Dillon secures Playoff spot with a win at Texas

For the second consecutive week, a late caution changed an outcome of a NASCAR Cup Series race. On this occasion, Austin Dillon utilized pit strategy and capitalized over a handful of late restarts, including a battle with teammate Tyler Reddick, to win the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory was Dillon’s third of his NASCAR Cup Series career and the first of the season for Richard Childress Racing as Dillon snapped an 88-race winless drought dating back to February 2018.

The starting lineup was based on a random draw. Aric Almirola started on pole position for the second time this season and was joined on the front row with Ryan Blaney. Chase Elliott and Reed Sorenson started at the rear of the field due to their respective cars failing pre-race inspection twice. Josh Bilicki, Joey Gase and J.J. Yeley also started at the rear of the field due to driver changes.

During the pace laps, Almirola reported issues to his brake pedal, but he remained on track for the start of the race. When the green flag waved, Almirola battled dead even with Blaney through Turns 1 and 2 before he cleared the field in Turn 3 and led the first lap. Blaney settled in second while the Busch brothers battled for third place along with Brad Keselowski.


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Behind, the early battling for positions continued as Kevin Harvick moved into the top five by the third lap after passing Keselowski. Three laps later, Martin Truex Jr. gained a spot over Keselowski for sixth with Matt DiBenedetto joining the battle. 

At the front, Almirola continued to lead despite his brake pedal issues by nearly a second over Blaney with Kurt Busch in third and brother Kyle battling Harvick for fourth. Though Blaney narrowed the gap between himself and Almirola to approximately a half second, Almirola was able to retain the lead when the field reached the competition caution on the 20th lap. At the time of caution, Jimmie Johnson, who started 20th, was up to eighth while Denny Hamlin, who started seventh had fallen back to 16th. Chase Elliott, who started at the rear of the field due to failing pre-race technical inspection twice, was up to 24th.

Under caution, the majority of the field pitted, and Kyle Busch was the first to exit pit road after opting for two fresh tires followed by William Byron, Alex Bowman, rookie Tyler Reddick and Blaney, the first with four fresh tires. Following the pit stops, Johnson was assessed a pit road penalty for having too many crew members over the wall. At the front, Almirola, teammate Harvick and Truex remained on track as they inherited the top-three starting spots.

On the ensuing restart, Harvick assumed the lead on Lap 26 and on the inside lane while Truex challenged Almirola for the runner-up spot. Behind, Byron nearly slipped beneath Kyle Busch in Turn 3, but he was able to keep his car straightened and inside the top five. At the front, Harvick continued leading by a tenth of a second over teammate Almirola with Truex and Kyle Busch closing in for more. Behind, Blaney was back in ninth in between Erik Jones and Kurt Busch.

By Lap 40, Harvick was still leading by nearly half a second over Almirola with Truex also closing in the two Stewart-Haas Racing teammates. Behind, Kyle Busch and Byron were in the top five with Bowman in sixth. Erik Jones, Blaney, Reddick and Kurt Busch were in the top 10 followed by Chris Buescher and DiBenedetto. Hamlin was in 15th followed by Joey Logano and Ryan Newman while teammates Elliott and Johnson were in 18th and 19th. Austin Dillon was in 20th followed by rookie Cole Custer, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and rookie Christopher Bell while Bubba Wallace and Matt Kenseth were in 27th and 30th.

Ten laps later, Harvick continued to lead by a tenth of a second over teammate Almirola, who continued to stalk his teammate for the lead but was unable to navigate his way around Harvick’s No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford Mustang. On Lap 55, Almirola bolted his way around Harvick on the outside lane in Turn 2 to return to the lead. Four laps later, Almirola extended his advantage to over six tenths of a second over teammate Harvick while Joe Gibbs Racing’s Truex and Kyle Busch were slowly closing in towards Harvick. A lap later, Truex moved into the runner-up spot while Kyle Busch started battling Harvick for third. 

Shortly after, Almirola and Harvick made a pit stop under green, giving the lead to Truex with Kyle Busch trailing by a second. Not long after Almirola pitted, he was penalized for a blend-line violation and was forced to serve his penalty by driving through pit road, a penalty that cost him two laps behind the leaders. On Lap 67, Truex’s No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry started sputtering after he ran out of fuel in Turn 2. He was, nonetheless, able to nurse his car back to pit road for service, but he lost two laps from the leaders when he returned on the track.

At the front, Blaney was in command by half a second over Kyle Busch. Byron was in third, trailing by less than five seconds, followed by Jones, Bowman and Reddick. By Lap 85, Blaney was still ahead under two seconds over Kyle Busch. Behind, Johnson was in 10th ahead of Keselowski, Hamlin was in 12th, Elliott was in 18th, Harvick was in 29th, Truex was in 30th and Almirola was in 32nd.

Not long after, pit stops under green commenced when Buescher made his stop followed by Johnson, Wallace, Custer, DiBenedetto and Newman. With 10 laps remaining in the first stage and with the entire field completing their pit stops under green, Blaney cycled back with the lead followed by Kyle Busch while Harvick was back up in third. Reddick was in fourth followed by Byron.

For the remainder of the first stage, which concluded on Lap 105, Blaney was able to hold off Kyle Busch to claim his second stage win of the season. Harvick was in third followed by Reddick and Byron while Kurt Busch, Johnson, Bowman, Buescher and Truex were scored in the top 10. Under the stage break, some like Harvick, Reddick, Byron, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Truex, Newman, Kenseth, Wallace and rookie John Hunter Nemechek pitted while others led by Blaney and Kyle Busch remained on track. Also remaining on track included Hamlin, Elliott, Logano, Clint Bowyer and Bell. Following the pit stops, Newman was held a lap on pit road for pitting outside his pit box.

The second stage started on Lap 112, and Blaney battled dead even with Kyle Busch for two full laps before Busch cleared Blaney for the lead on the bottom lane entering Turn 3. Two laps after, the caution flew when Johnson got loose entering Turn 4 and made contact with the outside wall, damaging the right side of Johnson’s No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Under caution, Johnson pitted along with Truex and Wallace. Following his pit stop, Johnson was assessed a two-lap penalty under caution due to having too many crew members over the wall, a misfortune that cost Johnson valuable points towards the Playoffs. Following Johnson’s incident, Newman was able to receive the free pass and return on the lead lap.

When the race restarted on Lap 121, Kyle Busch received a push from teammates Hamlin and Jones to retain the lead. A lap later, Hamlin moved into the runner-up spot followed by Hamlin, Logano. Behind, Bell slipped through Turns 3 and 4 while running in the top 15 and made minimal contact with the outside wall, but the race remained under green. 

On Lap 123, Hamlin moved into the lead followed by Blaney while Kyle Busch was in third ahead of Jones, Logano and Elliott. Three laps later, Blaney reassumed the lead following a battle with Hamlin. During this time, Johnson, following his two-lap penalty, was able to maintain minimum speed to remain on the track and racing despite the damage. He was, however, back in 40th, last, and eight laps behind the leaders. 

By Lap 140, Blaney was still ahead by nearly a second over teammate Logano followed by a trio of Joe Gibbs Racing competitors led by Hamlin followed by Jones and Kyle Busch. Elliott was in sixth followed by Harvick while Kurt Busch, DiBenedetto and Almirola were in the top 10.

With the race progressing under green, Buescher, one of many competitors looking on the outside of the Playoff picture, was in 11th followed by Byron and Truex while DiBenedetto and Almirola, both of whom are inside the top-16 cutline, were in ninth and 10th. At the front, Blaney was still ahead by two seconds over teammate Logano followed by Hamlin, Jones and Kyle Busch.

On Lap 158, a second round of pit stops under green started when Byron pitted followed by teammate Elliott and race leader Blaney. Soon after, Bowyer made a pit stop followed by Kyle Busch, Reddick and Hamlin. When the field reached its halfway mark on Lap 167, Logano was in the lead, but he still needed to pit. A lap later, Logano pitted and Jones moved into the lead.

With 30 laps remaining in the second stage and with most of the leaders pitting, Truex was in the lead but was among a handful of competitors who needed to pit. On Lap 190, Blaney cycled back to the lead followed by teammate Logano and Hamlin. Truex, who pitted with enough fuel to complete the second stage, came out in fourth ahead of Kurt Busch.

For the final 20 laps, Blaney was able to stabilize his advantage by more than five seconds over teammate Logano to win the second stage on Lap 210 and claim his third stage of the season. Hamlin was in third followed by Kurt Busch and Harvick while Truex, Elliott, Almirola, Jones and Kyle Busch settled in the top 10.

Under the stage break, the leaders pitted and Blaney retained the lead following a four-tire pit stop. Keselowski exited second after opting for two tires followed by Hamlin, Logano, Elliott and Harvick.

The final stage commenced with 116 laps remaining, and teammates Keselowski and Blaney battled dead even through Turns 1 and 2 before Keselowski cleared for the lead in Turn 3. At that time, Blaney got loose on the outside lane and teammate Logano had to lift off the throttle to avoid hitting Blaney, which jumbled up a number of competitors running in the top 10. Soon after, the caution returned for a multi-car wreck on the frontstretch that started when contact from Kurt Busch and Almirola turned Almirola into Kyle Busch, who then tagged teammate Truex sideways and into the outside wall as Busch plowed his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry through the grass while continuing with no serious damage. Truex, however, was unfortunate after sliding across the wall and receiving hard contact from Stenhouse. The wreck also collected Byron, Custer, Buescher, Ryan Preece and Kenseth as the race was red-flagged for more than 11 minutes.

When the red flag was lifted and the caution flag was displayed, some like Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Harvick, Bowyer and Byron pitted while others led by Keselowski, Hamlin, Elliott, Blaney and Almirola remained on track.

With 110 laps remaining, the race restarted under green and Keselowski jumped to an early advantage. Hamlin pursued Keselowski followed by Blaney, who was battling with Elliott against one another for third. Soon after, the battle for the lead intensified as Hamlin and Blaney drew themselves to the rear bumper of Keselowski. 

With 103 laps remaining, Hamlin made a challenge for the lead beneath Keselowski in Turn 4 and was able to lead a lap shortly after with both competitors battling against one another dead even through the corners and the straightaway. With Hamlin in the lead, Blaney moved into the runner-up spot with teammate Logano joining the battle for third against Keselowski. Behind, Almirola rallied his way back into fifth ahead of Elliott, Harvick and DiBenedetto. 

With 97 laps remaining, Logano passed teammate Keselowski to move into third. At the front, Blaney reassumed the lead after passing Hamlin on the bottom lane in Turn 3. A lap later, Logano got loose in Turn 3, which allowed Almirola, Keselowski and Elliott to pass Logano with Harvick also in the mix of the battle. 

Four laps later, the caution flew when Nemechek spun and made contact with the wall on the backstretch. At the time of caution, Blaney was ahead by above a second over Hamlin. Under caution, some led by Blaney, Hamlin, Almirola and Elliott remained on track while others led by Harvick, Logano, Keselowski and Kurt Busch pitted.

The race restarted with 86 laps remaining, and Blaney and Hamlin battled against one another for one full lap before Blaney retained his lead through Turn 1. Behind, Elliott was in third followed by Almirola and Newman with DiBenedetto and Austin Dillon in sixth and seventh. Logano, Kurt Busch and Keselowski were in the top 10 followed by Harvick. Shortly after, the caution returned when Ty Dillon and his No. 13 GEICO/Germain Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE got loose beneath Byron’s No. 24 AXALTA/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE as both competitors made contact with the outside wall. Under caution, Bowyer, Reddick, LaJoie, Byron and Ty Dillon pitted. Byron, however, retired, which cost him in his battle to make the Playoffs.

With 79 laps remaining, the race restarted as Blaney and Hamlin, again, battled against one another for the lead before Blaney moved in front of Hamlin to clear him for the lead. Soon after, Almirola started to challenge Hamlin for the runner-up spot with DiBenedetto and Elliott moving into the top five ahead of Logano and Keselowski.

Three laps later, DiBenedetto and Almirola battled for third while Hamlin was trailing Blaney by three-tenths of a second and trying to gain a run back to Blaney for the lead. Behind, Kyle Busch had worked his way back to 10th behind brother, Kurt, while Harvick was in eighth. Jones was in 12th behind Austin Dillon while Reddick, Wallace, Kenseth and Bowyer were in 15th through 18th.

With 60 laps remaining and the leaders needing to make a final pit stop for fuel to make it to the distance, Blaney was still leading by more than a second over Hamlin with Almirola, DiBenedetto and Logano in the top five. Elliott settled in sixth followed by Harvick, Keselowski and the Busch brothers.

Under 50 laps remaining, the final round of pit stops under green started when Elliott pitted followed by race leader Blaney, Almirola, DiBenedetto and Hamlin, who opted for a two-tire change. Following the pit stops, Hamlin emerged ahead of Blaney, but as the laps dwindled, Blaney was able to chop off a chunk of the deficit from himself to Hamlin as they approached traffic. 

Under 30 laps remaining, the caution flew when rookie Quin Houff made contact with Bell in Turn 3 while appearing to move to the inside lane off the pace and after bouncing off of DiBenedetto, he spun and made hard contact with the outside wall near Turn 4. At the time of caution, 14 competitors that needed to make a final pit stop occupied the top-14 positions led by Harvick and Logano. Under caution, a majority of those competitors pitted and Reddick exited first after only taking fuel to his car. Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch followed pursuit followed by Wallace and Logano, who was the first to exit pit road with four fresh tires over Harvick and Kyle Busch.

When the field cycled through, Reddick emerged with the lead followed by teammate Austin Dillon, Kurt Busch, Logano and Harvick. Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Wallace, Jones and Bowman were in the top 10 while Hamlin, who received the free pass after being scored a lap down, was in 15th. Blaney, Almirola and Elliott were in 16th through 18th as they took the wave around under caution to return to the lead lap along with Newman, who was in 19th. DiBenedetto, who sustained damage following contact with Houff, was in 20th and scored a lap behind the leaders. 

With 23 laps remaining, the race restarted and Austin Dillon, racing on two fresh left-side tires, cleared Reddick for the lead in Turn 2. With the two Richard Childress Racing competitors at the front and by more than a second with 20 laps remaining, Kyle Busch and Logano battled for third while Harvick was in fifth ahead of Wallace.

With 16 laps remaining, the caution flew when Hamlin, who was battling for 12th, got loose underneath Bowman as both competitors spun through Turns 1 and 2. Bowman made contact with the outside wall and sustained right-side damage that eliminated him for the remainder of the race while Hamlin managed to slide his No. 11 FedEx Toyota without sustaining any significant damage. At the time of caution, Austin Dillon was ahead by more than two seconds over teammate Reddick with Logano, Kyle Busch and Harvick behind by more than three seconds. 

The race restarted with 11 laps remaining, and both RCR teammates battled against one another for one full lap, where Reddick led a lap, before Austin Dillon emerged back at the front. The following lap, Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE was ahead by less than two-tenths of a second over Reddick and his No. 8 Caterpillar Oil and Gas Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. Shortly after, Reddick started to close within teammate Dillon for the lead while Logano passed Kyle Busch for third.

Then, the caution returned when Hamlin, whose race went from good to bad and worse, got loose entering Turn 4 and spun through the frontstretch grass, which set the race up for a two-lap shootout and another opportunity for the competitors on fresh tires to try to pounce on the two leading Richard Childress Racing competitors.

With two laps remaining, the race restarted and Austin Dillon got a strong start on the inside lane to launch ahead with the lead with teammate Reddick pursuing him. On the final lap, Dillon was still ahead over Reddick while Logano and Kyle Busch battled against one another for third. For one final circuit, Dillon was able to stabilize his narrow advantage over Reddick and cross the finish line in first for his first checkered flag since winning the 2018 Daytona 500, which also marked the last time Richard Childress Racing and Justin Alexander, Dillon’s crew chief, were in victory lane in NASCAR’s premier series.

With the win, Dillon became the 10th Cup competitor to be guaranteed a spot in the 2020 Playoffs by virtue of a victory, which marks his first Playoff appearance since 2018, as he recorded the third win of the season for Chevrolet. In addition, the native from Welcome, North Carolina, recorded the 100th Cup victory for the number 3.

“Not bad for a silver spoon kid, right? I’ll take that.” Dillon said on NBCSN. “Got to thank everybody at RCR, ECR [Engines], Bass Pro Shops. Man, Tyler Reddick, he raced me clean. One-two [finish] for RCR – this has been coming, man. We’ve had good cars all year. Justin Alexander and my whole crew. I got my baby, Ace, back home, my wife, I love’em so much. Man, I don’t know. I’m just so happy. Thank God. To tell you the truth, it means a whole lot just for the family, for everybody, all of our partners. That was fun. I, definitely, had to earn it. I changed it up. I waited the second [restart] and I went on the last one. It worked out for me good.”

After driving his No. 3 Chevrolet to victory lane and celebrating, he went to the infield care center for treatment following a 500-mile race with temperatures in the cockpit and around the track soaring above 90 and even, 100 degrees.

Behind, rookie Reddick continued to impress after notching a career-best runner-up result in his 20th Cup career start while also recording his second top-five result of this season. This also marked the first 1-2 finish for Richard Childress Racing in a Cup race since Talladega Superspeedway in October 2011 between Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton. The runner-up result has Reddick 14 points below the top-16 cutline with eight races remaining until the 2020 Playoff field is determined in August.

“[Today] was about strategy in our Cat Oil and Gas Chevrolet,” Reddick said on NBCSN. “We had good speed in our Chevrolet ZL1 1LE, but we just couldn’t get our Camaro back in contention after we took right sides [tires]. It really shifted the balance of our Camaro. That just put us behind and we had to catch a few breaks, some cars got collected in carnage. We avoided, but can’t ask for much more than what we got there. Me and my teammate on the front row there the last couple of restarts. [Dillon]’s done this a little bit longer than I have, and I’m a little rusty. I haven’t been on the front row in a while. He just snookered me those times. Kyle [Busch] was doing a really good job of pushing me, but that last [restart], I put us in a big deficit and just couldn’t get back out of it. There was one restart where I, probably, could’ve went to [Dillon’s] inside. I just wanted it to between us. I didn’t want to bring other cars into it, make sure that we could fight it out. We just got the restarts, kept giving us opportunities. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t get it done today, but hats off to the 3 [crew], all those guys working hard. It gets one RCR Chevrolet into the Playoffs and now, we’re below the cutline. We gotta keep fighting. If we can keep running like this, we don’t have to worry about points, hopefully.”

Logano settled in third for his first top-five result since Martinsville Speedway in June ahead of Kyle Busch, who rallied from his midpoint accident, while Harvick finished fifth in his 700th Cup start.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Logano said on NBCSN. “I thought when [Dillon and Reddick] did fuel only and we were sitting fourth, I’m like, ‘Man, we got’em.’ I thought, ‘Boy, we’re gonna win this race.’ We just needed 15 laps to get off the splitter down in [Turns] 3 and 4, that was the problem. By the time I got to that point, the race was over. Overall, I’m proud of what our Shell/Pennzoil Ford team did today. I thought that finishing second the first stage and a third overall with a shot at winning is progress. That’s what we need to do, build a little momentum. It stings not to win, but hey, it’s progress. So, we’ll keep moving.”

Jones, Blaney, Kurt Busch, Keselowski and Almirola rounded out the top 10. Elliott finished 12th behind Bowyer, Wallace and DiBenedetto finished 14th and 17th, and Hamlin ended his run in 20th. Johnson settled in 26th, 12 laps behind the leaders.

There were 29 lead changes for 12 different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 45 laps.

With his top-five run, Harvick continues to lead the regular-season series standings by 91 points over Blaney.

Results.

1. Austin Dillon, 22 laps led

2. Tyler Reddick, five laps led

3. Joey Logano, 22 laps led

4. Kyle Busch, 11 laps led

5. Kevin Harvick, 40 laps led

6. Erik Jones, seven laps led

7. Ryan Blaney, 150 laps led, Stage 1 and 2 winner

8. Kurt Busch

9. Brad Keselowski, 15 laps led

10. Aric Almirola, 35 laps led

11. Clint Bowyer

12. Chase Elliott

13. Ryan Newman

14. Bubba Wallace

15. Michael McDowell

16. Corey LaJoie

17. Matt DiBenedetto, one lap led

18. Matt Kenseth

19. Chris Buescher, one lap down

20. Denny Hamlin, one lap down, 11 laps led

21. Christopher Bell, three laps down

22. John Hunter Nemechek, three laps down

23. Daniel Suarez, five laps down

24. J.J. Yeley, six laps down

25. Gray Gaulding, 11 laps down

26. Jimmie Johnson, 12 laps down

27. Brennan Poole, 12 laps down

28. Reed Sorenson, 12 laps down

29. Martin Truex Jr., 14 laps down

30. Alex Bowman – OUT, Accident

31. Josh Bilicki, 16 laps down

32. Joey Gase, 16 laps down

33. B.J. McLeod, 16 laps led

34. Quin Houff – OUT, Accident

35. Ty Dillon – OUT, DVP

36. Timmy Hill – OUT, Electrical

37. William Byron – OUT, Accident

38. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – OUT, Accident

39. Cole Custer – OUT, Accident

40. Ryan Preece – OUT, Accident

The NASCAR Cup Series will return to action in the midwest at Kansas Speedway on July 23 with the race to air at 7:30 p.m. on NBCSN.


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