While Kevin Harvick came out on top and celebrated a thrilling win in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Austin Dillon and Joey Logano rallied from their share of challenges throughout Sunday night’s race to record second- and third-place results as they kicked off the 2020 Cup Playoffs on a strong note.
For Austin Dillon, his race started off at the rear of the field when unapproved adjustments to his No. 3 American Ethanol Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE forced Dillon to surrender his 12th-place starting spot on the grid and take the green flag behind the leaders.
Following the first 25 laps of the race, Dillon, who was battling a tight-handling race car, managed to crack the top 30 as he was scored in 29th place. Dillon’s progression throughout the race continued as he was able to complete a smooth green flag pit stop during the stage and settle in 15th place, two spots behind teammate Tyler Reddick, when the first stage concluded on Lap 115.
Throughout the second stage, Dillon continued to make his way to the front and he was able to rack up a handful of stage points following the stage’s conclusion on Lap 230, where he was posted in eighth place.
Under 50 laps remaining, Dillon and the No. 3 Chevrolet made its way into the top five and appeared to have a fourth-place run settled to open this year’s Playoffs. With 15 laps remaining and following an incident involving leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott, Dillon moved up to second place and had an opportunity to strike for the lead as he was catching race leader Kevin Harvick in the closing laps.
On the final lap, Dillon cut Harvick’s advantage down to six-tenths of a second and he continued to narrow his deficit through Turn 2. Entering Turns 3 and 4, Dillon went high and gained a huge run through the turns in an attempt to draw even with Harvick coming to the finish line. The run, however, was not enough for Dillon to challenge Harvick for the win as Dillon came up three-tenths of a second short to Harvick for the win.
The runner-up result marked Dillon’s third top-five result of the season, his best result since winning at Texas Motor Speedway in July and his best start to the Playoffs as a title contender (fourth season making the postseason). With his second-place finish, Austin Dillon is ranked in eighth place in the Playoff standings and is 10 points above the top-12 cutline.
“I was just trying all I could,” Dillon said on NBCSN. “I can’t thank American Ethanol enough. We’ve had E15 in these cars, have made a million miles on it and they’ve been a great partner of mine. Man, it would’ve been nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the next round, but heck of a finish for our whole No. 3 team. We had a really good long run car and Harvick was getting tighter and tighter. I’d caught him earlier in the run and he’d kind of take my low line down there in [Turn] 1 and 2. That was where I was really good. What a fun race, really happy that I got a great run for [late NASCAR Hall of Famer] Junior Johnson. He’s one of my heroes. We’re really tight with our family…Man, so close! It’s been fun. We just gotta keep on pluggin’. Richmond’s next week and we’ve got another short-track car for’em. We showed up when it mattered. I mean, a lot of people count you out, but I don’t count myself out or this team. I feel like we’ve brought good race cars all year, really progressed throughout races and made good changes. Sometimes, it just don’t fall your way, but we got that win at Texas and it was some momentum that we needed. We’re just gonna keep continuing doing our thing.”
Logano’s run, on the other hand, was more eventful throughout the race. Starting in 13th place, Logano was able to work his way and settle into the top 10 through the first 25 laps and when the competition caution flew. Following a four-tire pit stop with air adjustments to his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Ford Mustang, Logano proceeded to running inside the top 10 throughout the first stage while his teammates and title contenders, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney, battled early issues of their own. When the first stage concluded on Lap 115, Logano was scored in seventh place as he collected a handful of stage points.
The second stage was where Logano’s struggles along with his teammates occurred as all three Penske competitors struggled to keep pace with the leaders. When the second stage concluded on Lap 230, Logano was the highest-running Penske competitor on the track in 17th place while Keselowski and Blaney were in 18th and 20th.
At the start of the final stage, a stack up on a restart resulted with Logano sustaining rear end damage to his car after he was hit by Corey LaJoie. Not long after, the caution flew and Logano pitted along with his teammates to have the damage assessed. From there, Logano started to charge his way back to the front. Following a restart with 41 laps remaining, Logano found himself back inside the top five and as the lone Penske competitor to be running inside the top five.
With the laps winding down, it appeared that Logano was content for a fifth-place run. When leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott got tangled up in Turn 1 and both dropped out of race-winning contention, however, Logano was able to gain a couple more spots on the track as he was in third place behind Kevin Harvick and Austin Dillon. For the final 15 laps, however, Logano was unable to close the gap between himself and the two leaders as he settled in third place, two seconds behind, when he crossed the finish line under the checkered flag.
With his seventh top-five result of this season and his fourth at Darlington in the Cup Series, Logano is ranked in third place in the Playoff standings and is 27 points above the top-12 cutline.
“Man, hard fought,” Logano said. “We kind of were decent, it’s just so hard to pass with these big spoilers on the car at this racetrack. That makes it challenging. We had a right-front go down the last lap of the second stage, hit the wall and we did a good job fixing the car and then strategy worked well, so [crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] did great there, and then they had an amazing pit stop the last stop, had a good restart and all of a sudden I was like, ‘Shoot, we could win this thing.’ To see what the left-rear looks like after that I was pretty impressed to get whatever we got. It’s funny how the team always tells you, ‘How does the damage look?’ ‘It looks great. It looks great.’ You get out and you’re like, ‘Whoa!’ Overall, that’s what we needed to do. We need to come out of these playoffs running hard and having a solid top three finish to start the playoffs with a couple stage points is a good way to start.”
Dillon and Logano, along with their fellow Playoff contenders, will return for the second Cup Playoff race at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.