DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500 and that’s an impressive accomplishment but much of the focus after Sunday’s race was on Darrell Wallace and the No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports organization.
Wallace finished second in his first start as the full-time driver for RPM. He fought hard to finish second; he crashed on the final lap, in overtime, but still finished second.
His mom didn’t get to see him until Wallace had come in the media center and there the two hugged and cried and then a sister arrived and they hugged and cried and it was a pretty rare and powerful show of emotion.
Wallace is black and that shouldn’t mean anything but in a series that’s had only one black driver win a single race in its’ 70-year history, it means a lot.
RPM has been a shell of what was once Petty Enterprises long ago – 10 championships between father and son Lee and Richard Petty. There have been few wins – recent years have been more about keeping the team afloat than winning races.
An off-season move from Ford to Chevrolet and a new alliance with Richard Childress Racing (home of the previously mentioned Dillon, by the way) was expected to be problematic, slowing any potential progress.
And the Daytona 500, being a restrictor-plate race, doesn’t give a clear indication of how well a team will likely perform in the coming weeks and months.
But RPM’s group performed surprisingly well over the course of this year’s Speedweeks program and it would be wrong to chalk it up to nothing more than good luck.
Of course, time will tell. Still, it was refreshing to see as it all played out in the season-opening race. And of course afterward.
o Let’s don’t cut Dillon and his No. 3 team short. Winning a plate race isn’t as easy as some folks would like you to believe; winning the Daytona 500 takes a monumental effort.
Dillon led only the final lap but that’s the one that pays and how many folks weren’t even around to contend for the win at that point? Too many to count.
o Most impressive was the run of Ryan Blaney, the Team Penske driver who led 118 laps and appeared en route to his second career victory before damage to the front of his car in a late-race incident took him out of contention.
Blaney ended up seventh, but it’s evident he’s become quite competitive at restrictor-plate racing. With teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano also accomplished plate racers, Team Penske could be the biggest threat on the plate tracks this season.