Austin Dillon crossed the Michigan International Speedway finish line on at least three good wheels.
Dillon was running second inside the final laps when he felt something go wrong. Thinking he had a flat tire, Dillon nursed the No. 3 Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish; it’s his first top-five finish since winning the Daytona 500 in February, and perhaps the strongest race Dillon has had this season from start to finish.
“Man, we had a fast car,” Dillon said. “I got to battle with [Kevin] Harvick there, and that was awesome. I’m so proud of the guys for having a car capable of doing that. Yeah, that really stunk. We were kind of in position that if something happened to the No. 4, we could win the race. With two [laps] to go, I went into [Turn] 3, and I kind of missed the corner.
“When I came down the straightaway, it was just shaking like either the tire was unraveling or it was a loose wheel. But, I didn’t want to lose this great finish we had in front of us, but we brought it home with a top five at least.”
The Richard Childress Racing driver did not luck into the finish. Dillon qualified fifth, ahead of teammate Ryan Newman in sixth, and he solidly bounced around the top 15 all day. Dillon’s average running position during the Consumers Energy 400 was an 8.63.
Showing speed late in the third stage, Dillon drove to second behind eventual winner Harvick before green flag pit stops. Dillon even led a few laps before making his final dash down pit road.
“It’s huge,” Dillon said. “It’s great momentum for the team. The pit crew was amazing all day. It just feels good. We have this capability when we put our best days together, and we’ve got to keep doing it and work hard. And we’ve got a great opportunity this year with being in the playoffs.”
Asked if the team had brought something new to Michigan (as had been reported during the television broadcast), Dillon said everything just came together.
“This is one of my best tracks,” he said. “We have been working hard. We had spurts of speed in qualifying at the last couple of big mile-and-a-halfs. When you do that there is some reason — you should be able to keep that speed into practice and race time. We haven’t been able to do it, and today we did.
“I don’t know if we hit something yesterday in practice that the car balance kind of kept the same speed that it did in qualifying, which was nice. The pit crew did a great job. Everybody just had a solid day, which is what we really needed.”