It's been a few months since the Germain Racing team raced at Daytona International Speedway, but Ty Dillon hasn't forgotten about his strong Daytona 500 run being shortened after his GEICO Chevy was collected in a crash. When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate arrived back at the World Center of Racing this weekend, he was focused on redemption and a trip to victory lane.
At least initially, Dillon's toughest foe would be Mother Nature, who caused the postponement of Friday night's NASCAR Xfinity Series race to Saturday at noon before again being delayed. Dillon races in both the Xfinity Series and Cup Series and would now face the reality of a daily double. Running two races in a single day is always a formidable challenge, but the extreme heat and humidity of Daytona would test the endurance of Dillon and his Germain Racing pit crew, who also serves as his Xfinity Series pit crew.
Once the Xfinity Series race was complete, Dillon and his crew had but a couple of hours to collect themselves and recover from the unforgiving heat and humidity and return to the starting grid for the Cup Series' Coke Zero 400.
Dillon started Saturday night's race from the 34th position, but had no intention of remaining there for long. In the opening five laps, he hustled the No. 13 GEICO Military Chevrolet SS up to the 16th position, gathering 18 spots as he continued his chase. Once Dillon penetrated the front of the field, he was reluctant to leave, as he would continue to challenge for the lead as he ran solidly in the top-10 throughout the evening. NASCAR legend, Rusty Wallace, would sing Dillon's praises throughout the night on the radio broadcast, while television announcers also made mention of his exploits.
Despite cars running three-wide, six rows deep at times, Dillon and his GEICO Military Chevy continued their charge and the Welcome, NC, native dodged several incidents, narrowly avoiding peril on multiple occasions. With cat-like reflexes, he dashed through the field and was running in the second position with 40-laps remaining of a scheduled 160. He remained at the front and with nine laps to go he battled door-to-door and prevailed as the leader of the Coke Zero 400. He set sail and the No. 13 GEICO Military Chevy pulled away from the field before a caution flag waved with just seven laps to go in the race.
Any racer will tell you that being the leader with a few laps to go in a race with an impending restart often does not end well, as cars from behind will draft by with relative ease. While Dillon is recognized as a rookie, he executed with a veteran's calm as the race returned to green. Dillon and his GEICO Military Chevy held their own when they restarted as the leader as the three-lap shootout to the checkered flag got underway. Unfortunately, a crash would occur behind him on the restart lap and the yellow flag would slow the field for a record 14th time, meaning the race would now head into overtime. Dillon surrendered only a single position and was scored in second place heading into the final restart of the evening.
Dillon and the GEICO Military machine took off from the second position when the green flag waved for the final time. He would duck out of line and go low in an attempt to regain the lead, but with no help from other cars he soon began a free-fall through the field after losing the draft. He rebounded quickly and began recovering lost ground and, in just half of a lap, was able to hustle to a 16th place finish.
Dillon kept the No. 13 GEICO Military Chevrolet SS at the front of the field for nearly the entire race. He led seven laps and turned the heads of fans, media members and other teams in the garage with his attention-grabbing effort at the legendary high-banked, 2.5-mile restrictor-plate facility.
"I wanted to do it so bad for Bob Germain (team owner) and GEICO, who gave me this opportunity. That is two close ones and if you keep getting these close ones, you will get a win eventually," Dillon said after climbing from the GEICO Military Chevy. "We work hard every week and when it's our chance, we make the most of it, so I am proud of the way we are growing as a team and we are leading a lot of laps any way we can. I just feel disappointed. I had a good run on the final restart from my teammate and technical partner Paul Menard but, I don't know, as a rookie, when it's the white flag, you go for it. Nobody went with me and that is kind of the pains of being a rookie I guess, but I would have been mad at myself if I didn't make a move right there. The move cost me a good finish, but didn't really determine what our day was and hopefully we earned some respect from a lot of these veterans out here tonight and we will go on to Kentucky."
Germain Racing will now travel to the Bluegrass State for race number 18 of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Ty Dillon and the No. 13 GEICO Chevrolet SS will hit the track at Kentucky Speedway for the weekend's opening practice session on Friday, July 7th, at 10:00 AM (ET). Qualifying will follow at 6:15 PM (ET).
The Quaker State 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race is on Saturday, July 8th, and it will be televised live on NBC Sports beginning at 7:30 PM (ET). The Performance Racing Network (PRN) will carry the live radio broadcast, along with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.