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Austin Dillon wins in NASCAR's return to dirt in Eldora


“I think it was a success. It was such a great show. This is real racing right here, and that’s all I’ve got to say.”  

With those words from race-winner Austin Dillon, NASCAR’s inaugural trip to the famed Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio, was deemed a success.

Not that those in attendance or watching on television needed affirmation.

NASCAR’s first sanctioned dirt race of its top three series in 43 years went off without a hitch Wednesday night in front of a capacity crowd somewhere in the neighborhood of 18,000.

After a night filled with heat races, last-chance qualifiers and a 150-lap feature, it was Richard Childress Racing’s Dillon that won the Mudsummer Classic, beating Kyle Larson and Ryan Newman in a spirited battle that was extended to 153 laps due to a green-white-checker finish.

“This is bad to the bone,” Dillon said. “This is a great race. … This is one of the biggest wins of my career.”

It was one of the most anticipated nights in Camping World Truck Series history, orchestrated by track owner and Sprint Cup regular Tony Stewart, NASCAR VP Steve O’Donnell and track general manager Roger Slack. And the evening started with a bang, as veteran racer Ken Schrader won the pole, in the process becoming NASCAR’s oldest pole-winner at 58 years of age.

Youth took over from there, with the 20-year-old Larson leading 51 laps and at times putting on a clinic in how to hustle the bulky trucks around the slick half-mile oval. But Dillon made the decisive pass for the lead while in heavy traffic on lap 89 and held off Larson and Newman for the final 31 circuits. He led a race-high 64 laps.

“My dad told me a long time ago that if we won at Eldora, we’d just skip all the NASCAR stuff and go to NHRA because there’s nothing more out here to do because it’s just so tough to do,” said Dillon, who started 19th.

“We’re going to stick in NASCAR, but the coolest thing is you’re out of control out there. … I’d clip the fence and I’m leading the race. You’re on the edge every lap.”

Finicky NASCAR fans took to Twitter to voice support of the race throughout the evening, and competitors — including Stewart, a three-time Cup champion and regular dirt tracker — mirrored Dillon’s enthusiasm.

“This is more than just a truck race," Stewart said. “This is big for every dirt track across the country. This is exposure that a lot of these tracks never get. We’re fortunate to have this opportunity. This is something that can help short-track racing as a whole.”

Follow Matt Talaiferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro