Josh Farmer, IndyCar reporter & NASCAR Contributor
Austin Dillon may have been the second luckiest driver in Las Vegas on Sunday as he claimed his first top five of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.
Dillon put himself in a good position for the race on Friday as he qualified in sixth place and once the green flag flew, he proved that his Friday performance was no fluke. Dillon ran inside the top five for the entire opening stint before NASCAR threw a competition caution on lap 30. He continued run inside the top 10 after the yellow flag but his day would soon go from shining bright to looking bleak first a late call for four tires on a pit stop under the yellow flag on lap 98 relegated him to 20th place. It would go from bad to worse after his next pitstop on lap 150 as he was found to have sped on pit road and was assessed a speeding penalty.
The drive through penalty mired the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet off the lead lap as the race approached the halfway mark. Furthermore, he would remain steady in the 20’s but set some laps as fast as the leaders until the yellow flag flew again on lap 177. He go the waive around which put him back on the lead lap with just 82 laps to go. An accident on lap 197 for between AJ Allmendinger and Kyle Larson brought out the yellow flag once again and put Dillon in a position to either pit for tires and fuel or elect to stay out.
He elected to gamble and stay out with Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, which put him in 3rd place on the restart. He then dodged Matt Kenseth’s spin and crash with Chase Elliot on lap 224 and stayed in the hunt.
The yellow flag inured Dillon would have enough fuel to make it to the finish and set the stage for the final run to the checkers. Dillon restarted cleanly in fourth place with 33 to go put was soon passed by Jimmie Johnson and was then challenged by Ryan Blaney for the final spot in the top five. Dillon was not to be denied as he kept Blaney at bay for the final run to the checkered flag as Brad Keselowski would go on to take the win.
“It takes a lot of effort and these guys built such a fast race car,’ Dillon said. “I did all I could there to get ourselves back in position to get back on the lead lap, caution fell perfect for us and we took a gutsy call there to take the waive around to get back on the lead lap to see if the caution would come out. It did right in our window and things fell our way there for sure.””Just proud of the Dow team, we’ve got something to work with and you’ll see us in victory lane before the season’s over.”
Image: Alan Marler for Chevy Racing