Austin Dillon Puts the No. 3 Back in Victory Lane at Charlotte

by Angela Campbell On Mon, May. 29, 2017

Photo Credit: Brad Keppel

CONCORD, N.C. — Austin Dillon scored his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, taking the legendary Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet back to Victory Lane.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson was leading the Coca-Cola 600 but with two laps to go, he ran out of gas, handing off the lead to Dillon. Dillon was also running on fumes with Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch closing fast, but, as it turned out, he had just enough for those final two laps.

Dillon is the 10th driver to post their first Cup Series win at Charlotte joining David Pearson (5/28/1961), Buddy Baker (10/15/1967), Charlie Glotzbach (10/20/1968), Jeff Gordon ( 5/29/94), Bobby Labonte  (5/28/1995), Matt Kenseth ( 5/28/2000), Jamie McMurray (10/13/2002), Casey Mears ( 5/27/2007) and David Reutimann (5/25/2009).

Dillon was ecstatic but said, “It hasn’t sunk in truthfully. I’m just so proud of all the effort that all these guys put in. I really feel like I have the best team and the best pit crew. I have no doubt in them.

“My grandfather has done everything he can to give us the best we can get. Sometimes I feel like we’re the small team out there trying to get everything we can. Tonight proved that 600-mile race when it came down to it, we had everything we needed. It just feels amazing.”

Dillon’s grandfather and team owner Richard Childress was almost as thrilled as Dillon and spoke about the emotional impact of seeing the No. 3 car claim the checkered flag in NASCAR’s premier series. Dale Earnhardt won his last race in the No. 3 on Oct. 15, 2000, at Talladega. After Earnhardt’s death in 2001, Childress decided to retire the number from Cup Series competition. It wasn’t until Dillon’s first full season in the series, in 2014, that the No. 3 was brought out of retirement.

“I’m so proud…it’s just unbelievable,” he said. “Having my grandson just made it that much more special. I know Dale is up there smiling down because he would want this win, he’d want to see it with Austin.”

“I didn’t want to put just anyone in the 3 car. I probably never would have brought it back. We kept the number with NASCAR throughout the whole time. We ended up, when the opportunity was there, to put Austin back in it. He started in the Truck Series. He won races there. He won races in the XFINITY with it. Ty has won with it.

“Today is special. Here in Charlotte, on Memorial Day, such a special day for all the people that have gave so much to this country for us all to be here tonight. To be able to enjoy what we’re doing, I’m just honored to be here.

Dillon also gave special credit for the win to his crew chief, Justin Alexander, who made the tough call not to pit when all but eight drivers (including Dillon) headed to pit road on Lap 368. This was Alexander’s first race as crew chief for the No. 3 team, replacing Richard “Slugger” Labbe, who had been with Dillon since mid-2015.

Alexander discussed his decision, saying, “We had a good car all race. We run top 10 all race. Austin did a heck of a job, the whole team did. We were right there in position on that last stop when the caution came out. We were two or three laps short. Just right in that window where you have the option to stretch it, but there’s a risk with that. You give up a little track position early on trying to stretch it on fuel.

“We got good fuel mileage all day. It really didn’t make much sense to do anything but that. He didn’t really have to back off that much. We didn’t give up that many spots on the racetrack doing it. I think we were around 10th when we started saving.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Kyle Busch won Stage 1 of the Coca-Cola 600 and finished in the runner-up position, followed by Martin Truex Jr. in third. Truex won Stage 2 and led a race-high 233 laps, leading the most laps in the Coca-Cola 600 for the straight year.  He clearly had the dominant car but lost the race when Dillon’s fuel strategy paid off with a trip to Victory Lane.

Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin (winner of Stage 3) rounded out the top five, giving the JGR team three drivers in the top five but still searching for their first win this season.

Race contenders Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski exited the race early after getting caught up in the first caution of the night. On Lap 20 the No.  33 car of Jeffrey Earnhardt suffered a mechanical failure which left debris and fluid on the track. Elliot, who was running fifth, slowed to avoid the fluid but was hit by Keselowski who slid into the back of Elliott’s No. 24 car.

“Somebody broke and there was just oil everywhere and I couldn’t turn,” Keselowski said of the incident.”

The 400-lap race was red-flagged during the second segment due to heavy rain and the threat of lightning which resulted in a one hour, 39 minutes and 56 seconds delay. There were nine cautions for 53 laps during the event.

Truex leads the points standings followed by Kyle Larson (-5), Brad Keselowski (-82), Kevin Harvick (-103) and Kyle Busch (-102). Check the link below for the complete driver standings.

Follow @angiecampbell_ for the latest NASCAR news and feature stories.

Driver Standings

Coca-Cola 600 Race Results:

Coca Cola 600 Results C1712_UNOFFRES

 

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