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.

F1 2017 driver review: Kimi Raikkonen

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Kimi Raikkonen

Team: Scuderia Ferrari
Car No.: 7
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 7
Best Finish: P2 (Monaco, Hungary)
Pole Positions: 1
Fastest Laps: 2
Points: 205
Laps Led: 40
Championship Position: 4th

While this may have statistically been Kimi Raikkonen’s best campaign since his first year back in F1 in 2012, there is a good case for it being one of his most disappointing to date.

Raikkonen’s continued role at Ferrari has been questioned on a number of occasions, but the Finn looked capable of answering his critics heading into 2017 after impressing through pre-season testing as he appeared to get to grips well with the new-style cars.

But we soon grew accustomed to the same old story: flashes of potential, but otherwise an underwhelming, unsatisfactory campaign that saw Raikkonen be dwarfed by his teammate, Sebastian Vettel.

Raikkonen’s charge to his first pole position for over eight years in Monaco gave hope of a popular win, only for Ferrari to play its strategy in favor of title contender Vettel – why wouldn’t the team do so? – to leave him a disgruntled second.

While Vettel was able to impress at the majority of circuits, Raikkonen only looked strong at tracks that were unquestionably ‘Ferrari’ tracks, such as Hungary and Brazil. Like Vettel, Raikkonen should have racked up a good haul of points in Singapore, only for the start-line crash to sideline both Ferraris before they even reached Turn 1.

Again there is the question of ‘what could have been?’ in Malaysia had it not been for the spark plug issue on the grid, yet in Japan, Raikkonen was nowhere, finishing behind the Mercedes and Red Bulls.

Finishing just five points clear of Daniel Ricciardo despite having a much faster car for the best part of the season and the Red Bull driver’s own reliability issues sums up the disappointment of Raikkonen’s campaign.

He should have been an ally for Vettel in the title race by nicking points of Lewis Hamilton, much as Valtteri Bottas was doing for his Mercedes teammate. Instead, Raikkonen seemed to be tagging along for the best part of this season.

Season High: Pole in Monaco, his first since the 2008 French Grand Prix.

Season Low: Finishing a distant P4 at Spa – a circuit he made his own in the 2000s.