DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 after Aric Almirola went spinning off his front bumper in turn three on the race’s final lap.
Almirola was blocking both Dillon and Denny Hamlin and went to move up to protect the high line as Dillon had a run. That sent Almirola into the outside wall and Dillon stayed ahead of Bubba Wallace and Hamlin for the win.
“I did what I had to do at the end,” Dillon said of staying in the gas as he had the run Almirola tried to block.
Dillon drives the No. 3 car, the number made famous by Dale Earnhardt. His win comes 17 years to the day Earnhardt was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. The victory also comes 20 years after Earnhardt scored his only Daytona 500 win.
Dillon won his first race a year ago, stretching his fuel mileage further than everyone else in the Coca-Cola 600. The 600, Daytona 500, Southern 500 and Brickyard 400 are considered the crown jewels of NASCAR.
“Only two jewels left. Only two jewels left,” he exclaimed to crew chief Justin Alexander on the infield after the race.
Almirola didn’t have any hard feelings towards Dillon’s tactics after the race. While it’s easy to argue that Dillon drove through Almirola on the way to victory lane and be upset with what he did, what else should a guy racing for the win in the Daytona 500 do. Let off the gas and settle for second?
I asked Aric Almirola if Dillon was being too aggressive with that move: "Ha! He's not driving too aggressively, he's trying to win the Daytona 500 — just like I was." https://t.co/N1pFzKhyQ3
— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 18, 2018
After an eventful first two stages, the final stage was quite calm. It didn’t have any cautions and included the race’s first green-flag pit stops. But a single-file wait-until-the-right-time-to-make-your-move race turned into a seven-lap sprint after William Byron spun off turn four with 10 laps to go.
The seven-lap sprint then turned into the two-lap overtime finish after Kurt Busch went spinning off Ryan Blaney’s bumper. Busch was in second behind Hamlin and getting a push from Blaney entering turn 1 with less than two laps to go. The crash collected Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others.
The race’s first stage ended with a handful of good cars getting crashed out. Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones and others were taken out in a wreck that started when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. tried to block Blaney for second place.
A huge crash took out more contenders in the second stage. Brad Keselowski and Chase Elliott made contact while running in the top three. Elliott was in second and contact from Keselowski caused him to slam headfirst into the wall. Keselowski’s car then collected Kevin Harvick and Danica Patrick was also caught up in the crash. The 500 was Patrick’s final NASCAR start.
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