By Joe Dunn
Austin Dillon, the third generation driver in the Childress family begins the next level of competition at Daytona International Speedway, on February 11th. That’s the day he attempts to qualify the RCR, No. 3, Bass Pro Shops, Chevrolet in the NASCAR Camping World truck Series, NextEra Energy resources 250, to kick off the 2010 season.
After running a limited schedule in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and the NCWTS in 2009, as well as several Dirt Late Model races, it is time for A Dillon to begin his quest to move up the ranks of NASCAR’s top three series. I spoke with Austin last year ( http://www.speedwaymedia.com/articles/Story.asp?S=4360729091010 ) when he was competing in the NNS race at O’Reilly Raceway Park, where he displayed optimism for his future. At that time the plan was for him to start college and to come back in 2010 in the NNS to compete in up to 22 races.
But sometime during the off season, that all changed as the decision was made for RCR to re-enter the NCWTS after a long absence with a full time team, bringing the black No. 3 back to life. In January Austin was introduced along with Justin Lofton as Raybestos Rookie Of The Year candidates for the Truck Series in 2010. He discussed his commitment to his education and the fact that High Point University had worked with him to accommodate a schedule to allow him to mix his racing with his studies. “ I made it through my first semester of college and that was a really good experience for me.” said an enthusiastic Dillon “January and February is going to be tough, balancing between college and racing, but I figured out a good schedule and I think it’s going to work. It has got to work because my education is a really important part of my life.”
In his limited schedule in 2008 and 2009 in the NNS, NCWTS, NCWES and ARCA Dillon raced at 8 tracks that are on the NCWTS schedule for 2010. That puts him in the scenario of racing at 14 tracks that will be new to him. I asked Austin how he was preparing for those tracks and how much of a challenge he anticipated it to be. “It’s tough not being able to go to the tracks like Atlanta and Texas. That’s why last year, we didn’t stick to any one series, so we could make it to a number of tracks. We have tested a couple of times at ‘Little Rock’ at Rockingham and that is similar to Martinsville. We have improved a lot there, so it is a confidence builder.”
Austin is anxious to get the season underway and expressing genuine gratitude for the support that he is getting not just from his father and his grandfather, but to his entire crew and the rest of the drivers at RCR, “I’ve got an awesome crew with a new crew chief, Danny Stockman, he was Hornady’s car chief last year, and we have bonded really well together. I am getting a lot of encouragement from the Cup guys at RCR and I know that they will really be pushing me this year.” an excited Dillon told me. “We’re hoping to win the Raybestos Rookie of The Year this year, and make a serious challenge for the Championship.”
Although the NNS schedule for Dillon was eliminated by the decision to run the Trucks, he does plan to run the four COT races in 2010. Austin explained that he will be part of an R&D program for that series, concentrating on the new car. How his Truck team performs in 2010 will have an impact on where he drives in 2011. Among the programs that Dillon has run in preparation for NASCAR has been a number of Dirt Late Model races in various series. He felt that the times he ran dirt races just before the NASCAR races, his results were improved.
Dillon headed into Daytona with plans to spend some time over at Volusia Speedway Park in nearby Barberville, FL for the 39th annual DIRTcar Nationals. There he will join the ranks of other NASCAR drivers such as, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kenny Wallace and Ken Schrader. With 74 cars showing up in the UMP Open Wheel Modified class, Dillon was set to make his mark in the No. 3 car
On Sunday, the second day of the ‘Gator Championship’ qualifers, Austin qualified 13 and then moved on to win heat number 2, putting him on the front row for the A Main later that night. With a Star studded field that includes some of the biggest names in Dirt racing, such as Clint Bowyer, Kenny Wallace, Buzzie Reutimann (David’s dad), Kenny Schrader, and Denny Schwartz, Dillon jumped out to an early lead. He was able to keep that lead after multiple restarts, constantly holding off Schwartz who had been kept busy early in the race battling with Dillon’s younger brother Ty Dillon. On the final restart, Austin got a big jump on the field and had a 5 car lead by the time he hit turn one. That win Sunday locked him into the Gator Championship race for Monday night, where he finished third.
With that kind of success on the dirt, watch for Dillon to be a front runner come Friday at Daytona International Speedway.