Paul Menard

Photo: Dustin Long

Daytona 500 victory 50 years in the making for Austin Dillon’s tire changer

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — The younger members of Austin Dillon’s team, full of adrenaline-fueled energy and excitement, celebrated their Daytona 500 victory Sunday with a late-night visit to a tattoo parlor to permanently etch their achievement on their rear end.

Terry Spalding didn’t make it that far. It was time to turn in.

That’s OK, Sunday was a big enough day for the 50-year-old front tire changer, who experienced his first Daytona 500 win.

Yes, Spalding is 50 years old and changes tires for a Cup playoff team. Age alone gives him a different perspective on the Daytona 500 victory.

“I’m really able to appreciate it,’’ Spalding told NBC Sports. “I’ve been doing it 20-some years. Only since I’ve been at RCR in the last seven or eight years have I really been able to win the races that I won.’’

Dillon says Spalding doesn’t need a Daytona 500 ring to note how special he is.

“Terry is just a champion in life, period,’’ Dillon said. 

Spalding grew up the son of a racer in Pennsylvania and moved to North Carolina to pursue a job in the sport in 1990 — the same year Dillon was born.

Along the way, Spalding has worked in Cup for car owners such as Travis Carter, Ray Evernham, Richard Petty, Michael Waltrip, Richard Childress. Spalding has gone over the wall to service cars for drivers such as Jimmy Spencer, Elliott Sadler, Tony Raines, David Reutimann, Martin Truex Jr., Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Paul Menard and Dillon.

Spalding went to in Victory Lane at Indianapolis in 2011 when Paul Menard won. Spalding was in Victory Lane last year when Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600.

That he is still going over the wall is a feat considering the radical changes for pit crew this season. With NASCAR eliminating one of the over-the-wall positions, pit crew members are having to redefine their roles. Those that haven’t adjusted as well have lost jobs or been dropped down a series. Spalding’s duties have changed. He now carries a 60-pound tire with along with his air gun.

He’s always managed to adjust through the years. When he turned 40, he often was asked how much longer would he wanted to change tires. He randomly said 50. It’s a nice round number. Realistically, as pit crews have become more athletic and younger — many are in their 20s — that seemed like a pipe dream.

Now that he’s 50, how much longer will he go?

“I feel as good as I did when I was 40,’’ Spalding said. “I thought about when I can’t go over the wall anymore, starting to coach.’’

He’s got to find time. He plays in the same basketball league Denny Hamlin hosts at his house that includes Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney and others. In recent years, Spalding competed in slalom ski races. He’s also played in a roller hockey league. He’s competed in mountain bike races.

“I still go in the weight room, I don’t hit it as hard as I used to,’’ Spalding said. “I like to do things … and stay active that way.’’

He’s not ready to quit any time soon.

“I want to go as long as I can,’’  he said. Barring some freak injury, I honestly think 55 is no problem.’’ 

That would be at least five more Daytona 500s.

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Ryan: Four drivers had a Daytona 500 win in reach. Here’s how it got away

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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – There’s only one winner of the Great American Race, and technically up to 39 losers annually.

But the number of drivers who lose with legitimate shots at a Daytona 500 victory — but watch them get squandered, snatched away or simply vanish in the capricious draft — varies every season.

Sunday’s race seemed one of the longest list of “woulda coulda shouldas” in recent memory.

No fewer than four drivers in the final 10 laps made decisions while leading that they desperately would have wanted back.

A few flicks of the wheel in other directions, and the course of history instantaneously could have resulted in someone other than Austin Dillon hoisting the Harley J. Earl trophy.

This has been a theme lately in the Daytona 500. Sunday marked three straight last-lap passes for wins, and the 2016 finish might have been the cruelest of all for Matt Kenseth.

Nearly a year after his bid at third Daytona 500 victory vanished in the final corner with a split-second call to block an outside charge (if he stayed put, he probably wins),  Kenseth still wasn’t over the agony entering last season. “All I can remember is losing one,” he told NBC Sports a year ago.

How many times will this year’s class of the heartbroken say the same after rewinding the video and replaying the memories of the moves they didn’t make?

Here’s what could haunt them until at least their next shot at Daytona – and possibly long afterward.

Aric Almirola: In his first start at Stewart-Haas Racing, he seemed to be lamenting the finish the most among the contenders – and it wasn’t only because he had the lead until being moved by Dillon entering the third turn on the last lap. Almirola was “devastated” by the knowledge of what was left on the table – “a career changing race.”

It’s difficult to second-guess many of the maneuvers by the No. 10 Ford in crunch time: Almirola did well just to position himself for the win. But he probably would rerun the last lap, when he had Denny Hamlin behind him on the inside while Dillon was on the outside with a heavy push from Bubba Wallace.

The situation was similar to Kenseth’s – instinctually, it’s difficult for a driver to stay calm and in the inside lane when a competitor is coming with a full head of steam on the high lane.

But the trend Sunday was the outside was faster on the straightaways while the inside was quickest in the turns. If Almirola stays put, does Dillon’s momentum stall in the last two corners? The outcome probably is the same because he had little help, but that might have been what kept Almirola up Sunday night.

Denny Hamlin: With Hamlin in the lead on an overtime restart and only seven winning-caliber cars on the lead lap behind him, this certainly seemed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s race to lose.

The 2016 Daytona 500 winner is regarded as one of the two or three best restrictor-plate drivers by his peers, and he certainly was the most adept and experienced contender left in the field.

But the lack of a Toyota drafting partner (JGR’s other three cars were long out of the running) ultimately took the decision out of Hamlin’s hands. He had to choose to restart ahead of Buescher or Dillon, both in Chevrolets, and after a debate on his team radio, he went with Buescher – but not because of the JTG Daugherty Racing driver.

Hamlin had his eye on Paul Menard’s Ford in fifth, which he felt was better than Bubba Wallace’s Chevy in sixth. “Obviously, I’ve been doing this long enough that I know that it’s made or break by the fifth‑ and sixth‑place drivers,” he said. “It’s not really who’s directly behind you, and I felt like (Menard) was probably going to be one of the best pushers. I saw how strong his car was.  So we tried to get on the radio and get (Buescher) behind us, (Menard) to try to buy in on whatever line gets organized the most is going to win the race. Those are the cars that’s going to battle it out for the victory.”

Buescher committed, but Menard didn’t, blunting the momentum of the inside and leaving Hamlin in the wake of Almirola, Wallace and Dillon. “So just a 50/50-coin flip and chose the wrong lane,” he said. “Honestly feel like there was nothing else I could have done (other than) just made a different decision there on lane choice.”

One other call Hamlin might be reconsidering? The decision to make the last green-flag pit a lap later than the lead pack (for a clean entry and exit, perhaps after Hamlin nearly lost two laps on a penalty for sliding through his box on the first stop). Hamlin dropped from third to eighth after a stop that he said was “almost too good” because he rejoined the track too far ahead and got gobbled up by the draft of the cars that pitted together. “They took us out of control of the race,” he said.

Ryan Blaney: He led a race-high 118 laps in another example of plate-racing excellence in his short Cup career, but Sunday showed the Team Penske driver still lacks experience. His No. 12 Ford seemed in control with the lead and Kurt Busch’s Ford behind him on a restart with seven laps left, but Hamlin just snookered him from fifth on the inside lane.

Blaney made an impressive recovery to lead the next lap briefly over Busch but lost the lead again. When Busch made a mistake going low two laps later, Blaney took the lead again but dropped from first the next lap when Hamlin went by with Busch in tow. A third shot at redemption for Blaney was eliminated by a multicar crash triggered by a block from Busch.

The main takeaway for Blaney, who might had the strongest car in the second half, is learning how to be more strategic and less emphatic with his blocking.

Kurt Busch: He had a couple of shots at becoming the first winner of consecutive Daytona 500s in more than 20 years. But he landed in what he described as a “Bermuda Triangle” on the move in which he apparently delivered an inadvertent push that propelled Hamlin’s Toyota past Blaney’s Ford (Busch has been emphasizing his ties to the Blue Oval, which might present a landing spot in sports cars when his NASCAR career ends).

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver seemed to be second-guessing whether he should have used Dillon’s winning strategy – drill Hamlin and hope he could drive past him without crashing.

“It seemed like when Hamlin blocked us, I hit him pretty hard, and that killed a lot of my momentum,” he said. “Maybe I should have just flung the 11, but you have to treat guys with respect and you’ve also got to throw your elbows out, and you have to hold the hits when you get hit. We were close to going back-to-back in the Daytona 500, but I don’t have anything to show for it.”

Dillon’s victory came on the 17th anniversary of the last-lap Daytona 500 wreck that killed Dale Earnhardt, the most recent NASCAR fatality at Daytona International Speedway.

It’s easy to forget that Dillon also cheated death at the 2.5-mile oval after an airborne crash in the July 5, 2015 race that ripped a 60-foot swath of the catchfence and left Dillon sitting helpless in a stationary, mangled shell of his No. 3 when it was hit at speed

Sunday he admitted that, despite his Lane Frost impression after exiting the car with no injuries, the wreck stayed with him 30 months later and admittedly still makes him nervous.

“When it happened, I didn’t know how big it was, and then you see videos of it, and you’re like, ‘How did I like walk out of that like with nothing?’” he asked. “I get nervous coming here.  I think everybody does.  Especially like the first race in the Clash, I remember before the race, I was like, ‘Man, there’s something about this place that just makes you nervous.’

“But once you get in the race car and you settle in, the belts are tight, you’re like, all right, it’s time to go racing.  It’s fun again.  This place is just cool because of that.  If it didn’t make you nervous, something would be wrong, I think.”

Close your eyes and ignore the Piedmont accent, and it would be easy to pretend you were hearing that being said in May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Chase Elliott’s wicked head-on collision was cringeworthy to witness on such a fateful day in NASCAR history, but it was another reminder that Earnhardt’s greatest legacy remains that it sparked a safety revolution that is the longest period without a fatality in NASCAR national series history.

Yet it still is jarring to hear Joe Nemechek say after last Friday’s truck series race that “it’s pretty tough to get hurt in these cars anymore with all the safety innovations that have come through, soft walls, the carbon seats.”

Nemechek is a veteran who speaks from painful experience – his brother, John, died in a 1997 truck crash at Homestead-Miami Speedway. And he was giving a candid answer to what it’s like to watch his son, John Hunter (named for Joe’s late brother), involved in a caution.

But it feels like whistling past the graveyard to imply that Earnhardt’s death might be NASCAR’s last. History shows it won’t be, and with blocking becoming part and parcel to plate racing, the brutal wrecks Sunday at Daytona probably will become more of the norm.

It’s possible for NASCAR to legislate blocking through wholesale rule changes, but it was striking that seemingly no one was lobbying for limits during and after 500 miles of incessant aggression.

Contrast that with Speedweeks in 2006 when Tony Stewart sternly warned someone would die if measures to restrict slam-drafting weren’t taken, or the 2002 Talladega race that prompted a virtual revolt among veterans.

Not anymore. A mix of acceptance and resignation about blocking as an accepted part of doing business colored the words of many drivers Sunday. It was particularly true in interviews with Almirola, who didn’t seem the slightest bit miffed about being punted by Dillon (conceding he would have done the same). Almirola’s boss, the guy nicknamed “Smoke” who once bragged of meting out retribution for any young turks daring to impede his progress, might have had a different opinion.

To hear more of his discussion, this was a topic on Monday’s post-Daytona episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, which is available on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play and elsewhere.

Wallace and Hamlin exchanged some barbs in postrace interviews, but they also had a heated exchange of words in the garage after Hamlin left the media center and Wallace was headed there.

It apparently was caught on camera by the crew that is following Wallace’s rookie season for a Facebook Watch documentary. That might be worth watching for over the final two episodes airing this week.

Though it was another tantalizing example of youth vs. establishment, it’s hard to see things lingering between Wallace, 24, and Hamlin, 37, who often play golf and basketball together.

Counting Dillon, the top three finishers at Daytona are members of Hamlin’s “Hoop Group”, where the trash talking might get a little fiercer.

While NASCAR still is waiting to hear if Monster Energy will pick up a two-year option of its title sponsorship beyond 2018, there was another sign the beverage company has made some headway on getting its requests met. The branding on the flag stand made Daytona International Speedway the latest track to more prominently display Monster logos (which were more visible at several tracks last fall).

Because its deal with NASCAR was signed so late before beginning last season, Monster still has been ironing out details with tracks on guarantees of exposure. It’s hard to predict which way its extension could go, but branding similar to Daytona only can help improve NASCAR’s chances.

The first true test will come this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but it’s rare that a NASCAR initiative such as the optical scanning system is as well received as the new inspection process was at Daytona.

If a full complement of cars is on the grid as early for qualifying and the race at Atlanta, NASCAR really might be on to something.

Also, credit to NASCAR for announcing penalties on team members during the course of last weekend rather than waiting until midweek. NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell explained in his weekly SiriusXM spot Monday that this is part of a laudable effort to get out of the game of announcing midweek penalties.

That hopefully goes for postrace inspection, too, eventually, though it’s unclear where NASCAR will land on that (and there were no inspection problems after the Cup and Xfinity races at Daytona).

The author of this column headline will concede it might have been taken the wrong way (though the text below it was intended as elucidation).

While the Duels are becoming antiquated creatures in the charter system, the concept of hosting warmup races for the biggest race of the season is more important than ever. This is an opportunity to reimagine Speedweeks in a throwback way.

Teams will complain about putting too many cars at risk. Even some fans will protest having “too much” racing.

Ultimately, the complaints should be weighed against reality, which is that racing cars is the most surefire way to ensure a buildup of compelling storylines for the biggest race of the season. Even if they are just 20-lap dashes a la The Clash of yesteryear.

If NASCAR removes the “open” classification holding four slots for non-charter cars every week, that would free up some extra cash to post, too, for bonus events.

It’s understandable that the Duels, which have been run in some form since the track’s 1959 opening, would be viewed as sacred cows. There also has been much discussion about giving NASCAR fans too much “change” to digest. This has been true when the “change” isn’t necessarily warranted but is intended more as a leap of faith toward something better.

That is not the case in this instance. Under the current economic, purse and team structure, the Duels (nee Twins) aren’t going to look the way they did in the halcyon days. It’s something that will need to be addressed by necessity.

What drivers said after Sunday’s 2018 season-opening Daytona 500

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Sunday’s season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway:

Austin Dillon — Race Winner: “Right now I just want to thank the good Lord above. I did what I had to do there at the end. I hate it for the No. 10 (Aric Almirola) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona. This is so awesome to take the No. 3 car back to Victory Lane 20 years ago. This one is for Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and all those Sr. fans.  I love you guys.  We are going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year! … I met a fan and actually he had no favorite driver. I told him I would give him my hat if I was his favorite driver. Well I gave him the hat.  The next day he saw me in the infield and said here is a lucky penny I found heads-up and I said ‘Man, we have to put this in the car.’  We put it in the car and here we are in Victory Lane. … I said my first win I couldn’t beat it, but this does.  My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it. There is a lot of pressure on me to preform because I have had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No 3.  There is a lot of pressure behind that. But I’m willing to take that and go with it.  I’m just thankful for all the people that support us along the way.  Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his family for letting us bring this number back. It comes full circle. I just can’t thank the Lord enough for this opportunity.”

Bubba Wallace – Finished second: “Just an incredible experience for me to be able to be here for my first Daytona 500. … My nerves are shot right now. The King (Richard Petty) comes in all mad at me and says, ‘After all I told you, what was the first rule I told you to do?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I lost my breath’ and he said ‘Don’t wreck the car.’ Thank you to the King for keeping me young, keeping him young as well. Thank you to the King as well for giving me this opportunity putting them second place, putting Click N’ Close in second place.  We know how much stress this team has been through in the last three or four months just trying to get this program together. … Hell of an ending for us tonight, but P2 for my first Daytona 500, I’ll take it.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace gets pre-race good luck call from baseball legend Hank Aaron

Denny Hamlin – Finished third: “Definitely disappointed after leading on the last restart, but it’s just a 50-50 shot. It’s about what line can stay organized and work the best. I had the 37 (Chris Buescher) committed to my rear bumper which was great, but we couldn’t get the 21 (Paul Menard) to buy in. It’s really about the third car in line. Whoever that third car in line is closest to that line goes. We just didn’t have the line to win, but congrats to Austin (Dillon). I’m really happy for Austin and his whole team. Those guys work really hard. … If I didn’t win, the 3 (Austin Dillon) car is the next one I would’ve rooted for.”

Joey Logano — Finished fourth: “There were a lot of ups and downs all day for us. Getting the left rear fender rub, needing to pit, going down a lap, getting the Lucky Dog, scoring points in that stage was amazing. To get ourselves back in position where we needed to be behind Blaney, our teammate, to try to control the race and win. It was a mental mistake on pit road. My fault. Can’t pick a worse time to do that. Once you are back there, you are kind of back there in the garbage. It was getting crazy. All the holes close up at the end of the race and it is hard to make progress and the crashes happen more often. We were able to get a top-five out of it, which is nice for the Shell Pennzoil team. Maybe we would have gotten caught up in a crash if I stayed up front but overall I just feel like I let us down a little bit.”

Chris Buescher – Finished fifth: “That was awesome. For us to even be in contention to have a shot at winning the (Daytona) 500 with our Kroger Clicklist team, that was pretty awesome, with two cars really. That was pretty neat. There at the end we just had to be a little bit too defensive with our Kleenex Camaro ZL1 to really go up there and push for it. The bottom really wasn’t the place to be all night and that is where we lined back up.”

Paul Menard – Finished sixth: “We had a really fast Omnicraft Ford today. These guys are awesome. Great race car. I ran upfront the first-half of the race. I got shuffled out. Denny (Hamlin) bumped me in Turn 3 and got loose and lost all my track position. I just kept fighting from there to get my track position back. Great run for us. We had shot to win the Daytona 500 at the end of the race. We just came up short. … To score points in all three stages is awesome. That’s good for the overall picture. I had a shot at a stage win. It was a good points day for sure.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished seventh: “It was just hard racing. You saw it all day. I was trying to be aggressive blocking the lead and kind of fell back and got a good run back up towards it. Man, the 11 (Hamlin) blocked the 41 (Kurt Busch) and the 41 kind of went high last minute and I was on his left rear and I turned him. I feel bad about that. He kinda changed lanes last minute and I couldn’t react quick enough. It stinks. We led a lot of laps. It just wasn’t meant to be. But it was a good showing. Hopefully we go into Atlanta and have a decent run.

Ryan Newman – Finished eighth: “Congratulations first of all to Austin (Dillon) and his team. That is awesome for RCR and ECR and all of our partners. To get a Camaro in Victory Lane, that was special as well. For us, we just weren’t in the right place at the right time and got caught up in a little bit of a mess and that was it. We just finished with a bunch of damage, but we still finished eighth.”

Michael McDowell – Finished ninth: “We had our ups and downs, that’s for sure. I am thankful to get stage points. It takes a top ten finish and makes it like a top five. We had a fast Love’s Travel Stops Ford. Unfortunately we had a little mishap on pit road. The 6 (Trevor Bayne) was coming out of his box as we were coming in. There was no way I wasn’t going to hit him, so we had to come back through and lost a lap. Thankful to get out of Daytona with a top 10. We brought a fast Ford. Showed good stage. It was a really good run.”

A.J. Allmendinger – Finished 10th: “Today was a big positive for our racing organization. It’s a great day for both teams, to get a top five and a top 10 finish at Daytona. It was a fantastic job there by Chris (Buescher) and the 37 Kleenex team, especially at the end to have a chance to win it. Overall, any time you come out of Daytona with two cars in the top 10 that’s a big deal for us. I feel like so many times I tried to make the right move and either nobody went with me or I got hung out, but that’s the product of this racing. That’s the way it goes. It can be frustrating sometimes. Overall, just a great day for our 47 Kroger ClickList team and especially Chris and the 37 guys for doing such a great job.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 11th: “It was the last lap and we’re all trying to win the Daytona 500. It’s the biggest race of the year and it’s a career-changing race, so we were just racing really aggressively. I put every move I knew to try and stay in the lead and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t able to hold on. He got to my back bumper and was pushing and just hooked me. My heart is broken, but the beauty is we’ll go to Atlanta and we’ve got an incredible race team here at Stewart-Haas Racing and we’ll have another shot next week. … (Dillon wasn’t) driving too aggressively, he’s trying to win the Daytona 500 just like I was. I saw him come with the momentum and I pulled up to block and did exactly what I needed to do to try to win the Daytona 500. I wasn’t gonna just let him have it. I wasn’t gonna just stay on the bottom and let him rail the outside, so I blocked and he got to my bumper and pushed and I thought I was still gonna be OK and somehow I got hooked. … I’m just devastated.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 13th: “That was a hard fought race and kind of heartbreaking. We had a few times we had to recover and we were able to do it. Gotta clean stuff up and not have mistakes. The guys on the team did a great job and I am happy with how we performed today. A lot of times you leave thinking you should have done 20 things differently, but today I felt like I did all I could do. That is a great feeling. We made a day out of it. I look forward to getting to Talladega and then back here to Daytona in the summer when handling is a big deal. Congrats to the 3 team. We will go to work for Atlanta.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 15th: “Our plan was working. A lot of cars we knew we had to beat were out of the race. We had hung back working on our handling and just waiting to the end of the race. I kept telling my guys to stay patient, there were going to be more wrecks. Sure enough that’s what happened, and we avoided any damage, but when I got on the brakes hard something happened, because we were now down a cylinder. We tried, but there was no way to fix it. We went back out there and were pretty decent, considering. Now we’ll focus on Atlanta.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 17th: “Yeah, just put ourselves in a good position all day and really shouldn’t have been in that spot. That last restart I didn’t do a good job and that is what put us there. My fault, learn from it, move on. Definitely do some things differently going forward, but everybody on this Nationwide 88 did such a great job. It’s cool to see Austin (Dillon) get the Camaro ZL1 its first win. Working with Kevin Hamlin (spotter) was great all day. Greg (Ives, crew chief) made good calls all day, but it’s just Daytona.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 18th: “Not the day we were looking for. … It was our day for a while and then it wasn’t. It’s just the way it goes. Superspeedway racing – a lot of it is out of your control. That last caution in hindsight, we probably should have gotten tires. Tried to come up from the back because we were sitting ducks upfront. We didn’t have enough speed to keep up with some of those guys up front. I’d get back there but didn’t have the speed to get by them. It was just one of those deals where we needed it to stay green to be in a good spot. It just didn’t work out in the end.”

D.J. Kennington — Finished 24th: “We had a decent car. We could’ve raced with them, I think. But we’ll take it and run with it. We almost went the distance.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 26th: “I was feeling the magic. I thought we could do it again back-to-back and win the Daytona 500. We found the right drafting lanes and I was making good moves. I just got caught in a Bermuda Triangle it seemed like when Hamlin blocked us. I hit him pretty hard and that killed a lot of my momentum. Maybe I should have just flung the 11, but you have to treat guys with respect and you’ve also got to throw your elbows out and you have to hold the hits when you get hit. We were close to going back-to-back in the Daytona 500, but I don’t have anything to show for it.”

Matt DiBenedetto – Finished 27th: “(Ryan) Blaney was right in front of me, so I just tagged onto him and I was just gonna shove the heck out of him, being another Ford and a really strong race car. We were running anywhere between second and third and sixth-ish at the end, but you’ve got to expect anything at all that happens at the end. The Fords were really strong. My car was really strong, especially being a back-up car. It had plenty of speed, so I just tried to tag onto another Ford, but stuff happens. … It’s frustrating.  That’s the thing that I have a love-hate relationship with superspeedways. I dread coming to them because it’s so frustrating that everybody just tears up cars and it’s basically a demo derby, but, at the same time, we can also have really good runs and run really fast with our small, little team and group of guys. It’s a love-hate relationship.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 29th: “I have no clue (how he was wrecked). Unfortunately, we got some front-end damage. We were overheating there at the end of that second stage and had to pit and that really caught us laps down. We were trying to battle back and I think we were in the free pass spot there for a minute and everything broke loose and we just got caught up in it. Two laps from the end was a bummer, but we felt really good at the start of the race. I hate that we had to pit and lose our track position and the lead lap because I felt like our Fastenal Ford was really, really good all day and really strong. I could make just about any move I wanted to to stay towards the front, just had to pit there with like six or seven to go in that second stage. … All in all, it was a fun Speedweeks. I felt like our cars were good and I’m looking forward to getting to Atlanta.”

David Ragan – Finished 30th: “I think that wreck was just a product of speedway racing. You’ve got young guys with fast race cars. They were probably being a little too aggressive, blocking, moving around, pushing and sometimes you get what you ask for, and I think the two guys that wrecked got what they asked for and it’s just a shame we were caught in it.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 31st: “We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Two guys, I couldn’t tell. It looked to me like there was one too many blocks and the blocking car wound up spinning out and the 2 car hit the 24 and wound up coming up the race track into me. It was like a can opener on the way by. … You really can’t block that aggressively. They got away with it, especially the 24 (William Byron) got away with it most of the weekend and didn’t get away with it that time. Unfortunately, we were one of the cars that got tore up. … (It’s frustrating) there’s really nothing you need to do early on, but those guys are very ambitious.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 32nd: “The 24 (Byron) got loose and spun out in front of us all and got caught up in it. It just really sucks. We had a great car and were in a great position. I guess that’s the way it goes. I went to pass the 24 on the bottom and he came down. I can’t tell if I made contact or not, but obviously he turned and there was nothing I could do. We were all wrecked. … You definitely didn’t see (patience) today.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 33rd: “Yes, I’m alright. I had such a fast Camaro ZL1 today, and I just wanted a shot there at the end. Tough circumstances. I was just trying to feel Blaney out and see what he was going to do; how aggressive he wanted to be. I had a big push and got light at the wrong time. Didn’t make the right move. … I just wanted to make it to the end and give ourselves a chance, so I hate that we didn’t have that opportunity.”

Kasey Kahne – Finished 34th: “I couldn’t see what happened. I was just on the outside entering the corner and then Chase (Elliott) came across, hit the wall, by the sounds of it in the infield care center, him and Brad (Keselowski) got together, but I didn’t see any of it. I’m disappointed.”

Danica Patrick – Finished 35th: “I said earlier today that I feel like the whole thing was picture perfect with GoDaddy on the car and it being that green again. But it just wasn’t meant to be today. But I am proud – we raced the whole race — other than a little bit at the end of that first stage when I just looked silly with all the cars with no tires and tires. Other than that, we raced it. It was competitive. That’s all you can do. That’s the gamble about Daytona. It can go so well and it can go so awful. So, I’m grateful for everything. Thank you to all the fans. Still got one more (race left, the May 27th Indy 500). It’s not a stock car (race), but still got one more.”

Erik Jones – Finished 36th: “It looked like the 17 (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) just got freed up there by the 12 (Ryan Blaney), unfortunately. We tried to check up and everybody got stacked up, and caused a big wreck.  It’s unfortunate because the Dewalt Camry was definitely fast – we just didn’t get to the end to see what we could really do. We were in position I thought to have a good race. We were staying upfront and out of trouble, it just didn’t work out.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 37th: “I was just trying to stay out of trouble either in the front or in the back and at that point we were at one lap to go to the end of the stage and 60 laps into the race and everyone was blocking very, very close. Everyone was being aggressive and it was a little bit too early and somebody turned my teammate the 20 (Erik Jones) and then he hit the 42 (Kyle Larson) and the 42 hit me and after that it was pretty much nothing I could do.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 38th: “There was some great racing throughout. It looked like everybody thought that was the finish of the Daytona 500 and it was really only lap 59 coming to 60. Unfortunately, we lost our third car for the weekend. … Just racing that hard coming for a green and white checkered flag. I’m not sure everybody was thinking big picture and really using their head through that. … It’s been tough lately (for him at Daytona). I have had some great days and nights here through the July race and this race, but of late it’s been tough. That is just how it goes. If I want to think too hard about it I can look at (Dale) Earnhardt’s record here and know how long it took him to get his first.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 39th: “I was trying to get some stage points. It’s really important for us to kind of come out with a good start and I was wanting to be aggressive in the first stage, get some points so we could do whatever we wanted to later on in the race. I saw them crossing lanes up there in the front and I was kind of pinned to the top, so I didn’t really have anywhere to go and once they started crashing, I was just stuck in the oil and didn’t really have anywhere to go.”

UPDATED: NASCAR Cup points standings after season-opening Daytona 500

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Austin Dillon won Sunday’s Daytona 500, but he didn’t leave Daytona International Speedway as the NASCAR Cup points leader.

Ryan Blaney finished seventh, but claimed enough points in the race to leave Daytona as No. 1 in the Cup standings. He has 58 points from the 500 and his qualifying race.

Joey Logano is second, eight points behind Blaney.

Dillon leaves Daytona in third, 11 points back from Blaney.

Completing the top five are Darrell Wallace Jr (-11) and Paul Menard (-12).

Click here for the points standings.

 

Austin Dillon wins 60th Daytona 500

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Austin Dillon won the 60th Daytona 500 in an overtime finish set up by a massive crash with two laps to go in the race’s original 200-lap distance.

Dillon took the lead on the last lap of overtime when race leader Aric Almirola crashed entering Turn 3 after Dillon hooked bumpers with Almirola, which turned the No. 10 Ford into the wall.

Dillon is the grandson of team owner Richard Childress.

Driving the No. 3 Chevrolet, Dillon’s win comes 20 years after Dale Earnhardt won his only Daytona 500, also for Richard Childress Racing.

MORE: Full results from season-opening Daytona 500; Austin Dillon wins

MORE: NASCAR Cup points standings after season-opening Daytona 500

“Right now I just want to thank the good Lord above,” Dillon told Fox on the frontstretch. “I did what I had to do at the end. I hate it for the 10 guys (Almirola). We just had a run and I just stayed in that gas. It is what it is here at Daytona. It is so awesome to take the 3 car back to victory lane … This is for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those Senior fans. I love you guys. We’re going to keep kicking butt the rest of the year.”

The victory is Dillon’s second in the Cup Series. He broke through last year winning the Coke 600 in a fuel mileage gamble. It was the first win by the No. 3 in the Cup Series since Earnhardt won his last race in 2000.

Dillon’s win also came on the 17th anniversary of the senior Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“I said that my first win, I couldn’t beat it, but this does,” Dillon said. “My grandfather has done everything for me. Everybody knows it.  There’s a lot of pressure on me to perform, because I’ve had a little bit of everything. But I like that pressure. The same with the No. 3. There’s a lot of pressure behind it, but I’m willing to take and go with it.”

Dillon only led the final lap.

When overtime began, there were only 10 cars on the lead lap.

The top five was Dillon, Darrell Wallace Jr., Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Chris Buescher.

Wallace and Hamlin were door-to-door as they crossed the finish line. After taking the checkered flag, Wallace was forced into the outside wall.

Wallace was making his first start in the Daytona 500 and is the first African-American driver to compete in the race since 1969.

“I got so man emotions going right now,” Wallace told Fox. “RCR alliance 1-2, that’s pretty good. I want to see the replay before I say anything stupid. (Hamlin) might need to take some Adderall for that one. All in all, a great day … Just an incredible experience for me to be able to be here.”

After watching the incident on replay, Wallace said, “He (Hamlin) says I cut his tire down. Looks like the same move he pulled on (Ryan) Blaney at Martinsville. We edged him out, we beat him, so it’s all good.”

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kurt Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ryan Blaney

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Denny Hamlin finished third after coming back from a pit road penalty early in the race … Ryan Blaney finished seventh after he led a race high 118 laps and was involves in the crash that set up overtime. … Paul Menard finished sixth … Michael McDowell finished ninth for his sixth career top 10 … Chris Buescher finished fifth for his third career top five.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Busch was bitten by tire issues for the third straight Daytona race. Busch lost a left-rear tire on Lap 29. Pitting for it put him a lap down. Then on Lap 50, Busch again lost his left-rear tire and wrecked in Turn 3. He collected Jamie McMurray and DJ Kennington. Busch finished 25th … Jimmie Johnson, Erik Jones, Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez were eliminated in a crash on the last lap of Stage 1William Byron, who was involved in that crash, got into the outside wall in Turn 4 on Lap 91. The damage to his No. 24 car resulted in a debris caution. He then spun on his own in Turn 4 with 11 laps to go. He finished 23rd. A large wreck occurred on Lap 102 that eliminated Chase Elliott, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski. In her last NASCAR start, Patrick finished 35th … Kurt Busch, Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Matt DiBenedetto, Alex Bowman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Brendan Gaughan and Martin Truex Jr. were involved in the crash that set up overtime.

NOTABLE: Austin Dillon is the ninth different winner in the Daytona 500 in the last nine years, and also the fourth first-time winner in the last four editions of the Great American Race. … Third straight Daytona 500 to end with a last-lap pass. … Ryan Blaney’s 118 laps led are the most in the Daytona 500 since Davey Allison led 127 in 1992.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “My heart is broken. I’m so devastated. I thought I was going to win the Daytona 500.” – Aric Almirola.

WHAT’S NEXT: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 25 on Fox.