DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With a huge assist from Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick after a rain delay of more than three hours, Austin Dillon forced his way into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff and broke Martin Truex Jr.’s heart.
Dillon’s victory in Sunday’s rain-delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway—his first of the season and his second at the track—needed the convergence of several different circumstances to fall into place.
After avoiding serious damage in a wreck off Turn 4 on lap 125, Dillon survived a subsequent 13-car melee in Turn 1 and took the lead before rain halted the race. After a red-flag period of 3 hours, 19 minutes, 57 seconds, Dillon fell behind 2022 Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric and trailed him from the restart on Lap 145 of 160 until he made the race-winning move on Lap 158.
As the cars reached Turn 1, Dillon tapped Cindric’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford, and the Chevrolets of Dillon, Reddick and Landon Cassill moved past as Cindric made a magnificent save on the apron. Reddick, the race runner-up, closed up to the bumper of Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet and drafted with his teammate to the finish line, holding off a last-ditch run from Cindric, who finished third, just .140 seconds behind the winner.
“There was a lot going on there. I knew that if we got to the white (final lap), I was afraid somebody would—if I waited too long, I was afraid somebody would wreck behind us, so I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. We were able to get it.
“I had a big run to him, and then I had my teammate, the 8 (Reddick), back there. I knew we were in good shape there to the end. He did a good job checking up any kind of run. Just a little too much push there and got him (Cindric) loose.”
Cindric said the bump was fair game, give what was on the line for Dillon.
“I think that’s fair game any race of the season, but that meant a lot for him to win that race,” Cindric told Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass on pit road. “He had three cars that were certainly going to be able to work with him…
“I feel like he got the run too late, and then he hit me straight on the entry to the corner. Just glad I saved it, glad I got a shot to still come back up through the field—but I hate losing.”
Dillon’s victory knocked Truex out of the Playoff and handed the final berth to Ryan Blaney, who finished three points ahead of Truex in the final regular-season standings.
When heavy rain stopped the action 21 laps from the finish, it looked as if Dillon might be awarded the victory.
As the cars sped toward Turn 1 on Lap 138, a sudden rain began to fall. The cars of Justin Haley, Daniel Hemric and Denny Hamlin broke loose at the front of the field, and the cars behind them were unable to stop on the slick asphalt and plowed into the wreck.
Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet, which had been damaged in a wreck off Turn 4 on Lap 125—and ended its slide facing backward on pit road—was the first to emerge from the Lap 138 chaos at cautious pace and shortly thereafter was confirmed as the race leader by NASCAR.