyes, he didn’t gain any positions. He was already there, so it was legal by the rules.”