That was some ending.
Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney dominated the race, but on the final lap of the 2018 Daytona 500, in overtime, Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon spun Aric Almirola out of the lead to take the second victory of his career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He was followed by the No. 43 of Darrell Wallace Jr. in a photo finish over Denny Hamlin, with Joey Logano crossing the line in fourth. Chris Buescher‘s fifth-place run meant Chevrolet took three of the top five spots in the debut race for the Camaro ZL1.
The Nos. 3 and 43 are possibly the most iconic numbers of all of racing, in the same way that Michael Jordan made No. 23 legendary throughout basketball, or Wayne Gretzky the No. 99 in hockey. (Baseball doesn’t have this so much, though Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 springs to mind, because of his breaking the color barrier.) The No. 11 is the winningest number in NASCAR, so for those three numbers to atop the leaderboard, on the biggest stage of the year at Daytona, was really something.
Dillon’s win comes twenty years after Dale Earnhardt drove the No. 3 into Victory Lane, and 17 years to the day after Earnhardt died following a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Dillon drives for his grandfather Richard Childress, who Earnhardt drove for most of his career. It also came 11 years to the day that Kevin Harvick, Earnhardt’s replacement, won the 2007 Daytona 500 for RCR in a drag race with Mark Martin.
Ty Dillon was involved in an early wreck, meaning his career finishes in the Daytona 500 thus far are 28th, 25th, 30th and 39th. That’s not great. But he did finish just outside the top 10 in both Talladega races last year.
The Wood Brothers earned their second-straight top 10 finish in the Daytona 500 as Paul Menard finished sixth in his first race in the iconic No. 21 Ford (Blaney was second in 2017). According to Racing Reference, it was the team’s 25th top 10 finish in the Great American Race. It was Menard’s fourteenth career top 10 finish at a superspeedway; the last six races at Daytona and Talladega he has finished 13th, fifth, ninth, third, 12th and sixth.
Danica Patrick‘s final Daytona 500 ended the same way it started: with her neon-green Chevy caught up in a wreck not of her own making. NASCAR’s first full-time female driver in the Cup Series finished with 191 starts, with 64 laps led, seven top 10 finishes, the 2013 Daytona 500 pole and a best finish in the standings of 24th. Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but considering that she came to NASCAR from the much lighter and differently-handling IndyCars, those are respectable results, and by far the best of any female driver. And the fanbase, marketing power and attention she brought to the sport will be missed.
Darrell Wallace, Jr. has now driven in five Monster Energy Cup Series races, and he has improved his finishing position in all of them. His second-place finish on Sunday earned Richard Petty Motorsports Daytona 500 top fives in back-to-back years (Aric Almirola finished fourth in 2017). It was the team’s fifth time placing a driver in the top 10 in the 500; the first three came in 2009 when AJ Allmendinger, Elliott Sadler and Reed Sorenson ran third, fifth and ninth, respectively.
Despite Alex Bowman winning the pole and Chase Elliott winning one of the Duels, this was a pretty dismal week for Hendrick Motorsports. In the Clash, Elliott and Jimmie Johnson both wrecked on the last lap, and then in the Duels, Johnson and William Byron both crashed. On Sunday, Johnson wrecked early, Elliott’s car was also destroyed about halfway through, Byron was involved in three yellow-flag incidents throughout the day, and Bowman wrecked in The Big One. Bowman was the highest-finishing Hendrick driver, running 17th. Even former Hendrick drivers weren’t immune to the carnage: Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski all ran into trouble at some point.
Paint Scheme of the Week
Bubba Wallace’s Click ‘n Close No. 43 wins this week. I was a sports fan in the 90’s, so I’ve always thought purple worked well on uniforms. On cars it can either look great or terrible, but with the Petty blue highlights, this really works. The 43 is classic, and it keeps those traditional swooshes along the sides, but this scheme also feels different enough to match new new driver and the fresh start with RPM’s alliance with RCR. Also, Click n’ Close is a new sponsor to the Cup Series, so it’s good for them, and the extra exposure from the runner-up finish should help the team, which only has about a third of the season sponsored.
The Cup Series is at Atlanta Motor Speedway this week for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, it’s the first of many races at 1.5 mile tracks this season. Considering that Martin Truex Jr. dominated those tracks last season, it makes sense that he would do well this week. Erik Jones isn’t exactly an underdog – he drives for Joe Gibbs Racing, after all – but he’ll be my sleeper pick this week. In four starts at the track across all three national series, Jones has finished seventh, 13th, third and 14th.