Austin Dillon is still trying to keep up.
He’s tried to scroll back through his Twitter feed in the days since Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 win at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but there’s too much to take in. From fellow NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne to musician Tim Dugger and UFC fighter Robbie Lawler, there’s been plenty of praise for the North Carolina native. Even the Carolina Panthers and the New York Stock Exchange have offered their support.
Dillon still can’t see the full picture without losing his place. One of these days, he hopes he’ll get to it all.
“I wish I could just screenshot the entire start to finish and have it as a story,” Dillon said.
But he wouldn’t like everything he sees. Some have degraded Sunday’s win, the first of his Cup series career, as a fuel mileage fluke. Many have called him a “punk,” others a “fortunate son.”
They’re angry that he didn’t immediately note the history of his No. 3 car, which hadn’t made it to Victory Lane since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s final win, at Talladega in October 2000. They’re angry at his post-race burnout, and they’re angry at his celebratory dab.
And some are angry that he was in the No. 3 car, at all.
It’s 600 miles’ worth of vitriol just waiting to be discovered.
“I don’t see negative, I only see positive,” Dillon said. “That’s my narrow-visioned goggles I keep on.”
As cliched as it sounds, he might be telling the truth. In the days following his first Cup series win, Dillon has kept his social media footprint to a minimum. He’s only liked comments coming directly through his feed or directed at his official Twitter handle, and he doesn’t go searching for his reception.
As for the trolls? He said he started filtering them out years ago. Call it his “narrow-visioned goggles” at work.
“If you talk negative about me, you’re blocked,” Dillon said. “Sorry.”
Dillon, 27, has been unapologetically sporting the No. 3 since the first time he got behind the wheel of a racecar. As the grandson of Richard Childress – owner of Earnhardt’s fabled No. 3 car – Dillon carried its legacy through the ranks, winning the Truck series in 2011 and the Xfinity series in 2013 while sporting that number.
There were times when Dillon thought his grandfather would decide to retire the No. 3 for good. But the wins kept coming. And before the 2014 season, Childress decided it was time to reintroduce the storied number into NASCAR’s top series.
“I just was the guy that got to pilot it,” Dillon said. “And it feels amazing.”
But with legacy comes expectation, and through this year, Dillon hadn’t delivered. Three poles, seven top-five finishes and zero wins through four seasons in the No. 3 car – well short of Earnhardt, who once won in 15 straight seasons.
As a native of Welcome, N.C., home to Richard Childress Racing, Dillon knows the legend of the No. 3 car that he said he grew up idolizing. He knows the fans who revered Earnhardt, and he knows those who poured their lives into keeping the No. 3 on the track for decades before him.
“There is a burden there that you want to perform for them,” Dillon said.
Finally, Sunday came. Forty-four miles from his hometown, Dillon took the checkered flag for the first time in a moment he describes as “pandemonium.”
The burden was lifted, if only for a night.
“I don’t think this win would be as special as it is to me if I was just in another number,” Dillon said.
Dillon shies away from comparisons between himself and his predecessors. Yet fans are unfiltered. And it’s the pandemonium – the burnout, the dabbing – that worries those who cherish the sanctity of Earnhardt’s old number.
But Dillon doesn’t see negative, or so he says. He only sees the story of taking his No. 3 car to Victory Lane.
“It feels like it’s the greatest number in the world,” he said, “and I get to add to the legacy of it.”
C Jackson Cowart on Twitter: @CJacksonCowart