Austin Dillon came from 10th a year ago in the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to finish third. This time around, he improved one spot to second. What makes him so good here?
“I’ll give a shout-out to all my Bowman Gray boys back in Winston-Salem North Carolina,” Dillon said. “I grew up going there and watching that place, and this is about as close as it gets to Bowman Gray Stadium.”
That style of racing came two different ways for Dillon between the two years. Last year was way cleaner than this time around. This year, Dillon ran up front, but the end result came via contact with Bubba Wallace on a late race restart with seven to go.
What sparked that was that Martin Truex passed Ryan Preece on Lap 125 when Preece’s No. 41 Ford briefly lost power. Dillon also got by Preece for second with 20-to-go as the two set sails for the gold medal in front of a raucous crowd in Tinseltown.
The thing is, Truex was maintaining his advantage over Dillon until Michael McDowell ran out of gas with 10 laps left to bring out the 15th caution of the night. Dillon trailed Truex by 1.828 seconds prior to the yellow.
On the ensuring restart, Dillon chose the line up inside of Row 2 which allowed Wallace to take the front row. Wallace and Dillon would have an intense battle for that second spot before Dillon punted Wallace in Turn 1 on Lap 143.
The final restart would see Dillon make the same decision to line up in Row 2. His Richard Childress Racing teammate of Kyle Busch would take the front row alongside his former teammate. Busch got a great launch but had nothing for Truex. He eventually let Dillon by to try and get the win, however Truex was just too good.
Truex topped Dillon by .786-seconds to give Toyota their 7th Clash win.
“I hate it for Bubba; he had a good car and a good run,” Dillon said. “But you can’t tell who’s either pushing him or getting pushed. I just know he sent me through the corner and I saved it three times through there, released the brake and all kinds of stuff, and then when I got down, I was going to give the same. Probably was a little too hard.
“We were a little better on the long run and I got by him pretty clean the first time, and I chose to restart there behind Martin thinking that if we could get off 2 and then I could just race, but it just doesn’t go that way.
“You’re just getting beat and beat, and then when we went through 1 and 2, I mean, I got crossed up. I thought I was going to wreck into the inside wall and I got hit, and my spotter told me, release the brake, release the brake, got shoved all the way to the third lane outside.
“So after that he said, three wide, I think, one time, two wide, and then, I mean, yeah, I was probably pretty frustrated at that point.
“But yep, the Bioethanol Chevy was pretty good. My teammate let me try and go get Truex at the end. That was nice, and yeah, it’s been fun. Hopefully we can do this more often.”
Busch finished third in his No. 8 Chevrolet to give RCR both cars in the top three, while a pair of Hendrick Motorsports teammates of Alex Bowman and Kyle Larson to finish fourth and fifth respectively. It was Larson’s second straight fifth placed finish in this race too.
“Yeah, and everybody has gotten a little better since last year, so the parity was close,” Austin Dillon said. “There were a lot of fast guys. The little bit, if you are faster than someone, you kind of have to bump them, because they can kind of check up on the exit of the corner and stop you.
“If you get that run and you’re there, you kind of have to use it or be used.
“Everybody has learned a lot from last year. There was quite a bit of bad cars last year.”