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Austin Dillon wins at Daytona, bursts into NASCAR Playoffs

It took key evasive moves, patience and aggression, but Austin Dillon scored a clutch victory at Daytona International Speedway on Sunday that propelled the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

Dillon’s triumph launches him into the postseason for the first time since 2020, snapping a 78-race winless streak that dates back to Texas Motor Speedway in 2020.

As a result, Ryan Blaney scored the final position in the playoff grid, edging Martin Truex Jr. by just three points for the 16th spot. Both drivers were involved in accidents in Sunday’s event, and Blaney seemed to suffer the more significant damage at Lap 31 that hampered his No. 12 Ford. But with numerous cars eliminated from earlier carnage, Blaney rose through the running order to finish 15th despite sitting six laps down. Truex fell to eighth at the checkered flag.

At Lap 138, leaders broke loose as wet weather quickly approached Turn 1. As the lead pack of Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suárez, Daniel Hemric and Justin Haley broke apart, Dillon swerved left to the apron and avoided the chaos to emerge with the lead.

Others involved in the calamity were Kevin Harvick, Harrison Burton, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola, Tyler Reddick, Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch, Erik Jones and Todd Gilliland.

Rain began to pour over the 2.5-mile superspeedway as the field worked under caution for the crash. The field was brought to pit road and the race was red flagged for over three hours.

Completing the top five behind race winner Dillon was RCR teammate Reddick, Austin Cindric, Landon Cassill and Noah Gragson. Cody Ware, BJ McLeod, Truex, David Ragan and Busch rounded out the top 10.

The event was pushed to Sunday morning after rain washed through Daytona Beach on Saturday night. The chaos began early when Blaney and others collided on Lap 31 at the exit of Turn 2, putting a sharp, early focus on the points battle. Blaney was sent right-front-first into the outside SAFER barrier and was significantly slowed for the remainder of the race.

At Lap 102, Truex suffered damage in another multicar crash, receiving left-side contact from Ross Chastain after Michael McDowell spun near the head of the field. Truex was able to remain on the lead lap and scored 15 stage points to Blaney’s none.

Kyle Larson, a winner last week at Watkins Glen International, exited early after an engine failure at Lap 14.

This story will be updated.