The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway came to a frightening conclusion in the early morning hours of Monday when a multi-car incident occurred as the checkered flag flew in the tri-oval.
As the field jockeyed for position behind race winner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was turned at the start-finish line after slight contact with Kevin Harvick’s No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, triggering the fourth multi-car wreck of the night.
When Hamlin spun back up the track, he made contact with Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, launching it into the air and spiraling over the rest of the field.
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Flying over the competition, Dillon’s car hit the catch fence with its roof, coming to an abrupt halt and flying back onto the track. The incident ripped Dillon’s motor from the car and sent it landing on the infield grass. As the car came to a rest on its roof, Brad Keselowski’s No. 2 Team Penske Ford slid hard into the wrecked car of Dillon.
Once all of the cars came to a rest, multiple crew members ran out to the track to check on Dillon’s condition as the heavily-damaged car came to rest. Luckily, Dillon was able to climb from the car and give the crowd a wave.
The incident marred the finish of the race and had many drivers concerned about Dillon and the fans in the stands.
Third-place finisher Jimmie Johnson was able to clear the wreck as it happened to his inside, and thought the worst when he saw the carnage behind him.
"I’m shocked that Austin Dillon is even alive after what he went through," said Johnson.
Hamlin, whose car was the first to turn around, believed Harvick could have backed off a bit, but understood it was what needed to happen at the end of the race.
"He had us jacked up," Hamlin said of Harvick. "He’s trying to help, but it just wrecked a bunch of stuff. None of us were going to win the race from second or third, and we all have wins, so at some point you have to hit the ‘concede’ button."
Watching the replay of the incident, Hamlin said Dillon took "one heck of a ride," but said the catch fence ultimately did its job. Hamlin also said tracks might want to look at eliminating lower-level seating, but it is a tough balancing act.