20 years after Dale Earnhardt Sr. parked the iconic #3 car in victory lane at the Daytona 500, Austin Dillon did the same thing this past Sunday. It was a very nostalgic moment for not only Dillon and his fans, but also for all Dale Earnhardt fans. Before the race started, the thought of Austin Dillon taking the win never crossed my mind. To be completely honest, that thought never crossed my mind until Dillon came out of turn four in front of the rest of the field on the last lap. The last lap was the only lap that Dillon led the entire race.
But of course, this victory does not come without controversy. Dillon took the lead from Aric Almirola in turns three and four on the final lap and the way he did it made numerous people pretty angry. Going into turn three Almirola moved up the track to block Dillon, who had a big run on him. Instead of Dillon lifting off the throttle and settling for second, he kept his foot down and bumped Almirola out of his way. By doing this, he spun Almirola into the outside wall and Almirola went from first to 11th in the final corner. If you haven’t already seen this incident, watch it here and you can be the judge on if it was dirty or not.
Personally, as much as I hate seeing races end like that, I don’t blame Dillon for doing what he did. And I also think anyone who says that they would have let off the gas and gave up the chance to win the most prestigious stock car race in the world is lying to themselves. There is no way I’m giving up a chance to win the Daytona 500 on the last lap. Dillon made it clear in his post-race interview that he felt bad for Almirola and his crew, but he did what he had to do.
I do feel bad for Almirola. It was his first race as a part of Stewart-Haas Racing and it would have been a great start to this new chapter in his career. He put himself in prime position to score the biggest race win of his career. After watching his post-race interview I have gained tons of respect for him. You could tell by just listening to his voice that he was devastated and I don’t blame him. If you haven’t seen his interview, I encourage you to watch it. He never bashed Dillon for spinning him into the wall and at the end of his interview, he finishes by saying how “there is always next week.” He came off as a very stand up guy and I hope to see him succeed in the near future.
Another driver I feel bad for after this race is Ryan Blaney. He led for over 100 laps and it definitely seemed that he had the best car in the field. It looked like he had the race in hand too until William Byron cut a tire down and harmlessly spun into the infield. He didn’t hit anything and subsequently went into the pits. There was no reason to call that caution. But that bunched up the field and as the saying goes, “cautions breed cautions” and that is exactly what happened. Blaney was running third, behind Kurt Busch, and when Busch moved up to block him, Blaney gave him a bump and Busch spun into the wall and collected a few other cars. Blaney escaped without too much damage, but he needed to make an unscheduled pit stop to fix some things quickly. He ended up finishing in seventh place. But the good news for Blaney is that due to his performances throughout each stage, including a stage win, Blaney is currently first in the points and he is likely going to be a major force this season.
As the season goes forward, I am expecting it to be very competitive. The youth movement is in full swing with Blaney racing with Team Penske, Chase Elliot, Alex Bowman, and William Byron with Hendrick Motorsports, and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. driving for Richard Petty Motorsports. I wouldn’t be surprised to see all four of the drivers get into victory lane at least once this year.
Needless to say, I am very excited that this season is underway. This is the most excited I’ve been for a NASCAR season in a while. And since this is the beginning of the season, I’ll make my championship prediction now. My prediction for the final four drivers in the Chase is Chase Elliot, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, and Martin Truex Jr. I’m going to pick Kyle Larson as my champion. So now its just time to sit back and enjoy some racing.