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Dillon Answers ‘Haters’ With Victory In Texas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 22 2020

Austin Dillon snapped a long winless streak when he won at Texas Motor Speedway last Sunday, and a statement win it was. (Photos courtesy of NASCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

FORT WORTH, Texas – Austin Dillon did his “pop-pop” proud, and zinged his critics, after leading a 1-2 sweep for Richard Childress Racing in Sunday’s 24th annual O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The 30-year-old grandson of team-owner/NASCAR Hall of Famer Childress, Dillon withstood three restarts in the latter stages of the 334-lap NASCAR Cup Series race while battling rookie teammate Tyler Reddick and Cup champions Joey Logano of Team Penske and Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing.   

“Not bad for a silver-spoon kid, right? I’ll take that,” said Dillon, a sarcastic reference to a label put on him by Kevin Harvick during his tenure at RCR. “Tyler Reddick, he raced me clean. 1-2 for RCR _ this has been coming. We’ve had good cars all year (thanks to crew chief) Justin Alexander and my whole crew.”

Dillon’s third career Cup victory snapped an 88-race winless streak and returned the No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt (six at RCR) to Victory Lane.

“Way to go Austin, I’m so proud of you,” Childress said over Dillon’s in-car radio during his cool-down lap around TMS’ high-banked/1.5-mile oval. Dillon’s margin of victory over Reddick, a two-time Xfinity Series champion, was 0.149-seconds.

Dillon’s Cup resume includes victories in two of NASCAR’s premier events _ his first win in the Coca-Cola 600, NASCAR’s longest race, at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2017 and the 2018 Daytona 500, NASCAR’s season-opening Super Bowl at Daytona International Speedway. Dillon also has nine career wins in the Xfinity Series and seven career wins in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. He is the 2011 Truck Series champion and the 2013 Xfinity Series champ.

Still, the first words out of his mouth post-race were directed at his so-called “haters.”

The Cup field took the green flag in front of actual live fans at TMS last weekend. How many fans? It didn’t matter, TMS officials said.

“It’s OK, man. Sports are sports,” Dillon said. “You got to have someone you don’t like. Maybe it’s just my background, where I come from. But I got a lot of people that love me, too. It doesn’t bother me at all really. They can either get on the bandwagon and love me…it’s OK. It’s part of sports. Haters are going to hate sometimes, but we’ll be all right.”

Austin and younger brother Ty, the sons of RCR General Manager/former journeyman driver Mike Dillon, are the backbone of Childress’ family-oriented team based in Welcome, N.C. Childress, whose old-school/hardscrabble background was a perfect business match with Earnhardt, has no problem defending family.

“You know, I think you get in the No. 3 car behind Dale Earnhardt, people think your granddaddy gave you this,” said Childress, a 2017 NASCAR HOF inductee. “He earned it no different than Ty Dillon. They had to earn their right to drive their cars. I think that may be a little bit of it.

“We didn’t give Austin the cars he needed (last year). Chevy has really worked hard and put together a great car for us.

“I’ll never forget ’98 when Dale Earnhardt came and said, ‘I want to retire, it’s me.’ I said, ‘No, it isn’t, Dale. We haven’t given you the cars.’^” Cap E famously went on to win the 1998 Daytona 500 to kick-off NASCAR’s 50th anniversary season.

Dillon took the lead from Reddick for the first time on a restart on Lap 312 following the eighth caution on Lap 308. Alexander decided to take only left side tires and fuel during that stop.

“What a call by Justin,” Dillon said. “Lefts had freed my car up all day. I was tight. When we put the lefts on, it was the call we needed to go on and win the race. I mean, Justin’s done a great job all year of putting us in good positions when it comes to track position. All three of my Cup wins are with Justin. Love the guy. I can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me and my family. He’s been putting great products out there.

“He deals with me. I’m not the easiest individual in the world to deal with. I can get cranky from time to time. It’s just because I’m passionate and I’m a grinder. I feel like I can go out there and compete week and week out with these guys. This was a huge win for our company, RCR, ECR, everybody that supports us. It was really cool. It was nice to also have the ball in my court, to dictate the end of the race.”

Caution No. 9 flew on Lap 320 and No. 10 was waved on Lap 330. The RCR teammates held serve on the final restart on Lap 332 as former series champions Logano and Busch squabbled for third with the former rounding out the podium.

“Yeah, I had to change it up a couple of times,” said Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Camaro ZL1 1LE. “Definitely had to earn it. I changed it up. I waited the second one and I went on the last one. So, it worked out for me good.”

Dillon led twice for a total of 22 laps, including the last 10. Reddick also led twice, for five laps. Dillon and Reddick, 24, gave RCR its first 1-2 Cup finish since Clint Bowyer and Jeff Burton placed 1-2 at Talladega Superspeedway in 2011 for the organization’s 109th win.

“What a great day for Richard Childress Racing,” said Reddick, driver of the No. 8 Cat Oil & Gas Camaro overseen by crew chief Randall Burnett. “This organization is working so hard and to have a 1-2 finish like we did is incredible. We really couldn’t ask for much more than what we got today. One spot better would have been great, but the recovery this team made today was huge. We’re racing for the big picture of making the Playoffs, so we have to race smart. Days like this will help us get there.”

Reddick is 17th in points, 12 behind William Byron and the No. 24 Axalta Chevy fielded by Hendrick Motorsports for the 16th and final Playoff qualifying position with eight regular season events remaining.

Sunday’s victory secured Dillon a spot in NASCAR’s 10-race postseason Playoffs that includes the AAA Texas 500 weekend here Oct. 24-25.

Next up on a Cup schedule revised because of the COVID-19 pandemic is Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400 Presented by O’Reilly Auto Parts at the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway. NBC Sports Network will televise the 267-lapper at 7:30 p.m. (EDT) with radio coverage on MRN and SiriusXM Channel 90.

There has been no practice or qualifying in NASCAR’s three national touring series since the sport’s return at Darlington Raceway on May 17. On Wednesday, NASCAR announced the remainder of the 2020 season will continue to operate under that procedure.

“The current format has worked well in addressing several challenges during our return to racing,” Scott Miller, NASCAR Senior VP, Competition, said in a statement. “Most importantly, we have seen competitive racing week-to-week. NASCAR will adjust the starting lineup draw procedure for the Playoff races and will announce the new process at a later date.” Miller said this decision was made after discussions “with our race teams and the broader industry,” certainly including NBC Sports Group.

Dillon was treated for dehydration post-race via “a couple” IVs in the TMS infield care center. He and his peers battled extreme temperatures during the 501-miler that included a red flag stoppage of 11 minutes, 29 seconds after a grinding, 12-car crash along the front stretch on Lap 220. Ambient temperatures reached 96 degrees with a sauna-like heat index of 102-105 inside the cockpit.

That didn’t deter Logano and Busch from pressing the RCR teammates down the stretch. Logano, the 2018 Cup champion, finished third in his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford Mustang. Busch, the two-time/reigning Cup champ, finished fourth in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry.

Harvick, the series point leader and winner of four races this season, placed fifth in the No. 4 Mobil 1 Ford fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick exited Texas with a 91-point lead over Ryan Blaney of Team Penske. Blaney won the first two stages and led a race-high 150 laps in his No. 12 Menards/Maytag Ford en route to a seventh-place finish.

Sunday’s race was the first major sporting event conducted in Texas with fans in attendance since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, when this race originally was booked. Under guidelines issued by Gov. Greg Abbott, TMS was allowed to accommodate up to 50 percent of its listed capacity of 135,000, including suites.

TMS President/General Manager Eddie Gossage continued to be coy when asked to provide a crowd estimate Sunday. But during an in-race interview in the Press Box, Gossage said he would not be offended if the crowd count was listed “somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000.”

“These are the folks that want to be here,” said Gossage, wearing a face mask. “We never were trying to set an attendance record. I told y’all (media) that you’re going to turn on the TV and go, ‘Nobody’s there!’ And the truth is there’s a pretty good number here. But still, it’s a massive place. I was downstairs when they opened the gates and everybody seemed happy and everybody had masks on and was distancing.”

Dillon parked the nose of his Camaro against the front stretch wall near the starter’s stand and celebrated with an extended burnout directed at the fans. “Felt really good. I think it would have been awkward without them,” Dillon said. “That’s why I parked it right in front of them and let them smell that smoke, the burnt rubber. Everything I did was for those fans. I think they loved it.

“I also gave the (checkered) flag away to a little kid. He had a Kyle Busch shirt on. I told him he needed to get a new shirt. Hopefully, I transferred him over.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, July 22 2020
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