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Austin Dillon’s aggressiveness paid off big time at the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
First, he drove through smoke clouds to avoid a major wreck that would have cost him the race. Then, with about three laps to go, he made a slick move to get around Austin Cindric to finish in first place at Daytona International Speedway.
Dillon was in first place when he avoided the crash and the rain came to suspend the event for a few hours. He then had to fight to stay in the top five and battle Cindric for the top spot.
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“There was a lot going on there. I knew if I got to the white (and) if I waited too long, I was afraid somebody was going to wreck behind us. I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. We were able to get it. I had a big run, too, and then I had my teammate (Tyler Reddick) back there. I knew we were in pretty good shape there at the end,” Dillon said after the race.
Dillon hadn’t won a race all season long and had several top 10s during the regular season. He finished in second place at Talladega earlier in the year. He hadn’t finished in the top 10 since the Poconos.
“It’s crazy. You just never give up and have faith. We had some tough finishes this year, like Charlotte. I beat myself up over that. I made a good move, just didn’t finish it off. Today, we finished it off, and I’m just so proud of these guys, and I’m glad to be going to Victory Lane,” he said.
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While Dillon got one of the two spots, it came down to Martin Truex Jr. and Ryan Blaney to secure the final playoff spot. However, Truex couldn’t keep up with the leaders to secure a spot. And even while Blaney fell six laps behind the leaders, he will be in the NASCAR playoffs.
The margin between Truex and Blaney was three points. The second spot opened up after Kurt Busch dropped out of the playoffs.
“We’re very fortunate, that’s for sure. … Thankfully we were able to get enough cars throughout the wrecks that we kept moving up and we got in. That’s a lot more stressful than I wanted coming in here,” Truex told Performance Racing Network.
The 16-driver field is set.
Chase Elliott, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Blaney, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Reddick, Christopher Bell, Kyle Busch, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, Cindric, Alex Bowman and Dillon.
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The next three races will determine who will be eliminated next. NASCAR heads to Darlington, Kansas and Bristol. After Bristol, the four drivers with the lowest point totals who haven’t won are eliminated. The winners of the races are then locked into the Round of 12.