On Sunday, Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500. Scour the dubious comment threads and subreddits and you’ll find plenty of people who argue that, despite his crossing the finish line before anyone else, Austin Dillon did not win the Daytona 500.
To comprehend this logic, you must first understand that auto racing has something of an unspoken code of conduct. This code is a set of rules not enforced by racing’s governing bodies, rather they are enforced by drivers on the track and reflected in driver’s reputations around the garage. These are rules by which drivers race, like moving aside if you’re about to be lapped or to not bump draft while driving through a turn.
Chief among those rules: don’t wreck an opponent to gain position on the track. In racing parlance, don’t dump another driver. Contrary to the ill-informed opinion of Jerry Bruckheimer, rubbing is not, in fact, racing.
This Sunday, Austin Dillon broke that cardinal rule, and he did so in order to win one of racing’s marquee events.
With just half a lap remaining in the Great American Race, Dillion trailed career also-ran Aric Almirola, and while Dillon’s machine had more strength and speed, Almirola’s had position. Dillon likely didn’t have the time to move into position for a clean final turn pass. What he did have was enough power and speed to drive through Almirola, sending him spinning into Daytona’s wall and robbing what was likely the only chance he’ll ever have to win the Super Bowl of Motor Racing.
It was a dirty move by a mediocre driver. A driver whose only other career win came last season at Charlotte when the rest of the field basically ran out of gas. That it happened in team owner Richard Childress’s No. 3 car (made legendary, of course, by Dale Earnhardt, Sr.) has incited a chorus of Dillon supporters—or more likely Dale Sr. supporters, as Dillon doesn’t have many—to rush to his defense.
“That’s just racing,” they say.
“Don’t wanna get dumped? Drive faster,” they insist.
“Where was he supposed to go?” they wonder.
The most interesting part of their support for Dillon’s low-rent move is that these were many of the same fans who just last season were ready to crucify Denny Hamlin for putting almost the exact same move on Chase Elliott last season as Elliott seemed poised for his first career win.
It certainly wasn’t just racing when it happened to Elliott, so why now should it be considered part of the game?
That Elliott’s fans include hordes of holdovers from his father, racing legend Bill Elliott, and Dillon’s fans are there to support the 3 more so than the man behind the wheel, is not a fluke. This is NASCAR homering at its finest.
Dump a fan favorite and the fans are out for blood. Dump a relative nobody and it’s just racing.
On a more positive note, Bubba Wallace has officially arrived.
As if battling the forty-plus other cars on the track, the expectation of driving The King Richard Petty’s 43 machine, and being a rookie under the bright lights of Daytona weren’t enough, Wallace has had to come face to face with the fact that he is racing as the sole African-American driver in a sport that has always been more or less 100 percent white.
His tweet to the haters said it all:
There is only 1 driver from an African American background at the top level of our sport..I am the 1. You're not gonna stop hearing about "the black driver" for years. Embrace it, accept it and enjoy the journey..
He’s handled the mounting pressure with grace and ease, and as last Sunday’s second-place finish indicated, he can drive the wheels off of a race car.
As my personal favorite driver is nearing the twilight of his career, I am loosely looking for a new driver to follow every Sunday for the next decade or so. Thanks to his actions on the track and his poise and candor off of it, I think I just found one in Bubba Wallace.