Austin Dillon’s debut in the No. 3 ends in top 10, but after two incidents

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The inevitable round of “Hey, Austin Dillon’s driving like he’s in the 3” jokes were made multiple times in the social media realm Sunday night.

Because Dillon, intentionally or not, “rattled some cages” during his second Daytona 500, and first in the heralded No. 3.

Dillon hit both his fellow rookie Kyle Larson, and his fellow Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman, which triggered two multi-car accidents.

It blighted the race for the polesitter a fair bit. But still, when all was said and done, Dillon was classified ninth at the checkered flag. Like Danica Patrick last year, it was a case of the polesitter dropping back after the start but eventually ending better with their first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top-10 finish.

“Yeah, I think the yellow stripes on the bumper showed a little bit tonight. But we made it through,” Dillon admitted.

Larson had had a rough go of it earlier in the race anyway, and past Lap 160, Dillon attempted to move to his inside but wound up contacting the Chip Ganassi Racing driver midway through Turns 3 and 4, and that caught up eight other cars.

Later on, Dillon and Newman had contact entering Turn 3 on Lap 195, with Newman part of a wreck that took out seven drivers.

In the post-race press conference, Dillon said he hadn’t seen a replay but expressed remorse for the incidents.

“Yeah, I had contact with both of them. The 31 (Newman), I had a run and everything was good,” Dillon said.

“His rear bumper cover was off, I barely touched him. It turned him to the left quick. Definitely didn’t want to do that, he’s my teammate.  I think I touched the 1, it backed him up.  It happened quick. Like I said, getting aggressive, 10 to go, just trying to make something happen. It was hard once you got back up there to get back up front if you weren’t making moves to side draft.”

Dillon was a big part of the story for Daytona, with the concentration on the No. 3’s return to Sprint Cup after a 13-year hiatus and whether the young rookie could handle the pressure the weight of the number carries.

But he’s already received the blessing from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who Dillon said has been a “big brother” to him.

Dillon’s received another blessing, too. With Junior winning the Daytona 500, suddenly the media spotlight and focus shifts back to the 88, and off the 3 for a bit.

Perhaps next week, without the massive weight of expectations, Dillon will be able to thrive and improve with a clean race at Phoenix the goal for his second start in the 3.

REMEMBER: You can see the premiere of NASCAR AMERICA at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN tonight.

Hamilton leads damp first USGP practice at COTA, Hartley debuts

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Lewis Hamilton continued his impressive Formula 1 record at the Circuit of The Americas by topping opening practice for the United States Grand Prix on Friday for Mercedes.

A four-time winner of the USGP at COTA, Hamilton set the pace in damp conditions in first practice after rain hit the Austin area in the lead-up to the start of the session.

After initially venturing out on intermediate tires, Hamilton made the switch to super-softs at the halfway point in FP1, ultimately posting a fastest time of 1:36.335.

Hamilton’s time saw him finish over half a second clear of Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who he could beat to the F1 drivers’ championship at COTA this weekend should results go his way.

Mercedes got two cars into the top three as Valtteri Bottas wound up third in the second W08 car, six-tenths back from Hamilton, while Max Verstappen ended FP1 fourth for Red Bull.

Felipe Massa led Williams into the top 10 with an impressive lap en route to fifth, finishing ahead of Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne.

Vandoorne was left to lead McLaren’s charge after a hydraulic leak sidelined Fernando Alonso for much of the session, limiting the Spaniard to just four laps in total.

Force India managed to get both its drivers up into the top 10 as Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez finished eighth and ninth respectively, edging out Renault’s Carlos Sainz Jr. who was P10 in his first appearance for the team.

Brendon Hartley enjoyed his first run-out in Toro Rosso’s STR12 car ahead of his grand prix debut on Sunday, taking P14 overall.

The New Zealander had not driven an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 2012, but put in a solid first display in practice, even though his race hopes are set to be hindered by a grid penalty.

Second practice for the United States Grand Prix is live on the NBC Sports app from 3pm ET today.