CONCORD, N.C. – Austin Dillon used a fuel mileage gamble to steal his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The victory returned the legendary Richard Childress Racing No. 3 to victory lane in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series for the first time since the late Dale Earnhardt won at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway on Oct. 15, 2000.
“It hasn’t sunk in. I can’t believe it,” Dillon said in the moments after the victory. “My fiancé wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in first place, he’ll take you places you never imagined.’ I never imagined I’d be here in Coke 600 victory lane.”
The dash to the finish was set up when the caution flag waved with 72 laps remaining when Danica Patrick bounced her No. 10 Ford off the turn three wall. Race leader Kyle Busch brought the field down pit road and he retained the lead off pit road, but the timing of the caution set up the potential for a fuel mileage race to the finish.
During the restart Martin Truex Jr., who had dominated Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 for the third year in a row and won the second stage of the race, blasted out into the race lead around Busch. He would maintain that position for about the next 30 laps as Busch ran second.
With about 35 laps left pit stops began for several of the lead cars, with Truex coming down pit road two laps later with Busch right behind him. However while most of the leaders opted to pit, about eight lead lap cars chose not to. Leading that bunch was Jimmie Johnson, with Dillon running behind him in second.
Johnson and Dillon slowed their pace considerably as the laps wound down as both drivers tried to save fuel. Behind them Truex and Busch were coming in a hurry, making up roughly a second a lap.
With 13 laps left Truex had made his way to third as Johnson and Dillon continued to lead the field. Truex continued to make up ground every lap, but it was clear he was running out of time to get back to the front.
As Johnson and Dillon crossed the start/finish line with two laps left, Truex was roughly two seconds behind and Busch was also suddenly in the picture right behind Truex. Suddenly Johnson’s car slowed coming out of turn two, his No. 48 Chevrolet out of fuel.
That gave the lead to Dillon, who took the white flag with Busch suddenly all over Truex for second. Busch took second from Truex out of turn two on the white flag lap, but Dillon was too far ahead for Busch to catch him.
Dillon saved just enough fuel, getting to the finish line .835 of a second ahead of Busch to earn his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory.