FORT WORTH, Texas — Kyle Busch’s car chopped deep swaths of grass out of the infield. Jimmie Johnson received two pit road penalties. Ryan Blaney had the fastest car, yet was nowhere to be found when it came time to settle the NASCAR Cup O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
An unpredictable race got the unpredictable winner it deserved.
Austin Dillon was mostly irrelevant throughout the day, but outraced teammate Tyler Reddick in three restarts over the final 15 laps to win in front of an estimated 20,000 fans in blazing heat on Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
The oldest grandson of his team owner Richard Childress, Dillon won for the third time in 247 career races, and the first time in the last 88. With Busch and Joey Logano on the second row, looking for opportunities to pass, Dillon was tested on each of the final three restarts.
“I had to have confidence,” said Dillon, who needed intravenous fluids in the infield care center after the race. “We had a good car, it just didn’t run good in traffic.
“You saw when we got out front, we had a hot rod.”
Austin Dillon celebrates after winning the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Chris Graythen, Getty Images)
Richard Childress Racing has struggled to compete with its multi-car counterparts in the Cup Series the last few years, but the 1-2 finish with Dillon and Reddick was invaluable on Sunday. Dillon locked himself into the playoffs, and Reddick moved within 14 points of the cut line.
RCR hadn’t had a 1-2 finish since Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton pulled it off at Talladega in 2011. The win was the 109th for RCR, 67 of which are credited to Dale Earnhardt and 23 more to Kevin Harvick.
On a pit stop with 23 laps to go, Dillon’s team took only left-side tires and Reddick got fuel only while drivers behind them took four tires.
“The call won it,” Dillon said. “Every time we put on four, we couldn’t keep up. We were better on two. I was tight, and lefts just freed me up.”
A green-white-checkered finish, and @AustinDillon3 WINS at @TXMotorSpeedway! pic.twitter.com/TvrYF2x51b
Of course, that strategy goes against typical racer thinking.
“I could not believe they stayed up there,” said Logano, who finished third. “I was pretty certain when I was fourth that we’d have something for them. I thought they were sitting ducks up there.”
Dillon didn’t have his grandfather at the track. Childress watched from the team’s command center in North Carolina, but he called into the post-race press conference to share his excitement.
“For him to beat the best of the best today,” Childress said, “that shows where RCR is with both of our drivers.”
KYLE BUSCH: Salvages top-5 to wrap up eventful Texas weekend
Kyle Busch finished fourth a day after he finished ahead of the field in two races – his Xfinity Series victory was taken away after his car failed a postrace inspection, and he then won the Trucks Series race. Series points leader Kevin Harvick, the winner of the last three fall races at Texas, was fifth.
“Can’t ask for much more than what we got there,” said Reddick, the Xfinity Series champion each of the past two seasons. “I just wanted it to be between us. I didn’t want bring other cars into it, make sure that we could fight it out. We just got the restarts that kept giving us opportunities.”
After leading six times for 150 laps, both highs for the race, Blaney finished seventh.
Blaney, who had given up the lead when he pitted on Lap 287, fell a lap down after the field got shuffled when rookie Quin Houff crashed hard out of Turn 4.
Cole Custer, the rookie driver for Stewart-Haas Racing coming off a win last weekend at Kentucky, was one of 11 drivers involved in a chain-reaction crash on Lap 218 that brought out a red flag. His crumbled No. 41 Ford came to rest near the exit of pit road.
That pileup on the frontstretch came the lap after restart with most of the cars still jammed together as they came off the fourth turn, when Blaney appeared to be among several cars to get loose, though he was out in front of the melee when cars started crashing.
A series of replays from this wreck at @TXMotorSpeedway.
Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and many more involved! TV: NBCSN pic.twitter.com/N2nZ7Zr0a6
Track workers took water to drivers in their parked cars on their track during the red flag that lasted more than 11 minutes.
It was 30 degrees warmer than it was on March 29, when the race had been scheduled before the pandemic. Texas will host a playoff race Oct. 25.
Before four-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Terry Bradshaw gave an emphatic command to start engines, he shouted hello to the “beautiful people” in the stands.
It was the first major sporting event in Texas in more than four months to allow spectators, and one of the largest gatherings of any kind in the state during the pandemic. The spectators were spread out along the frontstretch, which was fully shaded late in the race, and there were also people in about 40 suites.
Speedway Motorsports, which owns Bristol and Texas, is a private company like NASCAR, and does not release official attendance numbers. But there appeared to be about 20,000 fans at Bristol for the All-Star race last Wednesday night, and a similar crowd had been expected at Texas, where current regulations would have allowed 50% capacity at the track that seats about 135,000.
“These are the folks that wanted to be here. We never were trying to set an attendance record and I told y’all you’re going to turn on the TV and go, ‘nobody’s there,’” TMS president Eddie Gossage said during the race, without confirming any figures. “The truth is, there’s a pretty good number here. But still, a massive place."
Contributing: The Associated Press
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