Austin Dillon OK after “wild ride” on final lap at ‘Dega

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Ready to give Dale Earnhardt Jr. a helpful push on the final lap of today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Austin Dillon instead found himself going on a brief but scary flight down the backstretch.

Running third, Dillon noticed a move to the inside by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. through Turn 2 and moved down in an attempt to block. Unfortunately for him, it backfired as Dillon was sent spinning to the inside before coming back into traffic.

The pack scattered to avoid the sliding Dillon but Casey Mears was unable to dodge him and their impact on the backstretch punted Dillon and his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet into the air like a football.

But luckily enough, Dillon not only came back down right-side up but was able to take the mangled No. 14 all the way back to the garage while Jamie McMurray went on to win under caution.

“I was trying to help the 88 [Earnhardt] right there at the end and they had a run, the 17 [Stenhouse], so I went low and when I was coming back up, he just hooked me and when he hooked us, it was over there,” said Dillon, who was credited with a 26th-place finish.

“What a wild ride. I just have to thank NASCAR for everything they have done for safety. That hit was fine. I got to drive the car back and it’s a lot of fun when you have good safety equipment and can go after it like that.”

Despite the incident, Dillon said the experience was good to have while taking a break from his NASCAR Nationwide Series duties; Dillon currently leads the standings in NNS, which is idle until its Nov. 2 race at Texas Motor Speedway.

“The No. 14 guys told me to bring back the steering wheel or the trophy,” he said. “We brought back the steering wheel, but we were close to the trophy. That was fun and the [No. 3 Richard Childress Racing] Nationwide team has done a great job this year and hopefully we can end the year with a championship.”

As for Stenhouse’s perspective, the Roush Fenway Racing rookie said he had been running at half throttle behind Dillon prior to the incident and was looking to take a shot at the front coming off Turn 2.

“We couldn’t seem to get a good run off of [Turn] 4, so I thought 2, coming off of 2 was going to be my best place to get that done,” he said after going on to claim a third-place finish, his best so far in Sprint Cup. “We hung back there a little bit, and we had a good run coming.

“When I pulled out a little bit there to go to the bottom, he pulled down the block and I tried to get back to the top as quick as I could thinking the momentum was going to carry us around the outside there, and we just met right there in the middle.”

NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.