Splitter to Spoiler: Gamble gets Austin Dillon, No. 3 back in Victory Lane in Coca-Cola 600

Childress gets an emotional win, Truex wanted more in NASCARs longest race and oil costs contenders all night

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Austin Dillon is covered in Coca-Cola as he celebrates with his team in the winners circle after driving the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

CHARLOTTE — Call it luck. Call it strategy. Call it whatever you want it. Austin Dillon calls it a win. For that to come in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — less than an hour away from his hometown of Welcome, N.C. — and in the No. 3 car, Dillon had a difficult time keeping his emotions in check.”It hasn’t sunk in yet. I can’t believe it,” Dillon said in the middle of his first trip to Victory Lane in 133 Cup races. “I was just really focused on those last laps. My fiancé wrote in the car, ‘When you keep God in the first place, he will take you places you never imagined.’ And, I never imagined to be here at the 600 Victory Lane. “Praise the Lord and all these guys who work so hard; and my pit crew is the best on pit road. I love it for them. We’re in the Chase. It’s awesome.”Dillon’s opportunity might have never happened had it not been for a bit of chance. Jimmie Johnson was in cruise control up front with less than two laps remaining before sputtering out and falling to the 17th position, opening the door for Dillon to clinch his first victory.While Dillon may have been “handed” a victory with a fuel-mileage gamble by some fans’ accounts, Dillon had to finish the race. He also had to push the seven-time champion to the brink on his tail for the final laps. Any question about Dillon’s thoughts on the win were answered with his left fist raised.”If they think it was a fuel mileage race, they can kiss my ring,” Dillon said with a smile and a mic drop.Regardless of how it was accomplished, getting the No. 3 back in Victory Lane was a special moment for Richard Childress Racing. There’s history there with seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt guiding the No. 3 to its last victory in Talladega in 2000 before his tragic death at Daytona the following season.Despite questions from Earnhardt fans about whether or not Richard Childress — Dillon’s grandfather — should bring the legend’s number back to the track, he was justified in doing so on Sunday.”Can you believe this? The Coke 600, Austin Dillon, the [No.] 3,” Childress said. “When I got emotional, I looked up, when I looked up and seen the [No.] 3 on top of the board, I was standing there doing an interview, that’s when I got emotional. …”Having my grandson just made it that much more special. I know Dale is up there smiling down because he would want this win, he’d want to see it with Austin.”Truex left wanting more after 600 milesIt’s hard to fathom any driver wanting to go beyond 600-mile threshold — the longest in NASCAR — but that’s exactly what Martin Truex Jr. wanted in Charlotte.After leading 397 of 400 laps in a win last year, Truex led the way for 233 in 2017. He was forced to pit late to get fuel to finish out the race and couldn’t quite catch up to Dillon on the final laps, finishing 1.152 seconds behind Dillon after being passed by Kyle Busch on the final lap.”Couple more would’ve been nice,” Truex joked. “But if we had a couple more, Kyle would’ve beat us. He passed us there coming to the checkers, so I was just hanging on that last run. We were really, really loose. I think if we weren’t so loose we could’ve caught the 3 on the last lap.”Truex’s entire tenure with Furniture Row Racing has been littered with close calls. Whether it was a nailbiter in Daytona last year, mishap at Kansas in 2016 or fuel mileage in Charlotte, Truex has seen so many strong efforts fall short.Sunday was no different. Following the one and a half hour rain delay, Truex never missed a beat with rocket restarts and clean air keeping him up front all night. But when the clock struck midnight, the No. 78 turned into a pumpkin again.A huge part of that was due to lapped traffic, which battled Truex for positioning and forced him to work harder to catch back up to the leaders of Johnson then Dillon.”You don’t ever know where they’re gonna be,” Truex said. “There’s five or six cars that go in a different lane every time you catch them. They go in the corner at the bottom and they come out the corner at the top. You wouldn’t believe how much time you lose just trying to pass those guys.”Truex can take solace in the fact that he moved up to No. 1 in the points standings, but notching another five playoff points along with his stage win and a second straight Coca-Cola 600 would have firmly separated Truex from the field.Oil, lapped cars cost multiple contenders opportunityOn a day where there was no shortage of huge wrecks in every notable race from Monaco to Indianapolis, the NASCAR race in Charlotte didn’t disappoint.After Jeffrey Earnhardt experienced issues that led to oil and a part dumping on the track, Chase Elliott appeared to run over it and his car caught fire. Brad Keselowski attempted to brake and steer clear of Elliott’s No. 24 car, but couldn’t do either due to the oil on the track.What happened next was a massive collision that left both cars mangled. Keselowski smashed into the back of Elliott and ultimately sent both cars to the garage and drivers to the infield care center.”Somebody broke and there was just oil everywhere and I couldn’t turn,” Keselowski said. “I ran into the back of Chase. … You couldn’t stop and turn. You couldn’t do anything. “It’s a real bummer for our team. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and I think we had a shot at winning tonight, but that’s how it goes.”A part failure later in the race for Ty Dillon saw him dump oil all over the track, spinning out Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne. Harvick was able to save his ride with a masterful slide any dirt track racer would be proud of. Kahne was not so lucky, sustaining enough rear-end damage to send him to the garage.”Yeah, it was really crazy,” Kahne said. “My crew chief said there is oil on the track, but I knew I broke something on the car, so actually broke a left-side truck arm. I got underneath the car when I got out and looked at. It was just hanging. I don’t know why that happened, but it broke, so then the rear-end was moving around and I couldn’t drive it.”Keselowski remained at third in the points, but Elliott dropped from fourth to seventh. Kahne, meanwhile, dropped down to 20th and well outside of the playoff discussion following Dillon’s win. Rain may have delayed the race for fans, but oil ruined it for a handful of drivers.