In his 26th NASCAR Nationwide Series start — in his first full season in the series — pole-sitter Austin Dillon administered an emphatic, definitive, no-doubt-about-it beating to 42 also-rans in Friday night’s Feed the Children 300 at Kentucky Speedway.
How decisive was Dillon’s first Nationwide victory? Consider this:
Dillon led 192 of 200 laps, most ever by a Nationwide race winner at the 1.5-mile track.
He beat runner-up Kurt Busch to the finish line by 9.828 seconds.
Dillon and seven other drivers finished on the lead lap, despite a mass wave-around for a restart on Lap 150 after the second caution of the race.
When that caution interrupted a series of green-flag pit stops, after Dillon had built a lead of more than seven seconds, he simply ran away from the field after the restart.
Just after the halfway point, on Lap 106, Dillon put Elliott Sadler, the series leader entering the race, a lap down. With his dominating win, Dillon wrested the points lead from Sadler and carries a two-point cushion to Daytona, site of a July 6 Nationwide race.
Dillon’s first taste of the Nationwide points lead may not last for long. His car failed post-race inspection after being ruled too low in the rear. Potential penalties — which could include a deduction of points — are expected to be announced early next week.
Kevin Harvick, Michael Annett and Justin Allgaier completed the top five. For Annett, it was his first top-five finish in 120 Nationwide starts.
“I was loose the whole race,” said Dillon, grandson of team owner Richard Childress. “I’d just get looser and looser, and I was really driving as straight as I could not to slip the tires. I just kind of back-steered the whole race.
“That last adjustment, he (crew chief Danny Stockman) got me tight enough to fire off (the corners) really good. We knew Kurt was good, but our car was just stronger.”
The car Dillon drove was a black No. 3 Chevrolet, reminiscent of the car Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove for Childress until his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“Dale would have been proud,” an emotional Childress said after the race.
Busch thought he would be able to gain ground on Dillon during the final green-flag run, but it didn’t work out that way.
“Austin Dillon, he was in his own zip code,” Busch said. “So congratulations to him, Richard Childress, those guys. It’s neat to see that kid develop. I thought we could battle with him. I expected to lose some ground to him early in the run. I expected he would be quicker than us for 20 laps.
“I thought that we would level out after 10 more, and I thought we could reel him in with 20 to go and put on a show for the fans here in Kentucky — and he was just too strong tonight. . . . He just had that car dialed in. There was nothing that we could do.”
In fact, Busch got as close as 4.1 seconds behind during the final 51-lap run, but he dropped a cylinder in the closing laps and fell back but held second place.