If a driver and team are going to pick the right time to get hot in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, Austin Dillon and the No. 3 Chevrolet of Richard Childress Racing are doing it just right.
Solidifying his place in the Playoffs by virtue of a hard-fought win at Texas Motor Speedway, Dillon has shown he does indeed belong through the first two races. And, with the Playoff 12 determined after this Saturday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the No. 3 team is making a solid bid to keep on competing for a championship.
Two races ago at Darlington Raceway, Dillon came on strong in the Final Stage trying to mount a challenge of race winner Kevin Harvick. As he shortened the gap on his former RCR teammate, Dillon settled for second at the checkered flag.
Some were saying, “Good run, fluke, won’t last, that’s the best he’ll do in the Playoffs” after the race. So, what does Dillon and the Justin Alexander-led team do at Richmond Raceway for the second playoff event?
Well, let’s see.
They led five times for 55 laps, the most they’ve led in one race this year. Overcame a pit road speeding penalty in Stage 1 and miscue getting on to pit road in the Final Stage. Finished second in both Stage 1 and Stage 2, another first. Earned a second-consecutive top-five race finish for the first time. And, they are now sixth in Playoff points, 36 markers above the Cutline for the next 12 drivers to advance.
Dillon wasn’t on the Playoff radar to do anything of that sort, and he’s fine with it being that way.
“I hope they keep doubting us,” Dillon told NBCSN on pit road. “We have a lot of work, still. We keep putting ourselves in position to win and if you keep doing that long enough, it pays off.
“We’re kind of new to this (Playoffs) and we have to keep running up here and those wins are going to start clicking off. We need to make it happen when we have cars like this.”
During the Final Stage, Dillon almost lost any chance for a good finish when he slowed to go to pit road, but then realized he was going too fast and didn’t want a second speeding penalty. He quickly veered right, back on the track and continued around one more circuit before pitting under green.
“It might have hurt us a little bit at the end of the race,” Dillon said. “But, the biggest thing was when we came to pit road for our second green-flag stop in Stage 3, we were trying to bring everybody down.
“The No. 1 car was in my mirror on (new) tires. I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red box’ so I had to make another lap around the track.
“That cost us three seconds.”
It wasn’t too costly as Dillon roared back through the field methodically making his way back into the top-10, then top-five to finish fourth. He led the most times and was second in laps led to race-winner Brad Kezelowski’s 192 circuits led.
Leading laps, strong finishes and overcoming adversities during any race is a hard task. To do it during the Playoffs against the other 15 Championship chasing drivers, is a whole different level of competition.
“We had a speeding penalty in Stage 1, and to come from the back to the front in that Stage just shows how fast our Chevy was,” Dillon said Saturday night. “This No. 3 team is on fire right now and showing up when it matters.
“Thanks to Justin Alexander and everyone at RCR and ECR for giving us a solid Chevy. We’re headed to Bristol Motor Speedway in a good spot and it’s exciting to know we still have eight more chances to try and get another win.
“Our confidence level for Bristol is pretty high.”