Sprint Cup young gun Dillon hungry for win
Brooklyn – Austin Dillon is among the young guns in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, but he has been around the scene while growing up, since his grandfather is six-time Cup champion car owner Richard Childress.
Dillon is now proudly competing in the No. 3 Chevrolet, made famous by the late Dale Earnhardt Jr., who made those Cup championships possible while competing for Childress before his death at Daytona in 2001.
Dillon is in the fight for one of the 16 spots for The Chase, the right to compete for the series championship during the final 10 races. There are three races, including Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway, before the field is set heading into the Chase opener Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Dillon, 26, currently sits 13th in points, still without a victory. He is coming off a fourth-place finish last weekend at Bristol and finished eighth at MIS back in June.
Drivers with at least a win automatically earn a Chase spot with a 30th or better finish in points. Twelve drivers have already reached Victory Lane, including 23-year-old Chris Buescher for Front Row Motorsports. Buescher is a development driver for Roush Fenway Racing.
“I was able to win a championship without winning a race in the Xfinity series (2013) so it’s definitely possible, but I would like to go to Victory Lane,” said Dillon, who failed to make the Chase last year, finishing 21st in points. “A trophy would mean a lot to me, to (sponsors) Dow and to Cheerios, so we’re going to focus hard on Victory Lane the next three weeks, then 10 after that and let it come to us.
“We have seen some gains as of late and hopefully we can just continue down that path. We do point you to death over at RCR for sure.”
Dillon’s RCR teammate Ryan Newman finished second in the run for the championship in 2014 without winning a race. Newman sits 16th in points, still winless this season.
Dillon has shown consistency this year in running up front, earning 10 top-10 finishes, including a season-best of third at Talladega.
In the June race at MIS, 26-year-old Joey Logano won with 20-year-old Chase Elliott finishing second, followed by 23-year-old Kyle Larson. It was the youngest podium finish in Sprint Cup history.
Logano, who drives for Roger Penske, is ninth in points with the win at MIS. Elliott, who is competing in his rookie season for Hendrick Motorsports, is 14th without a win, and Larson is 18th, still in search of the first win in his career.
With four-time Cup champion Jeff Gordon retiring last year and three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart retiring after this season, the young guns are going to have to step up and be the faces of the series in the years to come.
Seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty, a longtime owner, feels several other drivers will be retiring in the next few years with Greg Biffle (46) and Matt Kenseth (44) already at the age when Gordon retired.
“If you go back in NASCAR history every 10 or 12 years kind of the guard changes,” Petty said. “It started out with Fireball Roberts, then you come along with (David) Pearson and (Cale) Yarborough and they went away, then you had Darrell (Waltrip) and (Dale) Earnhardt come along and they went away, then you had Jeff Gordon come along and kind of lead the pack, and Jimmie Johnson is the leader right now.
“Now, you have these guys (Gordon, Stewart) falling off, and like I said, three or four more will in the next few years, and you see these guys starting to come up now, plus five or six more will come up.”
It was announced earlier this month that 20-year-old Swartz Creek, Michigan, native Erik Jones signed a deal with Furniture Row Racing to drive the No. 77 5-Hour Energy Toyota next year, becoming teammates with Martin Truex Jr., who has a win this season and leads the series in laps led.
“I just know he’s been hot everywhere he’s been, like Larson,” said Petty of Jones. “They come up through the ranks and hit a home run everywhere they’ve been. Now, they have to settle in and play in the Major Leagues. They are all going into winning race cars so it’s going to be up to them to make a winner out of themselves.”
Jones won the Camping World Truck Series championship last year. He now competes full-time in the Xfinity series.
Pure Michigan 400
When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Michigan International Speedway, Brooklyn, Michigan
2015 winner: Matt Kenseth
Tickets: Go to mispeedway.com