Austin Dillon claimed victory in Saturday's Subway Firecracker 250 after assuming control of the race just in time for a final green-white-chequered end to a hard, crash-filled night of racing under the floodlights at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.
CLICK: Full race results from Daytona and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
Dillon took to the lead on lap 97 just as a big multiple-car wreck caught up out much of the remaining field of cars and left only nine cars on the lead lap. Dillon maintained the lead at the final restart before the race then ended under caution with pole sitter Daniel Suarez spinning out on pit road after the white lap had been shown to the leaders.
"This is Daytona, man," said Dillon, who claimed his his fifth victory in 90 series starts and his third of the season. It's the first time in six appearances at the superspeedway that he's won at Daytona.
"There are so many family memories here," said Dillon, who is the grandson of team owner Richard Childress. "I'm just happy for my grandfather. He told me once when we were here in victory lane with Dale Earnhardt that you'll have this opportunity one day. It means so much to be here."
The start of the race had been delayed by nearly an hour because of the light rain that had accompanied the storms in the vicinity of the track that had caused the cancellation of Sprint Cup qualifying earlier in the evening. Daniel Suárez took pole position for Joe Gibbs Racing after pipping Richard Childress Racing's Brian Scott in the final round of qualifying by 0.119s to pick up his maiden Xfinity Series pole position in 17 starts. The 23-year old is only the second Mexican to claim a series pole, the first being Jorge Goeters in 2005.
Suarez and Scott traded the lead back and forth over the opening laps that included two caution for spins by Bobby Gerhart and Cale Conley. A more serious accident which saw Derrike Cope in the frontstretch wall after contact with Dillon saw Scott win the race off pit road and then pull out the first decent lead of the evening over his RCR team mate Ty Dillon who was followed by Penske's Joey Logano and Darrell Wallace Jr. in the Roush Fenway #6 as the field settled into a single file that extended through a round of green flag pit stops that began on lap 55 just past the scheduled midway point of the 250 mile race.
Scott had cycled back to the lead again by the time Conley went for his second spin of the night on lap 82. Scott and the rest of the leader stayed off pit road but a few big names including Kasey Kahne, John Wes Townley and championship point leader Chris Buescher opted to come in for a fuel top up and fresh tyre to give them a boost going into the final stages of the race.
Scott skilfully managed the restart without any dramas and was still out in front when the first big wreck of the night was sparked off on lap 90 when Ryan Reed got loose and spun, which then caught up a dozen cars to varying degrees including Buescher, Wallace, Suarez, Townley, Ty Dillon, Blake Koch, Brendan Gaughan, Regan Smith, Joey Gase, Brennan Poole and last year's Coke Zero 400 Cup race winner Aric Almirola.
"We were able to get back going and avoided the wreck initially but then got trunked from behind and at that point you are just along for the ride," said Buescher. "The guys did a nice job fixing it and it was a good recovery considering where we were," he added after being able to resume the race and finish in 12th position.
When the race resumed after a ten minute red flag to allow track workers to clean up the mess, Scott remained in charge ahead of Elliott Sadler and Austin Dillon. But scarcely had the race got back underway than another huge wreck broke out on the backstretch once again, and this time it was triggered by the race leader moving up the track to ward off an overtaking move from Sadler only to result in contact.
"Either Brian's spotter or Brian tried to make the move too late to block us," Sadler explained. "We were already up to his right rear door. It wrecked us, man. This is Daytona. It's a shame. We had a car good enough to win."
“I told myself I was going to be aggressive, and I was going for the win," said Scott, admitting that the move had been aggressive on his part. "I was trying to time that run. I knew the outside lane was coming. Obviously I mistimed it a little bit, but I still felt like I gave them room to split me and go high. Instead of going high on me, he turned me into the wall."
The damage put Scott out of the running despite having been on point for a total of 84 laps of the race. Sadler was able to continue but his beaten-up Roush Fenway #1 was no longer a match for Austin Dillon who had picked up the lead in the immediate aftermath and who now successfully pressed home his advantage to claim the win when the race made its first green-white-chequered overtime finish attempt.
Behind Sadler, JR Motorsports' Chase Elliott picked up third place ahead of his team mate and Cup regular Kasey Kahne. Benny Gordon, Dakoda Armstrong, David Ragan, Erik Jones, Harrison Rhodes and Ross Chastain all emerged from the two late big wrecks to round out the top ten.
As Dillon is a Sprint Cup regular - he'll start on the front row alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Sunday's Coke Zero 400 - the race winner doesn't score any championship points in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship. Instead, Chris Buescher's lead in the standings is now up to 34 points with Chase Elliott moving up into second place nine points clear of Austin's brother Ty Dillon. Regan Smith retains fourth place while Elliott Sadler moves narrowly ahead of Darrell Wallace Jr. for fifth. In the owner standings, Roger Penske's has a 29 point lead over Jack Roush's #60 which in turn enjoys a ten point lead over the Richard Childress #33.
See full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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