A wreck-filled Daytona 500 finishes with one last white flag lap crash for the victory between Aric Almirola and Austin Dillon. Was it a dirty move by the No. 3 car, or just hard driving by both?
The 60th running of the Daytona 500 finished with a last-lap crash by Aric Almirola. While he took the white flag, Austin Dillon ended up taking the checkered flag, etching his name into the history books and onto the Harley J. Earl trophy forever. Almirola, who recently signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, was one corner away from earning his second career victory in his first start with his new team after leaving Richard Petty Motorsports. However, Dillon fought his way into the second position and bumped the No. 10 Ford through Turns 3 and 4, sending Almirola into the wall coming to the checkered flag.
However, this wasn’t the first time this happened in the race. The end of Stage 1 officially ended under yellow after a last-lap crash coming to the green-checkered, triggered by Erik Jones. In the XFINITY Series, it took a total of five overtime attempts before finally reaching the checkered flag, when Tyler Reddick edged Elliot Sadler in what may be NASCAR’s closest finish ever in the top 3 national touring series by 0.000 seconds. Photo and video evidence was used to declare an official winner, similar to Lee Petty’s victory in 1959 when local newspapers finally published images that proved his car beat Johnny Beauchamp. NASCAR had to then take the trophy from Beauchamp’s hands and give it to the proper winner.
One of NASCAR’s best changes in the rule book was adding overtime, or a better title being overdrive. This gives fans and drivers a better chance at seeing a victory earned by racing to the line. Over the years as NASCAR started to throw the yellow flag at the end of the race determining the winner before the start/finish line, fans became disappointed with not seeing a race finish under full speed. NASCAR has been working to improve this over the years, but drivers have been working to adapt to this: shorts few-lap runs pushing cars beyond the edge of physics.
With all that said, my article comes to the final decision of its title: Was Austin Dillon’s move dirty or just hard racing?
Aric Almirola’s response was posted on Twitter:
Laid in bed replaying the last lap a million times in my head last night. Nothing I’d change. Woke up this morning with a new focus. Trying to win the next 35 races and run for a championship.@SmithfieldBrand @FordPerformance @StewartHaasRcng
— Aric Almirola (@Aric_Almirola) February 19, 2018
As one who has won a championship and drove to victory lane in other motorsports, I applaud his response to the finish. It’s hard to have the biggest race in stock car history ripped away from you in the decisive moments as you can visually see the front stretch. However, I can sense frustration coming from behind the tweet where he wished for more. Who wouldn’t? This is the Daytona 500; some would consider winning this race to be more important than a Monster Energy Cup championship. And while some may say, “There’s always next year”, true racers understand that there may not be a ‘next time’ with this exact situation and moment ever again.
As for the opposite side of the coin, Austin Dillon’s response was, well, expected, disbelief. It seems that he finds his way to win the biggest races of the year. His first career victory came last year in the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race in NASCAR’s regular season schedule and one of the longest races across all motorsports. On Sunday, Dillon got into the rear bumper of Almirola and spun him into the wall to get his second career victory at the Super Bowl of NASCAR.
Some say this was a dirty move. Dillon bumped Almirola and wrecked him. Whether you’re a first-time viewer or a lifelong follower, it was clear how the wreck happened and the result of it. Others feel this was just hard driving. Almirola wanted that checkered flag more than Dillon. We could see how he drove himself to the front on the restart and held his position for one and three-fourths of a lap. He excessively blocked Dillon, which unfortunately resulted in his crash and loss of the Daytona 500.
However, I think this was neither a dirty move nor hard driving. What we saw in the season opener was passionate racing. Allow me to explain.
Ryan Blaney refused to be anywhere but the lead. We saw this all race long. If he wasn’t in the lead, he would try every move possible to put himself in the front. After the first “Big One” on Lap 101, a lot of the main contenders were eliminated, including Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and teammate Brad Keselowski. Jimmie Johnson also faced a DNF from a separate incident later in the race. Kyle Busch suffered multiple flat tires and Martin Truex Jr. suffered crash damage. From process of elimination, many thought that Blaney was going to win the 60th running of the Daytona 500. Unfortunately, his run to victory ended when he too suffered a late race crash. While he was able to continue, he didn’t have the speed as before.
Blaney found himself in one of the best positions he could have been in for victory. He was passionate and focused on winning the biggest race of the year. And no one can blame him. I believe the same is true for both Dillon and Almirola. Both seized the opportunity with everything they had. Almirola protected his position, even breaking racer’s law of blocking more than once. Dillon just never took his foot off the gas. It could have easily been Dillon losing control of the front-end of his car and crashing himself, and Almirola could have saved it from crashing and won the race. Both could have crashed and fought in the grass, like the 1979 Daytona 500, and third place taking the win.
No matter the outcome, we saw something that we needed to see in this next generation of up and coming drivers, passion. The desire to win sometimes needs to exceed the desire for respect. While it comes with a price, a true racer should never settle for second. If one does, his seat should be replaced.