Daytona Beach, FL, United States (4E Sports) – Riding Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s No. 3 car, Austin Dillon finished ninth in the rain-delayed 56th Daytona 500, the best effort by a rookie Sunday at Daytona International Speedway.
Dillon started from pole position, fell behind early, worked back into contention and was involved in two multi-car crashes in the final 55 laps but he managed to post the best finish by a rookie in the event won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the second time in his career.
“That’s what this year is about — experience, trying to finish races and getting better each week,” Dillon said, “We have a long year ahead of us, I’d like to use some of this momentum going forward. I know it’s going to be a long, tough year, and hopefully we’ll be there at the end of these races and try to learn something.”
On Lap 145, Dillon was one of 13 drivers involved in a pileup on the frontstretch that eliminated cars driven by Danica Patrick and Michael Waltrip and damaged others.
Dillon, who ran into the back of Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman’s car, emerged relatively unscathed and near the top 10.
“His rear bumper cover was off,” Dillon said. “I barely touched him. It turned him to the left quick. I definitely didn’t want to do that.”
Less than 20 laps later, Dillon spun fellow rookie Kyle Larson, but remained in contention.
“I think the yellow stripe on the bumper (signifying a rookie) showed a little bit tonight, but we made it through it,” Dillon said. “It was fun. I had a blast. The car was fast.”
Dillon’s grandfather, Richard Childress, was Earnhardt Sr.’s longtime car owner. He owns the rights to the No. 3 and its stylized logo.
When Childress brought it back into circulation in 2009 in the Camping World Truck Series, he was criticized by Earnhardt’s fans, even though Earnhardt Jr. has repeated his approval and support of the number’s return to NASCAR’s top level, 13 years after his father was killed in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“It’s very awesome,” Dillon said. “Junior has been so supportive of me bringing back the 3. I’ve gone to him for a lot of advice lately. I can’t thank him enough. He’s been awesome to me. It made this whole transition a whole lot easier. If we didn’t have him on board, it would have definitely been tough to do this.”
After a six-hour rain delay, Earnhardt Jr. won the event by edging Toyota’s Denny Hamlin and Ford’s Brad Keselowski. Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson finished fourth and fifth, respectively.