Austin Dillon finished in 13th place in last year’s NASCAR Cup Series regular season standings, only to miss the playoffs.
The cut line for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs ended up being below the driver who finished the regular season in 11th place in the point standings, Richard Childress Racing’s Tyler Reddick.
All drivers below Reddick who qualified for the playoffs did so by winning at least one regular season race.
The highest finishing non-playoff driver happened to be Reddick’s teammate, Austin Dillon. Dillon finished 30 points behind his teammate for the 16th and final playoff spot.
The driver of the #3 Chevrolet missed out on the postseason despite a consistent year that saw him begin the season as the points leader and finish the regular season in 13th place the point standings.
However, because there were so many different winners, including five from below the cut line and four from below Dillon, a 13th place finish wasn’t enough to land him a fifth playoff appearance in six years.
Before the 2022 season began, Dillon spoke directly to Beyond the Flag about this phenomenon of so many winners and how his goal is simply to take matters into his own hands and win, just like he did in 2017, 2018, and 2020.
He doesn’t want to worry about putting himself in a position where he has to worry about points again.
“I felt like we had a really solid year last year as far as consistency went,” Dillon said. “Due to just so many winners – I wouldn’t call it unfortunate, just a lot of winners last year – I think this year the main point I learned is to win. So we have to figure out how to get to victory lane at all costs and let the points thing just figure itself out.”
Through the first 13 races of the 26-race 2022 NASCAR Cup Series regular season, Dillon finds himself in a spot that is all too familiar.
The 32-year-old Welcome, North Carolina native has come close to winning multiple times in 2022, most notably with runner-up finishes at Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway as well as a third place finish at Martinsville Speedway.
However, he has not yet found victory lane since his July 2020 win at Texas Motor Speedway, and he again sits in 13th place in the point standings.
And even with only the first half of the regular season in the books, 13th place is below the playoff cut line.
There have been 11 different winners through the regular season’s first 13 races, including seven of the top nine drivers in the point standings. But the other four winners all rank between 14th and 20th place, which drops the 13th place Dillon down four spots in the playoff picture.
Like last year, that places him 17th, making him the highest non-playoff driver.
Fortunately for Dillon, there is still time to change that. Given the fact that he has finished in the top three in nearly a quarter of the 2022 season’s races thus far, and at a variety of race tracks, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see him end his win drought.
He is also currently just 11 points below the 16th and final playoff spot, which is held by 12th place driver Aric Almirola of Stewart-Haas Racing. Almirola has struggled as of late, recording just one top 10 finish in the last 10 races.
But unfortunately for Dillon, there is also still plenty of time for other new winners to emerge and make the cut line even more challenging to jump ahead of on points alone, meaning that, as he said before the season started, winning is his best option to avoid another 2021-like situation.