NASCAR Was The Big Winner At Daytona 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 19 2018

Austin Dillon celebrates his victory in Sunday’s Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Struggling to remain relevant in the national sports landscape, NASCAR hit a home run on Sunday after Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet surged into the lead on the final lap and then pulled away from Darrell “Bubba” Wallace and Denny Hamlin to win the Daytona 500.

For old guard fans, it was a throwback to 20 years ago at Daytona when the late Dale Earnhardt scored what many believe was the most popular victory in NASCAR history.

For NASCAR’s coveted, young fan base, a star might just have been born in the charismatic 23-year-old, Wallace, whose runner-up finish in Richard Petty’s famous No. 43 Chevrolet was the perfect fairytale story at the right moment in time.

For a sport starving for a breath of fresh air, Dillon and Wallace delivered on Sunday night.

Long after the sold-out crowd had exited the stadium, Wallace displayed a wide-range of emotions that ranged from jubilation to tears.

Following a moment of fist pumps just as he sat to address the assembled media, Wallace yelled “It’s Daytona!” just as his mother, Desiree Wallace, entered the room.

She went onto the stage area and embraced her son, with tears flowing freely.

A stunned gathering of media sat in disbelief while watching the moment unfold.

“You did it, baby, you did it,” a teary-eyed Desiree Wallace cried out as she embraced her son for about 30 seconds.

The quick-witted Wallace, who had received well-wishes from prominent African-

Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon is congratulated by father Mike Dillon as car-owner/grandfather Richard Childress looks on. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Andrew Coppley)

American sports figures Hank Aaron and Lewis Hamilton prior to the race, cracked to his mom “you act like we won the race, mom!”

“You did, baby, you did,” she responded.

Richard Childress, meanwhile, reflected on his topsy-turvy relationship with Daytona that primarily centered on the late Earnhardt and, ultimately, his grandson Austin’s victory on Sunday.

“Daytona has been a special place for me,” said Childress, now a three-time Daytona 500 winning car owner. “In 1965, I came down here and slept in a tent and fell in love with the place. I ran my first laps here in 1969.

“It’s just special, with us winning here in 1998 and then the sad memory of losing Dale in 2001.

“We started to get out of the sport then (in 2001). But I know I did what Dale wanted us to do and he’s smiling down on us tonight.”

Following the retirement of several popular veteran drivers over the past three seasons, Dillon and Wallace appeared to take the first step on Sunday to become the new faces of NASCAR.

“When I came into the sport, I was awestruck to be on the track with guys like Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” said the 27-year-old Dillon, who, like Earnhardt in 1998, received a lucky penny from a fan prior to the race. “But the people that led our sport for so long have moved out.

“I think it’s great to have Bubba and myself up there fighting it out. There are going to be some great storylines. And I think NASCAR fans are going to love it.”

When asked how Sunday’s win in the sport’s biggest race compares to the 1998 victory, Childress said both are important for obvious reasons.

“I don’t see how you can pick one over the other,” he said. “I know how much winning the Daytona 500 was important for Dale’s resume and how much he wanted to win this race.

“But tonight’s win is special because it’s my grandson.

“It’s incredible to come back 20 years later after Dale’s great victory here and for my grandson to win.

“It’s just a storybook tale.”

And a heaven-sent moment for NASCAR.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Monday, February 19 2018
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