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.”

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).