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.