Austin Dillon nearly stole another NASCAR crown jewel, and he would have loved to have people talking about how he did.
But he came up a spot short in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. A late charge to second place had put Dillon in a position take a stab at Kevin Harvick in the final few laps, and he came within a few car lengths of Harvick’s bumper in the last corners.
“It feels like second place,” said Dillon. “It’s like kissing your mom. It’s not fun. Second place is so close. I’m going to be thinking about those last 20 laps for a long time. Man, it would have had a lot of people talking if we stole another crown jewel. I think they are talking; I think there’s respect either way.”
There might also be no way to overlook Dillon as a playoff contender, either. Dillon admitted he doesn’t know why he is dismissed more than most, but believes he performs well in pressure situations. With the consistent speed that Richard Childress Racing has shown this year, Dillon has “total belief” in the No. 3 Chevrolet team, and this season, statistically, has been one of his best.
“We might not have gotten every finish that we should have gotten this year, but we’ve gotten a lot of good finishes,” said Dillon.
Sunday was a battle. Dillon had to drop to the rear of the field for an unapproved adjustment after inspection. On pit road, Dillon and crew chief Justin Alexander noticed the tires were put on the wrong side of the car – left side on the right, and vice versa. Dillon probably would have “knocked the fence” down if it hadn’t been corrected.
Dillon then short-pitted in the middle of the first stage because of a tire puncture. But fresh tires helped Dillon gain some track position, and a caution fell at the right time to help the cause.
“Took back off and just kind of got messed up on that restart, lost a little bit, and then was able to just steadily work our way back to the front all night long and then get inside that top 10,” said Dillon. “We had some great pit stops from our 3 team. The American Ethanol Chevy was really good when we kind of got to a point where I didn’t really know what to do to it other than to just slowly tighten it up, and I wish I would have made just a little bit more of an adjustment.
“You could tell, my last corner I had burned the right rear off it trying to get there, and that’s kind of where we were. We were just a little free; we had corded a right-rear earlier in the race. We’ve been working hard; we worked hard in the sim this week to make the car take off better. It’s an older setup that we’ve run here a long time, and we just adjusted it, tweaked it a little bit to take off a little better, and that’s what we’ve wanted, and it did, and that helped us keep our track position and ultimately gave us a shot at a Southern 500.
“So close to one of the crown jewels again. I like winning those things. Good run.”