Dillon races his way into NASCAR playoffs

Alex Andrejev The Charlotte Observer (TNS)
Driver Austin Dillon (No. 3) leads after crossing the finish line during the NASCAR Cup Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 race win on July 19, 2020 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

Austin Dillon beat the heat and the rest of the field at Texas Motor Speedway to win his first NASCAR race of the season. It was just his third career Cup win.

"Not bad for a silver spoon kid, right?" Dillon said on NBCSN after exiting his No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro in front of screaming fans.

He finished less than half a second ahead of his Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick, who finished second at the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500. Joey Logano finished in third place.

"Can't ask for much more than what we got there," Reddick said on NBCSN after the race. "Me and my teammate on the front row there the last couple of restarts."

With under 30 laps left, a caution was called for Quin Houff, which shook up the running order and favored drivers who had pitted earlier in the race. Drivers on the lead lap pitted, but Reddick did not take any tires to win the race off pit road and restart in first. Dillon took two tires and quickly raced past Reddick when the race went green again.

A few laps later, the caution flag came out for contact between Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman, and the restart came with 11 laps left. Dillon chose the inside lane on the restart and Reddick raced him side-by-side, but Dillon forged ahead. The final caution of the race, which was called again for Hamlin, forced a two-lap shootout between Dillon and Reddick.

Dillon held onto the lead off a big push from Logano, notching a first and second place finish for Richard Childress Racing.

He celebrated in Texas while his wife, Whitney, celebrated with their newborn, Ace, at home. The couple's first child was born in June.

"We're screaming and yelling right now," Whitney said from the family's living room, Ace in arms, on NBCSN. "We're so happy."

For the first two stages, and late into the final stage, it looked like Ryan Blaney would win it. After Blaney swept Stages 1 and 2, a major wreck occurred on the frontstretch, forcing a red flag. Kyle Busch, tapped by Aric Almirola, hooked his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Martin Truex Jr. The No. 19 car of Truex spun toward the outside wall then backward, catching multiple cars behind him. Cole Custer, Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were caught up in the wreck and forced to exit the race.

Brad Keselowski led the field on the restart, but was passed by Hamlin, who was then passed by Blaney on Lap 238 of the 334-lap race. Blaney held the lead through multiple cautions in the third stage and remained just ahead of Hamlin.

"I'm trying, man." Hamlin told his team on the radio while chasing Blaney. "I really am."

Blaney was fast, but a decision to stay out on Lap 246 as other drivers like Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano pitted ended up hurting him when the caution for Houff came out. Blaney finished in seventh.

It was Dillon and Reddick who won out based on strategy and luck, such as NASCAR goes.

Like Blaney, Jimmie Johnson had speed, but he couldn't catch a break, which has been the story of the No. 48's season. Johnson was battered by multiple penalties and multiple wrecks at Texas.

By lap 30, he was sent to the rear of the field on the next restart after a team safety violation on pit road. He raced his way back to seventh to close Stage 1, but early into Stage 2, Johnson hit the wall rounding Turn 4 and was then issued another two-lap penalty for having too many crew members over the wall under NASCAR's damaged vehicle policy.

Johnson's Chevrolet Camaro entered the final stage 11 laps down, but he continued to move up in positions. He was then caught up in the big wreck caused by the contact between Busch and Truex, but remained in the race through the finish. Johnson ended the race 12 laps down in 26th place.

It wasn't the finish the No. 48 wanted or needed to improve his playoff position. He was 15th in points before the race, which is where he'll stay. With Dillon's win and Reddick's gain in points, however, Johnson's Hendrick teammate William Byron is in trouble.

Byron crashed out of the race in the final stage, jeopardizing his playoffs standing. He's now just below the 16-driver cutline with eight races remaining before the postseason. If RCR is celebrating Texas, Team Hendrick is cursing it.

In addition to the big crashes, there was a hot track. The NBC Sports broadcast reported that the inside of Ty Dillon's car reached 140 degrees at one point during the race. When the red flag came out in the final stage, NASCAR officials quickly delivered water to the drivers' cars.

"It was definitely just putting ice bags on you," Cole Custer said on NBC Sports Network after exiting his car. "Hopefully your AC was working."

Custer called the experience of crashing out "humbling."

"Winning last week and being part of a wreck this week," Custer said.

This week, it was a different rookie in the picture (Reddick). And another first-time 2020 race winner shaking up the playoff picture (Dillon).

"Hats off to the (No.) 3, all those guys," Reddick said on NBCSN. "They're working hard. It gets one RCR Chevrolet into the playoffs. And now we're below the cutline. We've got to keep fighting."

"If we can keep running like this, we won't have to worry about points hopefully," Reddick said.