|DIBENNEDETTO NASCAR'S ROCKY BALBOA
|FROM JOURNEYMAN DRIVER TO HALL OF FAMER
|WINNERS NOT ADDING UP
|THE 600 IS STILL A CROWN JEWEL
|NEXT TWO WEEKS COULD BE TOO GOOD
|WALTRIP A TWO-WAY HALL OF FAMER
PUT IT IN INK - DILLON CAPTURES THE DAYTONA 500
In the days leading up to this weekend's Monster Energy Cup Series race in Atlanta, there's a couple of ways Austin Dillon is going to remember his dramatic win the 60th running of the Daytona 500. First, there'll be the constant replays on TV of his thrilling last lap pass. Secondly, he'll feel a little jolt of pain every time he sits down.
You see as part of the celebration, just hours after winning NASCAR's biggest, Dillon went to a local Florida tattoo parlor to get some permanent ink to commemorate the occasion - on his buttocks. "Yeah, I got a tattoo last night and it says Daytona 500 champ," admitted the 25-year-old driver and added with a laugh, "You'll never get to see it either. Hate it for all of you, it's a pretty cool tattoo. Whitney's (his wife) probably the only one who's going to see it for a while."
That's okay since it'll be a long time before any of the fans of the late Dale Earnhardt and the iconic "3" he made famous stop singing his praises for capturing the checkered flag in the "Super Bowl of Stock Car Racing" on the 20th anniversary of when the Intimidator took down his only win in the 500 for Dillon's grandfather and current team owner Richard Childress.
"It's incredible," said Childress. "You know, to come back 20 years later after Dale's great victory here, and to be able to celebrate 20 years later with my grandson in the No. 3 car is just a storybook tale. I couldn't be prouder of him, his race team."
Dillon got to experience the bond his "Pop Pop" had with Earnhardt and is one of the reasons why it was so special to win the 500 again for RCR. "I will say growing up as the grandson, you always look up to people, and the relationship that he and Dale Earnhardt had was a friendship that you don't find every day. I mean, it's one of those friendships, a best friend you trust and you love. I could tell how much as I grew older their friendship meant and still wears on him because he misses him."
"I'll never be able to recreate any of that but to be able to go to Victory Lane for him because he's given me everything I could ask for in my career. Everybody knows that. I'm here because of him. But to be able to deliver a trophy back to him feels pretty darn good."
It must have also felt pretty darn good to do it in a way that would have made Earnhardt proud. That's because when push came to shove, Dillon didn't hesitate to wreck Aric Almirola, who threw out a big block as they sped into turn three for the final time. "I guess I could have lifted and
You could just picture Earnhardt doing the same thing and then later make the same unapologetic remarks with his famous "cat that ate the canary bird" grin.
For the superstitious, there's another similarity. In 1998, Earnhardt was given a "lucky penny" by a little girl. He glued it to his dash and ended years of futility in NASCAR's biggest race. Fast forward two decades to a chance encounter Dillon, a Chevrolet driver, had with a young man wearing a Ford hat during an autograph session a few days before the 500. "I said, man, you've got to take that off. I signed my hat, gave it to him, and said, now, look, I've got to be your favorite driver, right?" Dillon asked.
"He's like, all right, cool, I've got you now, and he was probably seven, eight years old, about the same age I would have been 20 years ago. The next day, he had my hat on and I was walking through the garage, and I see him at the fence, and he yelled at me. He's like, hey, I got this for you. It was a lucky penny. Put it in the car, and it's sitting on the dash right now, and it's pretty special."
So, Childress now has two Daytona 500 wins. "I don't see how you could top either one of them or pick either one of them over the other," confided the 72-year-old team owner. "The most special part about this is my grandson, and 20 years later, we win the Daytona 500. Dale winning that, I know how special the Daytona 500 was for his résumé. I was so happy for him to win that Daytona 500 because I knew how much it meant to him. For Austin to come back, my own grandson, 20 years later and win the Daytona 500 is a special one. Both of them are special, but nothing is thicker than blood."
With 27 of the 40 starters having been involved in at least one crash, Dillon took the checkered flag without so much as a scratch on his Dow Camaro ZL1. Racing hard and smart, he kept himself out of trouble so he could get himself into trouble when it came time to push all the chips into the middle of the table. It was a finish for the ages and Childress just wishes his buddy was here to enjoy it with him. "He would come over and grab Austin around the neck, put that old Dale Earnhardt hug on him, and tell him how proud he was of him. I knew Dale as good as anyone, and I know right now he's up there smiling down."
No doubt that's the case and Dillon, deservedly, will get a lot of pats on the back this week. Let's hope, however, no one spanks him on the rump. That bad boy is still tender. Then, again, that's a pain in the butt he can live with.