CHARLOTTE — Austin Dillon respectfully requested permission from crew chief Justin Alexander to burn down the motor of his race car. A first win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series seemed like a fitting occasion for smoke and rubber. So did returning the historic No. 3 Chevrolet to victory lane for the first time in nearly 17 years.

The route Dillon took precluded all that, though. Dillon’s engine ingested its last wisp of fuel as he crossed the finish past midnight on Monday morning, translating a late strategy play into a victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe it. I was just really focused on those last laps,” Dillon said.


“Get a gas can,” Dillon’s grandfather and team owner, Richard Childress, said over team radio after the car rolled to a stop. Dillon’s crew, having rushed out to celebrate with their driver, amused themselves by sliding belly-first on the infield grass soaked by a storm that delayed the race 1 hour, 40 minutes.

Dillon had waited 133 starts for this, and Childress since Oct. 15, 2000 at Talladega Superspeedway with late seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt. Reinstating the iconic “3” at NASCAR’s highest level had been fraught with emotion and scrutiny for Childress and his grandson, even though Dillon had campaigned the family number at numerous levels back to childhood.

Dillon, a former Xfinity and Truck Series champion, made his full-time Cup debut in 2014, winning the pole in that first race, poignantly enough in the Daytona 500, the race in which Earnhardt died following a crash on the last lap of the 2001 installment. Dillon, now 27, produced a breakout season last year by establishing career highs in top-fives (4) and top-10s (13), qualifying for the playoffs on points and missing advancement to the second round on a tiebreaker with Denny Hamlin. He eventually finished 14th in the standings, a career best.

It was seemingly a bawdy call by Alexander, who became Dillon’s crew chief just this week, replacing “Slugger” Labbe. But it really wasn’t, he said, considering the fuel mileage the car had attained in the marathon and his general position inside the top 10 for much of the race.

Childress leaned over during a post-race interview to congratulate him on it, though.

Dillon, who led just the final two laps in the 600, was one of five drivers who attempted to run the final 69 laps on one tank of fuel. He assumed the lead when defending and seven-time series champion and eight-time Charlotte-winner Jimmie Johnson had to pit in the final laps. Childress said he was confident in the play, but seeing the result in lights struck him.

“When I looked up and seen the “3” on top of the board and I was standing there doing an interview, that’s when I got emotional,” Childress said.


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