Austin Dillon Shows He Can Compete In NASCAR Playoffs With Runner-Up Finish At Darlingtonby Hunter Thomas September 7, 2020 0 comments
DARLINGTON, S.C. – With a runner-up finish in the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday, Austin Dillon and the Richard Childress Racing No. 3 Chevrolet team showed that they can compete in the NASCAR Playoffs.
Heading into the 2020 NASCAR Playoffs, it’s no secret that Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin are probably atop the list of drivers who are favorites to win the championship; however, Dillon nearly prevented Harvick on Sunday night from capturing his eighth win of the season.
“We’ve been working hard,” Dillon said. “We worked hard in the sim this week to make the car take off better. It’s an older setup that we’ve run here a long time, and we just adjusted it, tweaked it a little bit to take off a little better, and that’s what we’ve wanted, and it did, and that helped us keep our track position and ultimately gave us a shot at a Southern 500. So close to one of the crown jewels again. I like winning those things.”
Call it luck because Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott crashed, or call it pit strategy; no matter the scenario, Dillon was there at the end of the race, and he certainly didn’t cruise to the front. In fact, prior to the start of the Cook Out Southern 500, Dillon’s team mixed up the left and right-side tires and placed them on the wrong sides of the car. As a result, Dillon had to abandon his 12th-place starting position and start from the rear of the field. Dillon then had a punctured tire in the first stage and when the team finally made it to the final stage, pit strategy came into play, and they were able to compete for the win. Overall teamwork kept Dillon in contention.
“We didn’t take off very good the first 25 laps,” Dillon said “Justin made a great adjustment, kind of really went at it, freed up the car, and that next run we took off and I felt like we were pretty good. I had a punctured right rear and was able to catch it in the middle of that first stage. We short-pitted because I had to because the right rear was going flat, and man, the good Lord blessed us tonight. Caught a lot of breaks, truthfully. When that right rear was going down, we caught it. Went back out, gained a lot of track position because we were on good tires, and the caution fell for us in a good spot.
”Took back off and just kind of got messed up on that restart, lost a little bit, and then was able to just steadily work our way back to the front all night long and then get inside that top 10. Had some great pit stops from our 3 team. The American Ethanol Chevy was really good when we kind of got to a point why I didn’t really know what to do to it other than to just slowly tighten it up, and I wish I would have made just a little bit more of an adjustment. You could tell my last corner I had burned the right rear off of it trying to get there, and that’s kind of where we were. We were just a little free. We had corded a right rear earlier in the race.”
Despite being overlooked as a contender for the NASCAR Playoffs, Dillon doesn’t let that bother him. Up next on the schedule are two short tracks, Richmond Raceway and Bristol Motor Speedway. In the fall of 2018 and the spring of 2019, Dillon finished sixth at Richmond, and earlier this season, he finished sixth at Bristol. Following Darlington, the 30-year-old sits eighth in the championship standings, just 10 points ahead of Clint Bowyer, who is the first driver currently outside of the Round of 12. If Dillon can finish well in the next two races, he will have an opportunity to advance in the NASCAR Playoffs, but the road won’t be easy despite the runner-up finish on Sunday. Several of the drivers just below him in the standings historically run well at Richmond and Bristol as well. Dillon will need to finish within the top-five or top-10 at each of those tracks for him to advance to the Round of 12.
“I get overlooked some, probably more than most, I don’t know why,” Dillon said. “I always feel like I perform pretty well in pressure situations, and RCR as a whole can step up. I have total belief in the 3 team and probably more belief this year than I’ve ever had because we’ve brought consistent speed to the track, and we might not have gotten every finish that we should have gotten this year but we’ve gotten a lot of good finishes. It’s been one of my best years statistically and just the ability behind the cars are better.
“Our Chevy has stepped up. Eric Warren, RCR, everybody that puts in — all of our mechanics do a really good job, and heck, I think the smaller group has been good for us, less distractions at the track. As a whole, our group really works together well.”
The Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway will broadcast live on NBCSN and MRN at 7:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 12.
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