|SOURCE: Rubbin's Racin' Forums|
The finish, which came in Dillon’s 76th series start, is also his first last-place run in 234 combined starts across NASCAR’s top three divisions.
2015 marks Dillon’s second season as a full-time driver in the Sprint Cup Series and the driver of the number grandfather Richard Childress and his driver Dale Earnhardt both made famous. The 2011 Truck Series and 2013 XFINITY Series Champion won the pole for last season’s Daytona 500 and Sprint Showdown en route to a 20th-place finish in points, but more impressively did not score a single DNF in 2014. While the streak ended with an electrical issue at Martinsville this past March, Dillon maintained his solid consistency. Even his terrifying last-lap crash into the catchfence at Daytona in July resulted in a 7th-place run - his third-best behind a 4th last month at Michigan.
Dillon began the Chicago weekend on an equally-high note - a blistering 12th and final lap in Friday’s opening practice that put him 5th overall. The lap proved timely as the afternoon’s qualifying session was rained-out, meaning his time of 187.761 mph would start him 5th - fastest of the non-Chase drivers. On Saturday, the car still showed tremendous speed - he was 4th in the second practice and 9th in Happy Hour.
Meanwhile, the final two starting spots in Sunday’s field belonged to Premium Motorsports, which thanks to the rain had both its cars in the race for the first time since last month at Pocono. 43rd belonged to Timmy Hill in Premium’s #62 ChampionMachinery.com Chevrolet, one spot behind Reed Sorenson in the unsponsored #98 Ford. The two out-pointed three part-time drivers who missed the show, including Ryan Blaney, who for the third time in eleven races saw his fast #21 Manufacturing Makes America Strong / SKF Ford rained-out of the field. Blaney was 9th in Friday’s opening session.
At the end of Lap 1, both Hill and Sorenson were passed by Brett Moffitt and the #34 CSX “Play It Safe” Ford, who was sent to the rear due to a transmission change. Then by Lap 2, all three found themselves ahead of Denny Hamlin. The Chase contender started 29th after struggles in practice and spun with A.J. Allmendinger in Turn 3, dropping Hamlin a lap down. Hamlin remained last until around Lap 29, when Sam Hornish, Jr.’s #9 Walmart Ford made an unscheduled green-flag stop after contact with the outside wall.
As Hamlin began his march toward a surprising victory, the ensuing 117-lap green-flag run saw all 43 cars on track, causing the last spot change hands between several drivers. Josh Wise finally got an opportunity to race the “Tide Ride” throwback for Go Green Racing, but his #32 BeerFrost.com / Skuttle Tight Ford took last from Hornish on Lap 47. Car 47 was next on Lap 52 as Allmendinger’s Food 4 Less / Scott Products / Clorox Chevrolet pitted during a round of green-flag stops. Sorenson’s #98 passed Allmendinger on Lap 61 followed by the #83 Cosmo Motors Toyota of rookie Matt DiBenedetto on Lap 105, Allmendinger again on Lap 107, Hill on Lap 110, Sorenson on Lap 114, and Hill again by Lap 120.
Hill was still trailing the field on Lap 131 when Dillon found trouble. The youngster had been running inside the Top 10 for virtually the entire race when he slapped the outside wall in Turn 2 and slowed down the backstretch, the right side of his Chevrolet flattened and the right-front tire locked in place. Dillon’s was the first car to make the left turn into the garage area, and he would remain there for more than sixty laps. Dillon took last from Hill on Lap 135, just as the field went green.
At that very moment, Kevin Harvick, the polesitter by virtue of his fastest lap in Friday’s practice, was trying to re-take the lead from Kyle Busch when his #4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet made contact with Jimmie Johnson on the apron of Turn 1. Harvick’s left-rear tire trailed smoke as he started to lose positions, and just four laps later, he lost control in Turn 3 and backed into the outside wall. The damage to Harvick’s car sent him to the garage area as well. On Lap 143, Harvick fell to 42nd - eight laps ahead of Dillon. If Dillon returned to the track and completed more laps than Harvick, the defending series champion would begin the Chase with his first last-place run in 529 career Cup starts.
However, both the Richard Childress Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing crews were able to rebuild their cars before the finish. Harvick returned on Lap 194, 57 laps down, while Dillon came out the next time by, 66 circuits back. Just two debris cautions slowed the action in the race’s closing stages, leaving Harvick and Dillon in the final two spots. Harvick kept pace while Dillon lost three more laps by the end. While Dillon finished last, Harvick ended up with the 5th 42nd-place showing of his career - curiously, Harvick started no worse than 7th in all five of those races. Hill, Sorenson, and DiBenedetto - the latter bringing out one of the debris cautions late in the event - rounded out the Bottom Five.
*This is the first last-place finish for the #3 in a Cup Series race since September 28, 1992, when the late Dale Earnhardt’s #3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet lost an engine after 111 laps of the Goody’s 500 at Martinsville. Three of Earnhardt’s five career last-place runs in Cup came during the 1992 season, all of them due to engine failures, leaving him 12th in points. He did not finish last in any of the 262 races that followed over the next nine seasons.
*This is the first time since Fontana in March - 22 races ago - that all 43 drivers finished a Cup Series race under power. The last spot that afternoon went to Sam Hornish, Jr.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
43) #3-Austin Dillon / 198 laps / running
42) #4-Kevin Harvick / 209 laps / running / led 10 laps
41) #62-Timmy Hill / 255 laps / running
40) #98-Reed Sorenson / 258 laps / running
39) #83-Matt DiBenedetto / 258 laps / running
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Alex Bowman, Landon Cassill (3)
2nd) Michael Annett, J.J. Yeley (2)
3rd) Justin Allgaier, A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Trevor Bayne, Kyle Busch, Austin Dillon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Joey Gase, David Gilliland, Timmy Hill, Sam Hornish, Jr., Kasey Kahne, Bobby Labonte, Brian Scott, Tony Stewart, Cole Whitt, Josh Wise (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Hillman Smith Motorsports, HScott Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing (3)
2nd) BK Racing, Go FAS Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, Phil Parsons Racing / Premium Motorsports, Richard Petty Motorsports (2)
3rd) Joe Gibbs Racing, JTG-Daugherty Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Richard Childress Racing / Circle Sport, Roush-Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)
2015 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (16)
2nd) Ford (8)
3rd) Toyota (3)