By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With 42 laps remaining in Sunday’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, dark clouds closed in on the 2.5-mile superspeedway and as it always happens when weather threatens, the intensity ratcheted up and the inevitable “Big One” struck.
Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer had hooked up in the draft to find their way to the front of the field when Bowyer ducked low from second place to try and take the lead for himself. Dillon threw an untimely block as Bowyer’s Ford surged forward and as Bowyer stood his ground and didn’t lift, Dillon was turned sideways in front of the field, collecting 17 cars in the melee once it was all said and done.
“What do you do? That was terrible,” Bowyer said. “That wasn’t even close. When we got together and I pulled off of him to give him some room and then he just never quit coming down and wrecked us all. It’s just part of the racing. You want to blame him. If it would have been anybody else there, they would have probably done the same thing.
“We had a fast hot-rod, had a good run and was going for the lead and it’s just the nature of this kind of racing. It sucks. You want to be pissed off, frustrated and blame somebody, but at the end of the day it’s just part of racing.”
Along with Dillon and Bowyer, the Turn 1 incident included Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Erik Jones, Chris Buescher, Kyle Larson, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ryan Preece, Alex Bowman, Matt DiBenedetto, and Parker Kligerman.
Dillon had shown strength out front, winning Stage 2, and leading the Chevrolet contingent six different times for 46 laps. Without a win yet this season and sitting 21st in points heading into Daytona, this race likely would have represented his best chance at a victory and punching his ticket into the playoffs, but it wasn’t to be.
“I really thought it was urgent because of the lightning and rain coming, so I jumped up there.” said Dillon. “Had a good push from the 14 and my plan as soon as I cleared the 11 was to cut left and get down again to get with my Chevy teammates. It’s really unfortunate. We had a fast American Ethanol Chevy.
“It was cool winning a stage. Trying to get a race win, that’s all it is. I got turned a little bit left when he went left and it just kind of shot me down there. I just kept coming left. I mean, I don’t know. That’s part of this kind of racing. I was being aggressive and trying to keep the lead. That’s what you get. That’s part of it.
“Just thought I’d try and keep it up front. We had a fast car, really proud of the guys. Hate it ended that way. Wish we could have worked with the Chevys to finish off what we started.”