Austin Dillon passed an out-of-gas Jimmie Johnson two laps from the end in the Coca-Cola 600 for his first NASCAR Cup victory, returning the iconic No. 3 car to Victory Lane early Monday.
Dillon, the grandson of Hall of Fame car owner Richard Childress, was among several drivers who chose not to pit down the stretch. Johnson ran out of fuel on Lap 399, and Dillon was able to cruise to victory over Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr., who led the most laps at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the third consecutive season.
“It hasn’t sunk in. I can’t believe it,” Dillon said. “We’re in the chase, baby. It’s awesome.”
Dillon did his signature belly slide celebration in the damp grass at Charlotte, outlasting a rain delay of nearly 1 hour, 40 minutes — and several established drivers to take his first checkered flag.
Dillon closed racing’s biggest day with the surprise victory, following Sebastian Vettel’s win in Formula One’s Monaco Grand Prix and Takura Sato’s victory in the Indy 500.
Truex took the lead for the final time with 67 laps left, sweeping past Busch to move out front. Truex pitted a final time with 33 laps left, confident he’d be able to hold on after everyone cycled through a last stop.
Truex has led 756 of the past 1,200 laps in the 600, yet finished shy of the checker flag two of three times. “So that’s a little tough to swallow,” he said.
Matt Kenseth was fourth, and Denny Hamlin fifth.
Kurt Busch finished sixth, followed by rookie Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 10th in his final Coca-Cola 600 as a fulltime driver.
Harvick, who started on the pole, overcame wheel problems to finish in the top 10 for a seventh straight time in the Coca-Cola 600.
Johnson limped home to finish in 17th.
“I did all that I could from that point and just came up a little bit short,” he said.
Harvick may have had to work harder than the rest of the field for his seventh straight top 10 here. Harvick dealt with a loose-fitting wheel much of the first 200 laps to fall a lap down, then slipped on some slick fluid laid down by Ty Dillon to fall back further. But Harvick, who won here in 2011 and 2013, held strong to end in eighth.
Larson, the series points leader coming in, was expected to vie for his first Coca-Cola 600. Instead, he started 39th when he couldn’t take a qualifying lap Thursday because of trouble clearing inspection. Larson got as high as third during the race before scraping the wall with 153 laps left and needing three trips to the pits to correct the problems, falling to 23rd. Larson’s chances ended for good when he tagged the wall again 45 laps later, went to the garage and did not return. He was 33rd, his worst finish of the season.
Larson said he got loose in Turn 3 to end his race.
“I made a mistake,” he said.