KANNAPOLIS, N.C., (Oct. 16, 2013) – When one is making his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, where a handful of far more experienced drivers are just five races away from potentially winning the elusive Sprint Cup championship, the words of Pro Football Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi are prescient.
“The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
Lombardi was a legendary motivator, and his words remain so. Austin Dillon, interim driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), will take those words to heart as the 23-year-old makes his Talladega debut in only his 12th career Sprint Cup start.
A particular Lombardi line resonates most with Dillon as he prepares to board the 200 mph freight train that is racing around the 2.66-mile Talladega oval: “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
While Dillon is a regular in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, his eyes are set on advancing to the elite Sprint Cup Series, where racing at the voluminous and daunting Talladega Superspeedway happens twice a year. There’s a first time for everything, and for Dillon, his first Sprint Cup race at Talladega comes Sunday in the Camping World RV Sales 500.
A two-week break in the Nationwide Series schedule allows Dillon to further his education in the nuances of restrictor-plate racing, where horsepower-choked engines require drivers to draft in peloton fashion at speeds approaching 200 mph. It’s a science that is learned only through experience, and the practice Dillon gets this weekend will make him better for future starts at Talladega and its restrictor-plate sibling, Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Dillon does not enter Talladega totally green. He’s raced at Talladega on four previous occasions, with a pair of starts in the Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. In all, Dillon has three top-10 finishes with a best result of seventh in the 2011 Truck Series race. He’s led a total of 23 laps in three of the four races and, most importantly, completed every lap available to him.
What Dillon has at Talladega is opportunity, something Lombardi valued greatly. With a strong work ethic, an unbowed will and a racecar that typically is wheeled by three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, Dillon has all the tools Lombardi deemed necessary for success.
Perfect practice does indeed make perfect, and in 188 laps on Sunday, Dillon could very well find what 10 other drivers have found in their first Sprint Cup start at Talladega – victory lane.
AUSTIN DILLON, Interim Driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing:
You just finished 21 straight weeks of racing in the Nationwide Series and most of your peers in that series are enjoying a rare weekend off, but you’ll stay busy racing this weekend. Is that a good or bad thing?
“For me, it’s a good thing. Anytime you can get behind the wheel of a racecar, it’s a good thing. I can keep momentum up, which will help in the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. Plus, my goal is to be a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver next year, and getting as much experience in a Cup car this year can help me make that transition.”
This is your second stint behind the wheel of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet, with your first start having come Aug. 18 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. How has it been driving racecars for someone other than your grandfather, Richard Childress?
“Steve Addington (crew chief) and all the guys at Stewart-Haas Racing have been great to work with. I really enjoyed racing with them at Michigan International Speedway in August. I have a ton of respect for Tony Stewart and I’m thankful for this opportunity to drive equipment other than my grandfather’s. I think that’s the ultimate honor – to know there are car owners in the garage area other than my grandfather who think highly enough of me as a driver that they would put me in their equipment.”
Some people have questioned the difficulty of making the transition from Nationwide Series cars to Sprint Cup cars when it comes to handling the change in horsepower. Where are you in that debate?
“Some drivers have a harder time with it than others. My entire racing career, I’ve focused on driving a lot of different style racecars so that I could be a driver who could adapt. If you look at a driver like Ricky Stenhouse Jr., he’s a two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion and during the latter half of this season – where he’s a Sprint Cup rookie – he’s really come into his stride with some solid finishes. It’s a big transition from Nationwide to Cup full-time, but it’s one I feel like I’m ready to handle.”
This will be your fifth overall start at Talladega – a track often referenced as a wild-card event. What kind of expectations do you have for this weekend?
“I’m excited to race the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobi1 1 Chevrolet at Talladega Superspeedway, in particular, because a lot of drivers have gotten their first Sprint Cup Series win at that track. It’s a wild place where anything can happen. I think it would be awesome if that were to happen to us.