CLICK: Full race results and Nationwide Series championship standings.
Richard Childress Racings Ty Dillon put an up-and-down first season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series behind him in the rear view mirror as he celebrated his first series win in style on the frontstretch of the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon.
"We got out front, man, and she unleashed. It was awesome," said Dillon at the end of the race that had proved to be a tense cat-and-mouse battle of varying pit stop strategies. He's the fourth first-time winner in the series this year, following in the tyre tracks of Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Brendan Gaughan.
Last year's race winner Kyle Busch started the 2014 Lilly Diabetes 250 from pole position, having timed his final round in the third round of qualifying to perfection to post a lap of 50.031s (179.888mph) on the temperature-sensitive 2.5 mile speedway. However Busch quickly surrendered the race lead to his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Matt Kenseth, and also soon dropped second place to Kevin Harvick who was continuing the stellar form at IMS that he'd just been displaying in Sprint Cup qualifying earlier in the afternoon.
Busch was able to maintain third place over Joey Logano despite complaining that the #54 was loose in and tight off. There were no such issues for Harvick, who took over the lead from Kenseth on lap 9 and quickly pulled away from the field, to the extent that despite the length of the circuit he had already started to lap backmarkers when the first caution of the afternoon came out on lap 17 for debris in turn 1.
Under the caution, Harvick and Kenseth both took extra time to have four new tyres bolted on while Busch was delayed by the set-up changes that he needed. It meant that all three were replaced at the front for the restart by a quartet of drivers who took only four tyres - Logano, Ty Dillon, Brian Scott and Paul Menard. During the next stint Harvick and Busch methodically worked their way back t the front, and Harvick duly took the lead on lap 30 when Logano made a strategic early pit stop now that he had reached the window for reaching the end of the 100-lap race on only one more stop. Busch, Dillon, Sadler and Kenseth - who had lost ground at the restart and fallen out of the top ten after being held up in traffic - were among those to follow the same strategy. Logano fell back to 20th as a result of the gambit but crucially stayed on the lead lap in the process.
Harvick meanwhile stayed out and continued to extend his lead over Scott to eight seconds ahead of Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne. Harvick stayed out until the end of lap 46 before pitting, followed soon thereafter by the rest of his like-minded cohort which put Logano back in the lead on lap 50 by three seconds over Busch who was reporting a worrying vibration on the #54. Harvick was a further three seconds behind, and then there was a long gap of almost ten seconds back to Dillon, Menard, Kenseth, Scott and Larson. Everyone now had one more more stop to go, but the timing - and how it played with any potential cautions - could now be the critical factor in deciding the winner.
Naturally the second caution of the afternoon - for Jeffrey Earnhardt blowing an engine on lap 55 - came in no man's land as far as the available strategies were concerned, although a prolonged run behind the safety car while marshalls cleared up the fluids deposited by the #4 on the track and down pit road started to make it within touching distance of an outside chance for those cars who had been early to pit to now make their final stop of the day, but with Harvick's pace it a fuel conservation run at this point seemed somewhat doomed to failure.
Unsurprisingly Harvick wasn't tempted and he stayed out to lead Scott, Larson and Smith to the restart on lap 64, followed by those that had opted to pit - Logano, David Ragan, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch in eighth as the highest of those to have taken four tyres during his visit to pit lane. But there was another shoe to drop, with Logano returning to pit road under green just a couple laps later to top up on gas and have the other two tyres changed. He wasn't alone in that line of thinking, with Menard following suit shortly afterwards; more significantly, Scott and Larson came in for their final stops on lap 66 and Harvick himself on lap 68, leaving Kyle Busch out on the lead ahead of Smith, Dillon, Kenseth, Bayne and Elliott. The first of the drivers to have just pitted was Menard down in 11th place ahead of Logano and Harvick, but they didn't have to worry about fuel conservation for the rest of the day.
A new debris caution on lap 71 threw the cat among the strategies all over again: Busch and Harvick both decided to double down on their respective strategies, the JGR #54 resolutely staying out while the JR Motorsports #5 pitted again for more fuel and fresh tyres albeit at the cost of dropping back to 17th at the restart on lap 77. Not that Busch had the ideal time of it either, getting passed for the lead at the green flag by Ty Dillon who was also running a fuel conservation gamble. It proved to be a crucial development in the outcome of the race.
Everyone now dug in to see how events would play out. Mindful of not abusing his fuel, Busch slipped too far behind Dillon so that he found when he needed to get back on an equal footing with the Richard Childress Racing #3 there was too much ground to make up. With no more cautions forthcoming to close the field back up, all Busch could hope for is that Dillon would run out of fuel before he did: the laps ticked past, the white flag came and went, and Dillon was still powering forward all the way to the chequered flag to claim his first Nationwide win, eventually crossing the line 0.833s ahead of Busch to earn the right to celebrate by kissing the famed yard of bricks, as well as handing him a $100,000 'Dash4Cash' bonus.
"Never were as good as we were last year," said a disappointed Busch. "Gave it away on that last restart there in turn 1, he got the lead and it was over from there."
"When you've got the best guy in the business behind you, it's tough," said Dillon of that final 24-lap run to the finish. "It's tough to stay focused and not give up. I've raced against Brad [Keselowski] and Kyle a lot, those guys are the best in the business."
Busch himself finished five seconds ahead of the next man down the road, his JGR team mate Matt Kenseth who had managed to hold off Harvick for third place; Harvick's gambit with that extra pit stop had ultimately failed to pay off despite the early dominant pace that saw him lead for a race-high 33 laps. Joey Logano - who had himself led for a total of 21 laps - finished in fifth place in the Penske #22, with the remainder of the top ten consisting of Menard, Scott Larson, Bayne and Smith.
In the Nationwide standings, Chase Elliott continues to lead despite finishing the race in 12th place, meaning that his margin over Regan Smith was reduced by two points. Ty Dillon's maiden race win puts him within 15 points of Elliott in fourth place in the standings behind Elliott Sadler. In the owner standings, the JGR #54 has a slender eight point lead over the Penske #22.
See full race results and Nationwide Series championship standings.