Before Austin Dillon took the checkered flag Sunday in Texas, Richard Childress Racing had won three races in the last three years. Critics would be quick to howl that all three were flukes or lucky breaks.
Ryan Newman won at Phoenix in the spring of 2017 by staying out and taking the lead for an overtime restart. Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 later that year on fuel mileage, and then the Daytona 500 nine months later by spinning Aric Almirola going into the final set of corners.
Between those three wins, the two Childress drivers combined to lead nine laps. Last season, the company went winless and failed to place a car in the playoffs.
In his Texas victory, Dillon led 22 laps and fended off all challengers on multiple late-race restarts. His rookie teammate Tyler Reddick did the same to ensure Childress a 1-2 finish for the first time since 2011 at Talladega Superspeedway. For Dillon, it is his third career win.
“An upset? No,” said crew chief Justin Alexander. “I think it depends in what terms you’re talking about an upset. The last time we were in victory lane with Austin was in 2018; it’s been a while since we’ve been in victory lane. I think some people don’t give Austin enough credit; they think he may not be good enough to win races. They don’t give this team enough credit. From that perspective, I do think we’re a bit of an underdog to some of these bigger teams. In that respect, maybe it is a little bit of an upset.”
Richard Childress does not have dominant race cars the likes of Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske. However, Childress does have fast race cars this year as one of the organizations capitalizing on the new Chevrolet body, and having the right people in the right places. This company has made personnel change after personnel change over the last few seasons to figure it out, with Alexander being put back with Dillon while Reddick and Randall Burnett proved their worth in the Xfinity Series last year.
But fast race cars don’t always get to shine with the high downforce package. Dirty air and being mired in traffic can lead to frustrating results that don’t reflect the performance. It has become commonplace to hear drivers speak of not being able to pass or do anything with a car they felt could win after being shuffled out of the first few positions.
The two Childress cars have been performing at a top-12 level this year and have contended inside the top-10 and top-five on multiple occasions. But when track position is lost, so too is a race. And so, when Quin Houff made an erratic move toward pit road on lap 306 and brought the caution out, the Childress teams had done their homework to know how they could salvage the day.
“We had a car that had potential, it just didn’t really run well in traffic,” said Dillon. “Justin [Alexander] and I both talked about what kind of happened in Kentucky with Cole [Custer], the way they ran. If you can get the track position at some point, you can be fast. You saw when we got out front; we had a hot rod.”
Dillon two took tires on his final pit stop. Reddick got fuel only. Now they had track position and no concerns over tires because those had not fallen off enough all day to offer a disadvantage.
“We took it from them, that feels good,” said Dillon. “I’ve said it to my grandfather, man, the two races we won were fuel mileage, and one was the Daytona 500. Either way, we had to make it happen. So they’re both big wins in my career.
“But this one, once again, we had to make it happen multiple times on older tires. That was pretty cool, and it feels great.”
Asked if the result was an upset, Reddick highlighted how tough it’s been for the organization to get itself in position. Reddick has routinely started deep in the field because of the random draw, and spends most of his race climbing out of that hole.
“The odds are kind of stacked against you at the beginning of the day,” he said. “If your car is off a little bit or you make a small mistake, it can really upset the outcome of your race in general. Yeah, we got up there and we stole some track position at the end, but Austin and I had really good pace on our cars when we had track position.
“But that is the name of the game at tracks like this, that are repaves, have a little bit of age, but the tire falloff isn’t quite there yet. And that’s what makes track position king.”
Reddick continues to hang around the bubble and will be a contender through the remainder of the regular season. With the win, Dillon clinches a playoff spot for the third time in four seasons.
“We haven’t given him the cars that he needed,” said Richard Childress of his grandson. “I’ll never forget ’98 when Dale Earnhardt came to me and said, ‘I want to retire,’ he said. ‘It’s me.’ I said, ‘No, it isn’t, Dale. We’re not giving you the cars.’
“We haven’t really given (Dillon) the cars he needs until this year. Tyler Reddick will win a race before the year is over.”
Childress isn’t a dominant organization, but it is fast enough to contend and smart enough to put itself in position. Texas – or even Kentucky, with Custer – wasn’t a fluke or a farce, it was a combination of being both lucky in getting a caution to change the complexion of the race, and good enough on pit road and on track to capitalize.
“We didn’t back into this win,” said Alexander. “We didn’t fluke win. It wasn’t a fuel mileage deal. We went up there; we drove up to the front, we raced them at the end. The car had every bit of speed we needed to win this race, and our cars have had a lot of speed all year. It’s really about execution, and we did put it all together today.”