DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Aric Almirola, first race with a new team, just had to play the blocking game for 2.5 miles and he would have his name etched onto the Harley J. Earl Trophy. Well, he did for a mile and a quarter and wound up hooked into the wall by Austin Dillon, who drove his No. 3 Chevrolet to victory in the Daytona 500, 17 years to the day after Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
“I did what I had to do at the end. I hate it for the 10 guys,” Dillon said. “We just had a run. I stayed in the gas. It’s what it is here at Daytona.”
After he finished his celebratory burnout, his crew gathered by his car trackside as he and the crew were overcome with joy.
“It is so awesome to take the 3 car back to victory lane. This one’s for Dale Earnhardt Sr. and all those Sr. fans. I love you guys! We’re gonna keep kicking butt the rest of the year.”
But his joy was upstaged by Darrell Wallace Jr. whose mother came up to the podium during his post-race press conference and hugged him, as did his sister, and he all but broke down in tears.
And he was emotional after the race for good reason. He had just edged out Denny Hamlin by inches for runner-up in the Daytona 500 while getting run into the wall a few hundred feet past the start/finish line.
Joey Logano and Chris Buescher rounded out the top-five.
Paul Menard, Ryan Blaney, Ryan Newman, Michael McDowell and AJ Allmendinger rounded out the top-10.
Alex Bowman led the field to the green flag at 3:07 p.m. Denny Hamlin powered by him, however, to lead the first lap. While much of the pack ran two and three-wide, he controlled the top spot in the early laps.
The caution flew for the first time on Lap 7 when Corey LaJoie blew an engine on the backstretch. Hamlin lost the lead after he overshot his stall. Compounding his woes, he was held a lap for his crew servicing his car while it was on the line.
Kurt Busch led the field back to the green on Lap 12. Bowman ducked to the inside lane exiting Turn 4 to take the lead for the first time on Lap 14. Erik Jones, after a number of laps side-by-side with Bowman, dropped down in front of him to take the lead on Lap 23. Kyle Busch, running fifth, dropped off the pace on the backstretch with a flat left-rear tire on Lap 29. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. drafted past Jones to take the lead on Lap 34. He lost it on the backstretch to Chase Elliott on Lap 44.
Kyle Busch’s troubles continued on Lap 50 when he suffered a left-rear failure and spun in Turn 3, bringing out the second caution. He was clipped by DJ Kennington. Jamie McMurray was also collected.
Back to green on Lap 55, Kurt Busch drafted past Elliott entering Turn 3 to retake the lead. Busch won the first stage, as it ended under caution for a nine-car wreck in Turn 3. But just as Hamlin did in the first caution, Busch overshot his pit stall, losing the lead. Making matters worse, he had to make another lap around to make a stop.
Bowman led the field back to green on Lap 66. The outside line pushed Ryan Blaney to the lead on Lap 68.
Byron cut down his right-front tire and hit the wall in Turn 4 and left debris all down the backstretch, bringing out the caution on Lap 91.
Martin Truex Jr. took the race lead after bypassing pit road.
Back to green on Lap 97, Blaney took back the lead the following lap.
Elliott’s day came to an end when he was sent hard into the outside wall in Turn 3 on Lap 103. Danica Patrick was also collected in it in her final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series start.
The race restarted on Lap 108. Stenhouse makes an unscheduled stop for overheating. Caution ends the second stage, with Blaney winning it.
Back to green on Lap 126, the bottom line all but disappeared as everyone formed up along the wall for the run to the finish. The long green run to the finish was broken by Byron’s spin exiting Turn 4 with 11 laps to go.
A 12-car wreck in Turn 1 with three to go set up the run to the finish.
NUTS & BOLTS
The race lasted three hours, 26 minutes and 15 seconds, at an average speed of 150.545 mph. There were 24 lead changes among 14 different leaders and eight cautions for 37 laps.
Blaney leaves with a six-point lead over Dillon.