It wasn’t a win, and sure Austin Dillon ended the night not very happy with himself, but the Richard Childress Racing driver had himself a heck of a performance in Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400.
The pilot of the iconic No. 3 machine started back in 23rd position, and in a race where many had trouble passing, Dillon had few issues as he found himself able to slice and dice his way through the field on the long run.
“I had no problem passing,” Dillon admitted after the race. “I came from 23rd, a couple of different times coming to the front. Yeah, it was difficult, but there was a ton of grip in the track. Like you said, it was freezing. Track was fast, fast lap times. We were averaging lap times close to qualifying there at the end, when we were up front. When it gets hot and slick it’ll be a full-blown race and I’m looking forward to that.”
When the checkered flag flew, and William Byron scored his second win of the season, Dillon wasn’t far behind as he had locked up his second top-three run of the season with a third-place effort.
Even with the good finish, Dillon was hard on himself for not closing the deal on an overtime restart, where he lined up third. Dillon, who feels that he elevates his performance in moments where the win is on the line, says this one will stick with him.
“Feels good, like I said, but I wish I would have clutched it,” Dillon said of his third-place finish. “I like to think of myself as getting it done, when I have those opportunities. I didn’t do it tonight. That’ll be on my mind.”
Although there is disappointment, at the end of the day, Dillon scored another top finish. Between he and his teammate Tyler Reddick, RCR has been in contention a lot more frequently with NASCAR’s new Next Gen car, and that leaves Dillon feeling good.
“RCR and ECR, we’ve been pretty strong all year long,” Dillon stated with pride. “Definitely gives us a direction. Had a couple of misfortunate weeks, getting wrecked at Phoenix and Atlanta, so this feels really good to right the ship, but we’re here for one thing and that’s wins. Points is just so difficult to get your way in here.”
Again, it wasn’t a win, but for Dillon it was an opportunity to win. And it was his second legitimate opportunity to win a race in the season’s opening eight races. The 31-year old is excited to be mixing it up for the win more often this season.
“We’ve had twice now this year, Fontana and now here. Second and had in a position to win and didn’t take advantage of it,” Dillon recalled. “It’s a big thing for us though. Over the years in the Cup level, I haven’t had but about on average three, maybe four opportunities per year to do this. We’ve got two early in the season already, for chances to win. So, I think we’re in the right direction.”
The good run for Dillon moves him back into Playoff contention as he is now 16th in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Grid after Martinsville. Dillon now has a 10 point cushion on Kurt Busch, who is the first car outside of the top-16, but he isn’t wanting to settle on attempting to point his way into the Playoffs. Dillon wants to win, and with each passing week, Dillon and the RCR team gain more and more confidence.