Nationwide Series driver Austin Dillon has experienced both victory and defeat in recent weeks: after winning his first Nationwide Series race on June 29, he was docked six championship points for failing post-race inspection; the next weekend, he won the pole for the race at Daytona, only to have it taken away after failing post-qualifying inspection. In spite of the recent adversity, Dillon sits second in Nationwide Series points as a rookie.
Dillon, grandson of team owner and former driver Richard Childress and son of former driver Mike Dillon, already has an impressive NASCAR resume at age 22: 2008 K&N Pro Series East Rookie of the year, 2010 Camping World Truck Series Rookie of the Year and 2011 Truck Series champ. This weekend, Dillon heads to Joliet, Illinois for the Nationwide Series STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, a track where he found victory lane last year in the Truck Series.
"I think we are really excited about Chicagoland," said Dillon in a recent NASCAR teleconference. "(Richard Childress Racing teammate) Elliott Sadler ran really well there last year, had a shot to win the Nationwide race. And we won the Truck race, so I think our team is really excited about going there. We have a good core set up. Once we get there, we'll be using some of the same stuff that Elliott learned last year and add that to what we learned in our Truck Series start at Chicago and try to build on it and have a shot to win."
Just past the halfway point in the Nationwide Series season, Dillon and the #3 team has their eyes on the big prize, even as a rookie team. "As a rookie team, we have accomplished so much this year," said Dillon. "Anything from this point on is just going to be a bonus. But we don't look at it that way. We look at it as, we want to win a championship. We don't take just Top 10's; that's getting by for us. We want to run up front each and every week. We want to be in the Top 3 and we want to compete with the Cup guys who come in. We are really hard on ourselves and we want to stay on this roll. We want to do what it takes to work hard and keep pushing each other, the team included, to be there at the end. You know, these guys have done a great job during the summer months, and that seems like the time when we gain our points. We did it in our Truck Series days, too."
Driving the iconic #3 in both the Truck Series (where his brother Ty now uses it) and the Nationwide Series has led to discussions of whether Dillon would use the number when he climbs up to the Sprint Cup Series. Neither Dillon nor Childress are against the idea. "I'd be excited to run it," Dillon said recently. "I still would love the approval of my grandfather and the guys." His grandfather agrees - "I look at the #3 as family," said Childress. "I drove it, I was fortunate. I didn't do near as good as some of these other drivers did. It's special because you have so many fans who want to see the #3 and then you have some who question running the #3. I wouldn't let anyone else other than an Earnhardt or a Dillon drive the #3 in Trucks. Once we get done with the Trucks with Ty and Austin, no one will drive the #3 in Trucks again unless it's one of their kids or an Earnhardt."
Sources: "Transcript: NASCAR Teleconference with Austin Dillon," NASCAR Media, July 18, 2012
Pete Pistone,"Austin Dillon Open to Running No. 3 in Sprint Cup Series," cbssports.com, July 5, 2012
Paula is a long-time NASCAR fan who also covers the sport at Skirts & Scuffs and Examiner.com.