NASCAR: Austin Dillon is the ultimate clutch driver

Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Austin Dillon, Richard Childress Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

Following Sunday’s win at Daytona International Speedway, Austin Dillon has now qualified for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs four times as an upset winner.

Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon entered this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway needing a win to earn his first NASCAR Cup Series playoff berth since 2020, and by avoiding the “Big One”, he put himself in position to do that following a 199-minute rain delay.

He did indeed close the deal in the ensuing 16-lap sprint to the finish.

Dillon finished the regular season in 19th place in the point standings, but because of his victory, the fourth of his career, it is he who advances to the playoffs instead of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., who finished in fourth.

Truex did not win a regular season race and finished behind Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney among winless drivers. With 15 playoff eligible winners, this left him on the outside of the 16-driver playoff picture.

The “win and in” nature of the playoff format has come under fire quite often since it was introduced in 2014, but no driver has done a better job taking advantage of it than Dillon.

In terms of clutch wins, the driver of the #3 Chevrolet is on another level.

All four of Dillon’s career victories have locked him into the playoffs, and on all four occasions, he finished the regular season outside of the top 16 in the point standings.

In 2017, he earned his first victory with a dramatic fuel-saving effort in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He made the playoffs despite finishing the regular season tied for 19th place in the point standings.

Then in 2018, he won the Daytona 500 by leading only the final lap. He made the playoffs despite another 19th place finish in the regular season point standings.

In 2020, a late pit strategy call proved successful at Texas Motor Speedway, and his win there locked him into the playoffs despite an 18th place finish in the regular season point standings.

Since 2017, only 11 playoff spots have gone to drivers outside of the top 16. Dillon, who is responsible for four of those appearances, is the only driver responsible for more than one.

Since the knockout playoff format was introduced in 2014, only two other drivers have won their way in from outside the top 16 on multiple occasions: Kyle Busch (2014 and 2015) and Aric Almirola (2014 and 2021).

So Dillon is the only individual with multiple instances of winning his win in from outside the top 16 in the last eight years.

Here’s a full list.

  • 2014: A.J. Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin
  • 2015: Kyle Busch
  • 2016: Chris Buescher, Tony Stewart
  • 2017: Austin Dillon, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • 2018: Austin Dillon
  • 2019: N/A
  • 2020: Cole Custer, Austin Dillon
  • 2021: Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell
  • 2022: Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon

Next. First points leader misses playoffs. dark

How far can Dillon advance in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series playoffs? The four-round, 10-race postseason is scheduled to get underway with the Cook Out Southern 500 this Sunday, September 4. USA Network is set to broadcast the race live from Darlington Raceway beginning at 6:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!