The first man to drive the famed No. 3 car in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series since the late Dale Earnhardt — aka “The Intimidator” — Austin Dillon was “The Dominator” on Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Dillon, who will pilot the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevy in today’s Kobalt 400 at LVMS, drove his No. 33 Chevy to victory in the Xfinity Series Boyd Gaming 300, a race he led for 183 of 200 laps before a sun-splashed crowd of about 60,000.
Despite his dominance, Dillon had to hold off a hard-charging Ryan Blaney down the stretch, masterfully blocking his No. 22 Team Penske Ford several times over the final four laps before taking the checkered flag.
“There at the end, you’ve gotta do what you’ve gotta do to win. Our car was dominant all day. To give one away at the end would’ve been heartbreaking,” said Dillon, 24. “I’m glad it ended like that because those are memorable races. It was a dominant performance, but at the end it was a race.”
Despite running on fresh tires as he tried to pass Dillon, Blaney said he didn’t try to move Dillon because he felt bad about wrecking Erik Jones on lap 174.
“I didn’t want any more people saying bad things about me after I wrecked Erik,” Blaney said. “I wasn’t going to move Austin, that’s for sure. He did what he had to do. He stopped my run. I didn’t expect him to pull over.”
Blaney’s car got loose before he hit Jones, whose No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota crashed into the wall just past the safety barrier. Jones wasn’t injured.
“You hate to see him wreck. It happens, but I don’t like getting into things with people, and I hate to see a racecar torn up,” a visibly upset Blaney said. “I hope he knows I feel bad about it. I’ve got to move on eventually, and I’ll try to do it (today).”
Regan Smith placed third, and Denny Hamlin finished fourth filling in for injured Las Vegan Kyle Busch in the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
Chase Elliott, who won last season’s then-Nationwide Series title, finished fifth, and Las Vegan Brendan Gaughan settled for sixth after leading the race for three laps and running up front most of the day.
“We had a shot to win, and that’s all you can ask for in the Xfinity Series,” Gaughan said. “We were just a little too tight all night. I love racing at Las Vegas, and hopefully the fans were excited. We gave them a little something spectacular coming to the white flag.”
Gaughan almost lost control of his No. 62 RCR Chevy on the final lap, when it got sideways in the corner before he saved it, smoking his tires in the process.
“I lit it up so hard to save the racecar. The old dog still has some tricks left,” Gaughan said. “Chase Elliott came up to me after and said, ‘How the hell did you save that?’ ”
It was the third career Xfinity Series victory for Dillon, the 2013 Series champion whose first two wins came at Kentucky Speedway in 2012.
Dillon, who is Childress’ grandson, won the pole in Saturday morning’s qualifying session with a speed of 184.332 mph and time of 29.295 seconds.
“The boys at RCR built a dominant car,” he said. “It was a lot of fun to drive. It was probably the best mile-and-a-half car I’ve had.”
A big John Wayne fan, Dillon almost always wears a cowboy hat when he’s not in his racecar, but he’s equally comfortable in a baseball hat, which he wore to the postrace news conference.
In fact, Dillon played in the 2002 Little League World Series for a team from Clemmons, N.C. The former Forsyth Little League second baseman experienced the thrill of the grass again when he celebrated his victory on the LVMS infield.
“I was proud to go sliding in the grass again,” he said. “It’s been awhile.”
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at email@example.com or 702-383-0354. Follow him on Twitter: @tdewey33.