Austin Dillon might be getting the hang of this Sprint Cup racing thing.
Dillon, fresh off a career-best fourth-place at the Pure Michigan 400 last week, wants more this weekend at the Irwin Tools Night Race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
“If we can go to Bristol and compete, I think we can win there,” Dillon said. “I’m definitely looking forward to that race.”
Dillon has plenty of reason to be optimistic, not just about his chances at Bristol, but for the rest of the season.
He has three top-10s over the last seven races. Included is a seventh at Daytona, Fla., in July, when he walked away from a horrific-looking crash that saw his car careen into the catch fence at the finish line.
You learn how to race with these guys.
Then there was the season’s first Bristol race, where he finished 10th. Dillon was running third late in that race before he ran out of gas.
Dillon, who drives Richard Childress Racing’s iconic No. 3 Chevy, said a switch in crew chiefs in June has made much of the difference in his recent surge.
“That was pretty big,” Dillon said of the change from Gil Martin to Slugger Labbe. “I’ve just been really focused. Life has been good lately and I’m just trying to do everything I can to do my job. Everybody on the team has kind of taken up that same mentality.”
This is Dillon’s second full season as a Cup driver after winning championships in the Xfinity and Truck series. His increased comfort level was apparent Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, where he led 19 laps (he’d only led laps in two previous races this season) and sparred for the lead with race-winner Matt Kenseth during one entertaining stretch.
Dillon drives Richard Childress Racing’s iconic No. 3 Chevy
“I think I proved that I can compete with Xfinity drivers,” said Dillon. “I don’t know where it was in the Cup series. But we made some good changes and the finishes are starting to happen. It takes a little while once you start having fast cars and running up front. You learn how to race with these guys. (Sunday) was really good for me.
“I feel like I learned a lot. Matt took me to school a few times up front, when I was slicing with him. I’ll put that in the notebook and see if I can’t learn from it the next time I’m up front.”
20th Dillon’s place in Cup standings
Dillon is 20th in the points standings, and certainly needs a win now if he wants to qualify for the 16-driver Chase, which is now just three races away.
“I think we’ve got to win,” said Dillon. “We’re showing some speed that’s solid for us the last few weeks to compete if we were in the Chase. That’s nice to know. I just wish we could have started this a little bit earlier. We’ve got a couple of good races left for us.”