Austin Dillon is hoping for better days to come as he fights to join his RCR teammates in the battle to make the Chase.
Piloting the car adorned by the iconic number that was used by the late great Dale Earnhardt, Austin Dillon is still searching for his first victory in NASCAR’s premier division.
It has been a rough sophomore season for Dillon, who is team owner Richard Childress’ eldest grandson. He has only five top 10s since winning the pole for the 2014 Daytona 500, and has just one top five, which came at Daytona in July of last year.
The struggles have created a sense of urgency in the Richard Childress Racing camp. Dillon's teammates Ryan Newman and Paul Menard currently sit in Chase positions while he is back in 23rd in the championship standings.
“We haven’t had the finishes that we wanted, but we have run pretty solid, similar to last year and some places better,” said Dillon. “We have not been able to have the finishes that we want. We had one really good finish at Bristol, and we ran up front and had a shot to win. We are getting more consistent. Last year, we were more consistent toward the top 15 and getting the finishes that we wanted.”
The lack of success has forced the organization to make dramatic changes and that means Gil Martin will no longer be on top of the pit box for Dillon’s team.
Richard “Slugger” Labbe was named as Martin’s successor after Michigan, and is set to swap places with Martin, who will now work with RCR’s R&D program. The transition for Dillon in the middle of the season provides a fresh look for a team that has underperformed, even though he believed Martin and he were beginning to create a strong bond.
“If you look at the laps leading up to the finishes, that is the last 20-30 laps, we have blown three motors and that is some of our points,” Dillon explained. “We didn’t blow a motor last year. We blew a tire at Atlanta, and we just have some really bad finishes from things that are out of our hands. Our bad finishes last year were 22nd, 23rd and 24th versus this year where it’s 39th, 41st, 31st from mistakes we have made.”
The pressure for Dillon and the No. 3 team has shook things up quite a bit prior to the halfway point of the season. With his lone top 10 of the year coming at Bristol, changing the rules package for Kentucky Speedway is just what the doctor ordered.
While qualifying has been the team’s strength, staying on track to recording solid finishes has been the biggest struggle. But the current rules package has thrown Dillon off in 2015, and bringing in Labbe could be the missing key to help him make his way into the Chase.
“We’ve fought really hard over the past couple of years. We might not have had the fastest car, but we have been able to get some solid finishes. You have to have a win, and hopefully we can do that before too long. We have less than 15 races to do that, so we just put ourselves in as many positions as we can to win and take more chances.”
Back in the Xfinity Series
After running just one Xfinity Series event last year, Dillon has ramped up his schedule immensely for the 2015 season. Piloting the Rheem Chevrolet for RCR, he was able to earn wins at Las Vegas and Charlotte.
“It has been great. We have been pretty dominant over there. Hopefully, we can continue that over there. The confidence has been really high from that team, and it is bleeding over here. We have gotten some good qualifying efforts the past couple of weeks and have run more solid than we have been.”
Racing against young brother Ty Dillon gives him an added incentive to win. Working with crew chief Nick Harrison in NASCAR’s second-tier division has taught him one thing that he believes has helped him on the Cup side.
“I think more aggressiveness at the end of these races will help me,” Dillon admitted. “We need to be more confident in late-race restarts. We need to put ourselves in a better position to win some races.”