Who… gets the shoutout of the race?
It’s always special to see a driver get their very first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, but Austin Dillon‘s win in the Coca-Cola 600 was even more special than most.
In his fourth season, Dillon has improved over the years, but had never broken through and gotten that first win until Sunday night. Driving for his grandfather, NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Childress, and as the first driver to compete in the No. 3 Chevrolet since Dale Earnhardt’s tragic death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the pressure to perform has always been higher for Dillon than most.
The last 70 laps of the race came down to fuel mileage, as most teams decided to pit with roughly 40 laps to go. At the end of the day, it came down to Jimmie Johnson and Dillon, as Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. battled behind them, hoping the two drivers would run of fuel.
With two laps to go, Johnson ran out of fuel and Dillon inherited the lead, which he hung on to for the finish.
It’s the first win for the No. 3 since Earnhardt’s dynamic, 18th-to-first win at Talladega in 2000 and Dillon became the third driver to win in the RCR No. 3 behind Earnhardt and Ricky Rudd.
What… is my takeaway from this race?
Charlotte Motor Speedway has gone from being the most quintessential NASCAR track to the most generic over the last five years. This race was saved by the dramatic fuel mileage finish, otherwise, it was just entirely skippable. Truex was dominant again, although at least this year Kyle Busch seemed to have some answers to his dominance. After two laps, every restart became mostly single file racing. The fourth stage didn’t really change a lot.
At this point, the only things Charlotte has going for it is the history of the track and that at least it’s more exciting than Indianapolis when it comes to stock cars. The 600 also benefits from built-in marketing advantages by being on the biggest racing day of the year and from it being on Memorial Day Sunday. Other than that? There’s just not a lot to the track anymore.
At least the road course next year is something. I’d prefer the series just ditch the second Charlotte date altogether and just go to a purpose built road course like Laguna Seca, but Bruton Smith would probably spontaneously combust if he lost a date, so this will be the best we get. The 600 would be better in the day time, but then it goes against the Indianapolis 500 which television wouldn’t want to do.
But hey, at least there was some actual passing going on in the race. So it was automatically better than Monaco this year.
Where… did the pole-sitter and defending race winner end up?
Kevin Harvick led 42 laps early in Stage 1 of the race, but overall had a bit of an under-the-radar kind of night. He ran in the top 15 for most of the race, battling a loose racecar, and almost sustained some damage after running over some fluid from Ty Dillon’s car in the middle of the third stage. Harvick ended up finishing sixth after battling back from a suspected loose wheel.
Truex led 233 laps, leading the most laps in the 600 for the third year in a row, but ended up finishing third after being passed for second by Kyle Busch on the last lap. Truex also won the second stage of the race, and took the points lead from Kyle Larson.
When… did it all get sideways?
The 600 this year had nothing like Scott Dixon’s horrible wreck at Indianapolis earlier in the day, but there was still a pretty bad one in the opening laps at Charlotte.
For the second straight Cup Series points race, there was fire. Chase Elliott ran over a piece of debris from Jeffrey Earnhardt’s car and was set ablaze. Brad Keselowski couldn’t stop from slamming into Elliott due to the oil being dropped by the No. 24 Chevrolet, and Elliott found air for the second time in May.
Keselowski and Elliott were both checked out and cleared, but did not continue due to the amount of damage sustained by both cars in the accident.
Why… did Austin Dillon win?
A rare mistake by Chad Knaus and exploiting the weakest part of Johnson’s game. Knaus waited too long to tell Johnson that they would be going for it, as Johnson admitted in his post-race interview on Fox. If Knaus had informed his driver at the start of the final run that they would be going for it, then there’s a good chance the No. 48 would have gotten win number 83 on Sunday.
How… do the winners all compare?
So, Austin Dillon ended up as the surprise winner on Sunday in NASCAR. But how does he compare to Sunday’s other two winners?
Sebastian Vettel is basically Michael Schumacher 2.0. Not even 30 yet, the German has already won four world driver championships, 45 grand prix wins and is in the third year of a four year contract with Ferrari that is worth $240 million. That’s only behind a few baseball players when it comes to monetary value for a single contract. For comparison’s sake, Tom Brady has made $196.2 million after 17 seasons in the NFL, according to Forbes. He enjoys rebuilding vintage motorcycles in his free time.
Takuma Sato basically washed out from Formula 1 racing 10 years ago after 92 races and one podium finish. Sunday marked his first ever win in an IndyCar race on an oval and his second overall win in the series; the Japanese driver also won a race at Long Beach in 2013 for A.J. Foyt.
Austin Dillon is the most American American who has ever lived. The first car he drove to a Cup win had a big American flag on the side, the first thing he did after winning a Cup race was dab to the crowd, and the second thing he did was slide across some infield grass. Eight hours after Sato celebrated with a glass of milk at Indy, Dillon celebrated by drinking a Coca-Cola.
I kind of want to see all three of these guys in the same room now.
About the author
Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.