Austin Dillon is 16th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings as the circuit hits its second road course race at Sonoma Raceway (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, FS1). That should be good news for Dillon since 16 drivers will make up the playoff field. But in this case, the Richard Childress Racing driver is currently outside looking in because of the numerous drivers lower in points who have won. Drivers with wins automatically make the playoffs at the expense of those who don’t.
Kurt Busch, Austin Cindric and Denny Hamlin are behind Dillon in the points at 17th, 18th, and 19th. All three have race wins and will move onto the playoff grid, knocking Dillon down to 19th.
Knowing the situation as the regular season is more than halfway gone, Dillon agrees he’s been put into must-win mode.
“I think so,” Dillon said. “It’s not hard at all for us to get into the playoffs if there are no more new winners. I think we’re in a place where we can point our way in. I think there’s going to be more winners, and we need to be one of them.”
There have been four repeat winners in 15 races: Ross Chastain, William Byron, Hamlin and Joey Logano. Doing the math that’s 11 different winners so far this season and there are still many who are capable who haven’t won, such as Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr., Christopher Bell, and Kevin Harvick.
Dillon and teammate Tyler Reddick also look capable if things go right. The same could be said for Aric Almirola and those like Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones. Two drivers who won last year that are also winless are Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski.
However it shakes out, whether there are no more new winners or the series finally sees 16 or more different winners, Dillon isn’t going to take anything for granted. Dillon and the No. 3 team nearly locked themselves into the postseason on Memorial Day weekend at the Coca-Cola 600 when he had fresher tires and was making a charge at the lead when four-wide off the corner at Charlotte Motor Speedway didn’t work.
“I think I was more concerned with could I have done anything different to not get loose in the center of the corner,” Dillon reflected. “I drove in there pretty darn deep, and I thought it was a good save, but I was kind of looking both ways because I had cars coming at me pretty fast. I didn’t know the fourth car was out there.
“I think the [Ross] Chastain thing is what upset it for us really. Him getting to the right rear of [Kyle] Larson because I thought we were three-wide, so I felt like I was going to get given a little of room there. I mean, he couldn’t, of course, so that’s the thing that got me. I couldn’t tell that (his) left front (was) to his right on the right-rear quarter (of Larson).”
Dillon has six top-10 finishes and has had opportunities to capitalize a few different times. In addition to his shot at Charlotte, Dillon was second at Fontana, third at Martinsville and second at Talladega. It hasn’t been as much frustrating, Dillon admitted, as it brings a bit of impatience.
“Just when is it going to happen?” he said. “I feel like I’ve got a real positive mindset in that our time will come. The good Lord has blessed us with a bunch of opportunities this year. Charlotte, I could not sleep the next night. All week it ate away at me because we were so close, and I tried to think of all the scenarios — played Monday morning QB with myself all night long.
“Eventually, you just have to let that go out of your mind and I did. I feel good about it. I gave it everything I had. Those opportunities don’t happen very often to win a Coke 600, and I felt like we were really close to doing it for a second time.”