BRISTOL — Austin Dillon stomped the gas pedal and stomped the field in Wednesday morning’s 604 Crate Late Model feature at the Karl Kustoms Bristol Dirt Nationals.
The NASCAR Cup Series driver, in a No. 3 Late Model prepared by Loudon racer Cory Hedgecock, won by 3.592 seconds over runner-up Shan Smith. Racing extended past Tuesday night into the wee hours of St. Patrick’s Day morning.
Dillon, the 2018 Daytona 500 champion, didn’t need a four-leaf clover or any luck on his side with a dominant car. The Welcome, North Carolina, racer had to make a last-lap pass to win his heat race nine hours earlier. Once the feature rolled around, he led all 20 laps, easily pulling away from Florida racers Smith and Jackson Hise on a late restart.
With dirt-track specialist Shane McDowell providing help on the setup of the car, Dillon was in a league of his own.
“I had a blast out there. I love going back (to my roots),” Dillon said after the flag-to-flag victory. ”Cory and his crew did a good job building these cars for me. Shane made a couple of shock adjustments and it was dialed-in. I just had to hold on to the (steering) wheel and make pretty lines.”
It was Dillon’s second win at Bristol, but the first on the temporary dirt surface. He won the 2016 Food City 300 for the NASCAR Xfinity Series on the concrete track. He feels the dirt surface should work well when the Cup Series returns the weekend of March 26-28 for the Food City Dirt Race.
“Seeing the track conditions change is why I’m here,” Dillon said. ”I thought this was perfect. If we could get these conditions for next Sunday’s race, I would be happy. It was a fun race track. I thought this was what the speedway wanted to do to prep the track for Sunday and we saw great racing tonight as well.”
Fellow Cup Series driver Corey LaJoie was a teammate to Dillon in another Hedgecock car. After starting 20th in the 27-car field, LaJoie charged to finish sixth, two spots ahead of Southwest Virginia racer Tyler Arrington.
Kenny Ford from Powell won the second 604 Crate Late Model feature, holding off NASCAR Truck Series driver Austin Hill for the victory. Bryson Dennis, a regular on the concrete at Kingsport Speedway, finished ninth.
Johnson City driver Jensen Ford fell out early when a dirt clod busted a hole in his radiator. Another Johnson City driver, Tim Maupin, fared better in the next 604 feature, racing to an 11th-place finish. Whitesburg, Kentucky, racer Oscar McCown captured the victory.
A multi-car crash in the second Modified feature resulted in three drivers being transported to Bristol Regional Medical Center.
Iowa driver Lyle Sathoff was extracted from his No. 8L machine. According to a post from his team’s Facebook page, the driver said he was feeling pretty good, but was staying overnight for observation.
Michigan driver Brandon Taipalus was also awake and alert according to crew members. He was complaining of a sore back as the seat in his machine buckled from the hard impact.
Marty Clark, also involved in the crash, had a couple of broken ribs and a collapsed lung according to Sathoff.