NASCAR driver facing exact same problem as last year

Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images) /

Austin Dillon finds himself in the same situation he was in last season in terms of being in the top 16 in points, yet outside of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture.

Despite finishing the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season in 13th place in the point standings, Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon failed to qualify for the playoffs, as four drivers below him in points had won races and thus vaulted themselves into the playoff picture.

With each of those four winners knocking Dillon down by one spot, that left him in 17th place in the playoff picture as the top driver who failed to qualify for the postseason.

Now skip ahead to the 2022 season, and the driver of Richard Childress Racing’s #3 Chevrolet finds himself in a nearly identical situation.

Once again, he sits inside the top 16 in the point standings, currently ranking 15th. However, four drivers below him in the standings have found victory lane, so he only sits 19th in the playoff picture, making him the third driver out.

While he admits that there is still a chance to get in on points, the 32-year-old Welcome, North Carolina native has totally shifted his focus to winning.

“Right now, we’ve shifted our focus to winning, just because it gets so frustrating, because you can have a really solid year, but a win is all that really matters now, especially the way things are playing out,” Dillon told Beyond the Flag. “We’re going to do our job to be as aggressive as we can be at every race when it comes to strategy and just trying to get that first win.

“We need it; RCR does in general. Tyler Reddick and I both have had speed at a lot of places and had some good finishes, but it’s equating to being outside the playoffs right now.

Reddick sits in 14th place in the point standings, yet he is also currently on the outside of the playoff picture, sitting in 18th.

Like last year when Reddick finished the regular season in 11th place in the point standings and advanced to the playoffs without a win, the 16th and final spot in the playoff picture currently belongs to the 11th place driver, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola.

“There is obviously an outside shot when it comes to points and stringing the next 10 races that we have left before the playoffs together,” Dillon admitted. “If we can string the next 10 together, we can get in through points.”

The key difference between last year’s eventual cut line and this year’s is the fact that, because there are still 10 races remaining on the regular season schedule, the door is open for even more winners. Additional winners would make the cut line even harder to jump on points, and Dillon admitted that.

“I think this year is the first year that they have a shot to have 16 winners.”

He believes that Richard Childress Racing have given him the opportunity to win races this year, and it has shown in his results. He finished in second place at Auto Club Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, and he finished in third at Martinsville Speedway.

“I try to look at every weekend as an opportunity,” he continued. “I think Nashville is a good track for me in the Truck Series and the Xfinity Series as well. This is a place where we can go out and have a good run. There are a couple road courses, a bunch of road courses, but any oval, we have an opportunity on. Indy, we ran really well last year on the road course also. I’m looking forward to going back there.

“Atlanta, for the second time this year. That would be one. We got to second place there and got turned coming to the end of the stage by Kyle [Busch]. So any of these tracks, we’ve had speed, we just have to finish one off and put ourselves in a little better position.”

While Ford and Toyota have looked better lately than they did earlier in the season, Dillon believes that Chevrolet is still a force to be reckoned with.

“Some of these other manufacturers have found some speed, but I think Chevy is still there at the end of these races,” he said. “We can get a win. Charlotte was a perfect example. We didn’t have the best car, we stayed in the race, had a good pit stop when it mattered, and made a good move. We were just a foot from making it clear off of turn four and having a win this year.”

Interestingly, Dillon’s success in the first season of the Gen 7 car has come at venues where he generally hadn’t been all that strong in the past. Meanwhile, he has struggled at tracks where he had expected to perform well.

“We have a second place finish at a big track in Fontana, but for me, the mile-and-a-halfs haven’t been that great, and they are places where I’ve always had more success,” Dillon explained.
“They’ve been my bread and butter. Trying to figure out that is probably most frustrating because a bunch of the places that we go are places that I’m like, I feel good about this track, and then we get there and really struggle and have to work twice as hard as we normally would, trying to figure out what feel that I need in the car.

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“Short tracks have been a bright spot for us. Every short track, I feel like we’ve performed really well at, going back to the Coliseum in the Clash. The short tracks have been fun, mile-and-a-halfs not so much, and then everywhere in between, we’ve been pretty solid.”