Austin Dillon wanted to keep the lead, knowing bad weather was coming – and his aggressiveness started a 17-car wreck at Daytona.
Second on the inside line coming off Turn 4, Dillon got a run on leader Denny Hamlin and jumped to the outside to take the lead. Clint Bowyer, leading the outside lane, got a run on Dillon and dove to the bottom as the field charged into Turn 1. Bowyer and Dillon collided, triggering the biggest crash of the race on lap 119.
“Originally off of Turn 4, I thought me and the 9 (Chase Elliott, who was third) would be able to get by the 11. But the 9 wasn’t clear,” said Dillon. “I really thought it was kind of urgent because the lightning and rain were coming, so I jumped up there, had a good push from the 14, and my plan — as soon as I cleared the 11 – was to cut left and get down again to get with my Chevy teammates.
“It’s really unfortunate. We had a really fast American Ethanol Chevy. It was cool winning the stage. Just trying to get a race win. That’s all it is. I got turned a little bit left when [Bowyer] went left, and it kind of shot me down there; I just kept coming left.
“It’s part of this kind of racing,” Dillon continued. “I was being aggressive and trying to keep the lead, and it’s what you get. It’s part of it. Just thought I’d try and keep it up front. We had had fast car, really proud of the guys. Hate that it ended that way. Wish we could have worked with the Chevys to finish off what we started.”
Dillon led 46 laps and won Stage 2.
Among those collected in the accident were Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman. Under the resulting caution, NASCAR had to red flag the race for lightning.
“What do you do?” said Bowyer. “That was terrible. That wasn’t even close. When we got together, I pulled off of him to give him some room, and then he just never quit coming down and wrecked us all. It’s just part of the racing.
“You want to blame him. But if it would have been anybody else out there, they would have probably done the same thing. We had a fast hot-rod, had a good run, and was going for the lead; and it’s just the nature of this kind of racing. It sucks. You want to be pissed off, frustrated and blame somebody, but at the end of the day it’s just part of racing.”
Said Blaney: “I haven’t seen a replay, but apparently it was a case of someone not being cleared at all, so that part is frustrating. It’s one thing if you’re kind of pushing each other and someone gets turned, something like that; but when you just chop somebody like that, from what I hear, it’s frustrating — especially since we were rows back.
“In both Daytona races this year we’ve been four rows back in the deal and just got absolutely destroyed. There was nowhere to go and none of our doing, so that’s the way it goes.”