Southern 500

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How Austin Dillon’s first two Cup wins stack up against other drivers

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It took Austin Dillon until his fourth full-time season to finally visit victory lane in the NASCAR Cup Series.

In his 133rd start, in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, the Richard Childress Racing driver took his first trip to victory lane.

Dillon only needed 24 more races to make a return visit, winning Sunday’s Daytona 500.

The 27-year-old driver claimed victories in two of NASCAR’s crown jewel events to begin his climb up the all-time wins list.

How do those two victories compare to the initial set of wins for other notable drivers throughout NASCAR history?

David Pearson

The second winningest driver in Cup history and a NASCAR Hall of Famer, Pearson also got his first victory in NASCAR’s longest race on May 26, 1961, beating Fireball Roberts and Rex White.

Win No. 2 came two months later in the July race at Daytona, the Firecracker 250.

Jeff Gordon in victory lane following the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29, 1994 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by ISC Archives via Getty Images)

Jeff Gordon

In his second full-time season in 1994, Gordon went to victory lane for the first time in the Coca-Cola 600. It came in his 42nd start in the No. 24 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.

Two months later, Gordon won the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was his first of five victories at the track located minutes away from his hometown of Pittsboro.

Bobby Labonte

If you can’t tell, Charlotte Motor Speedway has been kind to drivers looking for their first Cup win.

A year after Gordon won the Coke 600, Labonte followed with his own victory in the race. Driving the No. 18 for JGR, he won over his brother Terry.

Bobby Labonte’s second win came at Michigan International Speedway in June 1995.

Matt Kenseth

As a rookie in 2000, the former Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed his first Cup win in the Coke 600, beating Bobby Labonte and Dale Earnhardt. It was in his 18th start (his first was in 1998).

Kenseth’s second win came in the spring 2002 race at Rockingham.

Terry Labonte

The two-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer claimed his first victory in the 1980 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

He only led the final two laps and had to pass Pearson at the start-finish line in a race back to the caution.

Labonte’s second win came three years later at Rockingham.

Sterling Marlin

Marlin made his first Cup start in 1976 at Nashville Speedway.

But his first visit to victory lane didn’t come until 18 year later in the 1994 Daytona 500.  The win was in Marlin’s 279th start.

His second win came a year later – in the Daytona 500. Marlin is the last driver to win the “Great American Race” in consecutive years.

Michael Waltrip

Waltrip had a lot more starts before achieving his first Cup win – 462. In start 463, Waltrip won the 2001 Daytona 500 for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

He didn’t have to wait quite as long to get win No. 2. That came in July 2002 in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona. All four of Waltrip’s Cup wins came at restrictor-plate tracks.

Dale Jarrett

The NASCAR Hall of Famer and NBC Sports analyst also took awhile to get his first victory. After eight years and 129 starts, Jarrett got his first victory in a photo finish over Davey Allison at Michigan while driving for Wood Brothers Racing.

Two years later, Jarrett returned to victory lane in the Daytona 500 in one of the most iconic finishes in NASCAR history, beating Dale Earnhardt to deliver Joe Gibbs Racing its first NASCAR win.

Jamie McMurray

It only took two starts for McMurray to get his first win.

Substituting for an injured Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 car, McMurray won the fall 2002 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He wouldn’t win again until 2007.

In a common theme with this look back, win No. 2 took place at Daytona. Driving for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray won the Pepsi 400 by .005 seconds over Kyle Busch.


NASCAR America: Scan All from the Southern 500

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“Richard said to heck with it, he’s going to race.”

That was the spotter for Martin Truex Jr. just before the start of the 68th Southern 500.

Richard Petty, the seven-time Cup champion, was recognized as he drove one of his old stock cars on track during the pace laps for the race.

But “The King” did not hear the command to come down pit road and stayed out in the front of the field for an extra few laps around Darlington.

“The 43 don’t want to leave the track,” said Kevin Harvick‘s spotter.

“I don’t blame him,” Harvick said. “I’d drive that thing around all day.”

That’s how the Southern 500 began. The whole race is recapped in the latest edition of “Scan All.” Here are some of the other scanner highlights.

  • “Told you you gotta respect her or she’ll reach out and smack ya.” – the spotter for Gray Gaulding counseling the young driver on how treat the “Lady in Black.”
  • “I went from really loose to out-of-control.” – Kevin Harvick
  • “Go tell the 51 (Cody Ware) to just quit racing.” – Matt DiBenedetto after a wreck involving him, Ware and AJ Allmendinger.
  • “This place eats everybody up. It chews them up and spits them out at times.” – Cody Ware’s spotter after the crash.

Watch the video for more.

NASCAR America: Denny Hamlin’s Southern 500 win ‘absolutely magical’


Denny Hamlin had to drive hard and fast to recover from missing pit road and win Sunday’s Southern 500.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver had to make up 23.7 seconds to challenge Martin Truex Jr. for the win. Hamlin missed his entry to pit road on Lap 314.

“Twenty-three seconds is nearly 3/4 of a lap,” NASCAR America analyst Steve Letarte said. “He got a big chunk early using those fresh tires. But around Lap 344 he’s still 10 seconds behind.”

Because of how much ground he covered, Letarte called Hamlin’s run “absolutely magical.”

The win was Hamlin’s second in the Southern 500 and his second this year. Hamlin wound up leading 124 laps, including the final three after Truex lost a tire and got into the outside wall.

“I’m not sure this gets enough credit,” Letarte said. “Years from now we’ll be looking back on this drive that Denny Hamlin put on and this will be a celebrated Southern 500.”

Jeff Burton called Hamlin’s pit-road mistake a 12-14 second mistake.

“Many times we see drivers when they make a mistake, the second mistake isn’t far after that because they try so hard, they try to make something happen,” Burton said. “He did a great job of getting there, managing the problem and then pushing extremely hard on a difficult race track to push on.”

Letarte said he was sad that Truex lost his tire because it deprived those watching the race of a “heavyweight fight” over the last two laps.

Watch the video for the full segment.

Kurt Busch, Austin Dillon have second-best races of year with Southern 500 top fives

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DARLINGTON, S.C. – In the Southern 500, the 25th race in a very long season, Kurt Busch and Austin Dillon had their best nights of the year.

That’s saying a lot about the seasons of Busch, who won the Daytona 500, and Dillon, who won the Coke 600, two of NASCAR’s other three crown jewels.

Both finished in the top five of Sunday night’s race, with Busch placing third ahead of Dillon.

Busch led seven laps, his most this season, following a round of green-flag pit stops in the middle of the final stage before being overran by Martin Truex Jr. with 42 laps left.

“I was hoping for one more yellow,” Busch said. “If there was a yellow with 30 to go, we were a really good car on short-run speed and that was the longest run at the end. Those guys caught us on their fresher tires. But to just to be in a position to win the Southern 500 is great. Didn’t quite get the job done, but third is really nice for a big, marquee race.”

In Busch’s 21st Darlington start, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver earned his third top five. It was his first since 2010 when he was with Team Penske.

It was also just his third top five since he won the Daytona 500 after his No. 41 Ford survived a wave of leaders dropping off with empty fuel tanks.

“We’re chipping away at it,” Busch said. “The Daytona 500 win was great, but it seemed like it put us behind for a while. But honestly, the balance in the Ford, that’s what we’ve been working on and now we’re finding things we change on the car and it hooks up the front and the rear at the same time. We haven’t been hooking up the front, unhooking the rear and vice versa. So it feels we’re finding the balance on our Ford that way.”

Sunday’s finish was also his second top five in a row after a late surge two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway to place fifth.

The results come in the month since it was announced SHR was not picking up his option for 2018.

Though he’s safely locked into the playoffs, Busch said his team was already in postseason mode.

“We’ve had a couple good runs, but, still, we’ve got 11 weeks ahead of us,” Busch said. “We treated this whole weekend like it was the playoffs. Richmond will be the same thing next week.”

While Busch prayed for a late caution, Dillon was giving grace for the race staying green for the final 101 laps.

Dillon enjoyed his best night since gambling on fuel to win the Coke 600 in May for his first Cup win.

On Sunday, Dillon gambled instead on tires over the last stretch of the race.

“We thought our car was really good on long runs, that’s (why we made the decision) to stay out there and it’s kind of scary because (you might) have a flat tire or you just run out of tire,” Dillon said. “I was good enough to save tires. I like long runs, always been a long-run kind of driver. Short runs, I’ve been working hard to get better at. Glad it went long there at the end.”

While it gave him his third top five of the year, it was his first in 13 races. But it was also just his fourth top 10.

By this point last year the Richard Childress Racing driver had 10 of the 13 top-10 finishes he would earn.

“We’re never giving up, and RCR is working hard,” Dillon said. “We were down pretty bad. That race at Charlotte, after that we’ve got a slump. Just a lot of hard work going on at the shop knowing we’ve got to get better. It feels pretty good to have run like this.”

Dillon put together his race in a paint scheme and firesuit honoring Dale Earnhardt’s 1987 win in the Southern 500.

“I’ll tell you what, this is one (firesuit) I’ll probably want to keep, man,” Dillon said. “To bring out this Dale Earnhardt car, it means so much to so many. I’m glad we represented it well. This is a pretty hot firesuit, I must admit it. I love it. I might get Dale Jr .to sign it and put it up.”

What drivers said after Southern 500


Denny Hamlin — Winner: “To win in the Flying 11 and to win the Xfinity race, to win the Cup race, both in very exciting fashion was a great feeling, and tonight through the adversity of missing the pit road and coming back. We had great strategy, a fast car, and it all just worked out in the end. I was hoping it would. Otherwise I would have looked pretty silly after the race trying to explain why we lost. You know, it’s just I think a lot of that came from Truex beating us on a green flag sequence earlier in the day, and so I pushed it a little bit more on pit entry, and I didn’t want it to happen again, and I just pushed it a little bit too much. Kind of a rookie move, but also just trying to optimize everything, and it was just we got our car better as soon as it turned into night. We kept getting the car better, kept making adjustments and kept working on it, and we had something we could win with.’’

Kyle Busch — Finished 2nd: “It was a really good effort for us, really good race for us. I certainly wish that we could have kept pace with (Denny Hamlin) a little bit longer. We were right there with him for a long time, longer than we had all night long in that final stint. But he got through a couple lap cars a little quicker than I did, and then they got side by side and then I got sucked into the fence, and after that it just wasn’t the same, so we just had to try to bide our time and just come home in one piece or nobody was coming behind us, so we just had to ‑ I think we had a seven‑second gap or something behind us so we had a long ways to give up, so we just did that, and (Hamlin) was just the car of the day and class of the field, so congratulations to those guys.  We saw it here in practice on Friday, and I was hoping we could hang with them there a little bit more, but I think I made too many adjustments to our car and got us out of place there for the last two stints.’’

Kurt Busch – Finished 3rd: “It was good pit strategy. I was hoping for one more yellow. If there was a yellow with 30 to go, we were a really good car on short run speed. That was the longest run at the end and those guys caught us on their fresher tires, but just to be in position to win the Southern 500 is great. I didn’t quite get the job done, but third is really nice for a big, marquee race. The 78 was fast and those other Toyotas came in there. I thought that I was going to do it for our Fords. We didn’t quite get the job done. To be in position to win the Southern 500, I just want to get a shout out all the fans. It’s a fun weekend to be here on Labor Day weekend.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 4th: “I’m just really proud of this team for bringing out this Dale Earnhardt scheme out and making it run good like that… it means a lot to me and all the RCR guys. That long run was like torture; those guys were coming on (newer) tires so we had to be really smooth and it worked out for us.”

Erik Jones — Finished 5th: “I lost brakes completely for a minute then they came back. I’ve never had an issue like that before, but turned out to be a really good night for us – top-five night. Chris (Gayle, crew chief) did a really nice job with running a really nice strategy there at the end and getting us back in contention and I was hoping we just were going to run in the top 10 and to get a top-five out of it is really good. So our car was good in the day, but when the sun went down we just kind of lost the handle and couldn’t really ever get back and everybody was fighting grip obviously.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 7th: “We had a pretty good car and a couple of bad pit stops. We had one great pit stop, but just never got the track position that we needed for the short run to be able to show what we were capable of on the long run.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 8th: “It was definitely a bittersweet night for us, to come up just two laps short there, blow a tire at the end after having no issues with tires all night and having such a good race car. I don’t know if that last run was the longest one we made all night.  I’m not really sure to be honest. I was kind of out there caught up driving my guts out at the end trying to hang on. It’s unfortunate we blew the tire, but really proud of everybody on this team for an amazing season so far, and to lock up the regular season points is a huge accomplishment for us, for our team. I feel like we’ve come a long way in just a few years together and continue to climb.’’

Jamie McMurray – Finished 10th: “Well, we had a fan go out that cools the rear end and so we had to come in and work on that. We went to the back, but we could still only get back to about like, I think we got up to sixth in the first stage and then ran somewhere between sixth and 10th or sixth and 12th and we finished 10th.  So, probably didn’t really hurt our night.  A lot of long green flag runs and we weren’t very good on the short run, but we were really good at the end of a run. So, that kind of worked out to our favor.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 11th: “We just weren’t very good all day and really just as an organization really struggled, so we need to step up. This is the time of year to get it going and it was a hard-fought night. I thought we made the very most of what we had and some days that’s all you can do.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 12th: “Our car had respectable short-run speed and then it would just get so loose. With all the long runs, that really didn’t work out well for us, and I actually blew a tire with like 20 laps to go. Fortunately, was on my way into pit lane or almost to where I could turn into pit lane. I got lucky and I was able to get back out there on tires and drive back up to 12th, but blew a tire at the absolute right time if you are going to blow one and got to pit lane.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 13th: “It was a good day. My first Southern 500, I enjoy it. I love this race track. I just love when you come to a track and the tires get worn out and you’ve got to be patient. And you’ve got to treat that throttle pedal like an egg and you can really make a lot of difference on a long run. That was what we were able to do tonight with our GEICO Chevy. I’m just proud of the guys. We had a good piece in practice and it was nice just to have a really solid weekend. When you add in the honor of representing a race car from years past that was driven by Johnny Rutherford and fielded by Smokey Yunick – it really adds to the great night for our GEICO team here at Darlington. Good momentum going back to Richmond another track that we ran really well at. Excited for the end of this year.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 15th: “We just weren’t where we wanted to be at the end of the race. I was just kind of holding on and we were going to probably run 10th or 12th and I got to trying a little bit too hard and brushed the wall. I ended up probably hurting our car a little bit and we finished 15th.  (Crew chief Paul Wolfe) made a good call at the end there to get us into 15th when we probably could have been worse than that, so I was proud of that effort.  We just need to be faster.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 17th: “Well, an eventful, very long race at Darlington. Awesome to have Cheerios on board in our Patty Moise throwback. Overall, just a tough start. Kind of knew that the daylight was going to be difficult Then, as the night fell, I feel like we made some gains on it and got it a little better by the end and was able to move around. I think that is all you can ask for is to make steady improvements through the day. We got a decent finish out of it. I wanted a little bit more, but not bad.”

Joey Logano – Finished 18th: “It’s pretty simple (of needing to win Richmond next week to make the playoffs). You could almost write an article without talking to me. We just didn’t have the speed today. The team executed really well. Our pit crew was super-fast and we had a car that was good on the long run sometimes, but never good on the short run. And then at the end, it was horrible on the long run, so we just never really got the balance right. We were good in the day, but when we got to night time all hell broke loose for us. We’re on to the next one.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 20th: “We were just really loose, and we couldn’t make any ground.  I thought at times during the race we had a decent car. I thought we had maybe a 15th-place car, but the longer the run we’d just get really loose. We’ll learn from it and keep on going.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. — Finished 22nd: “They pulled me over because I’ve got some loose lug nuts on the right rear. Had a really bad vibration that last run and there was a bunch of them loose on the right-rear. They must have just kind of had a screw up. It wasn’t intentional. They wouldn’t leave two loose like that when they are not even tight up on the wheel. So, something must have happened on the pit stop because those guys have been great all night. Just had a really bad vibration, came in and got tires, we had a flat at the very end. Twelfth to 15th is where we all ran and I’m not too disappointed because we sat there and ran right with our teammates all night.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 31st: “It was the most frustrating race. I hit the fence early and that was a huge mistake on my part. I don’t know what I was doing. I got tight behind a car and I was kind of offset and I couldn’t see the wall, and I just should have been smarter and lifted. We clawed back from two laps down to get back on the lead lap, which was great. They did a good job. Then we lost a cylinder or something going on in the engine.” 

Clint Bowyer — finished 40th: “It just blew up. It’s a pretty inopportune time to have it happen, but it’s never a good time. Doug Yates and all the guys over at his shop do such a good of bringing us reliable, good horsepower and it was just my time. It was my turn and there isn’t much you can do about it. Obviously, the way the playoffs look right now, we’re not out of this thing. We’ve still got a good race track coming up for us. We’ll just go there and do the best we can and put all the cards on the table over there.”