Austin Dillon confirmed Saturday morning that Justin Alexander would not be his crew chief at Richard Childress Racing next season.
“This sport is a grind,” Dillon said at Darlington Raceway before starting the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. “Speaking with Justin, it was about having some more time and him and I, actually on the one weekend that we had this year, spent it together in the Bahamas for our vacation. He just realizes to him what’s important, and that’s family, and you’ve got to respect and love that.”
Dillon and Alexander are in their second stint of being paired together on the No. 3 Chevrolet team. The first time was in 2017 and ’18 and featured two wins: the Coca-Cola 600, which was the first win for both at the Cup Series level and the Daytona 500.
Alexander returned to Dillon’s team in 2020, winning two more races since.
It was a week ago in the regular-season finale at Daytona that Dillon most recently won to earn a playoff spot. The duo has made the playoffs in four of the five years they’ve worked together.
Speaking to RACER in the Darlington garage before practice, Alexander didn’t have a particular moment when he realized he wanted to do something different. Alexander, who has held other roles within the sport before becoming a full-time Cup Series crew chief with Childress in 2015, acknowledged it’s a sport with a hard lifestyle.
“It’s a tough industry to be in with the travel and the schedule we [have] and the hours we work during the week,” Alexander said. “It just boils down to me wanting to have a better work/life balance with my family. I just need to do something different.”
Dillon said Childress wants to keep Alexander in the company. Alexander is the only crew chief that Dillon has won with in the Cup Series and praised the intangibles he brings to a team.
“We want him to stay on in any capacity, and I think we have a good shot of having him around,” said Dillon. “He’s a great person to have as a crew chief, as a friend, as an engineer — all the great qualities that Justin brings to a team. We’re going to do our best to keep him on at some sort of a capacity moving forward. I think he can help RCR for a long time. But for right now, he’s focused on his two babies, and that’s where he should be focused.”
Alexander said he’ll stay in the industry and “probably” at Childress. He said those talks are happening now about what that would look like.
“But I’m exploring all my options to kind of see what’s available and what might be best for me going forward,” he said. “I definitely would like to stay at the company if it works out and continue to help these guys.”
While word of Alexander’s impending departure came out this week, it was not news to the team, and Alexander doesn’t believe it’ll be a distraction going into the playoffs. Dillon is seeded 16th, and he and Alexander have high hopes of improving upon the 11th-place championship finish they’ve earned twice before.
As for his next crew chief, Dillon will again be looking for someone who can better those around them.
“Just someone that brings something to the table when it comes to RCR,” Dillon said. “We’ve got a lot of positive momentum. Someone that gets along well with Randall [Burnett], the other crew chief that we have at RCR. Justin and him work so well together, and I’d like to keep that going if any way possible, with whoever comes in and crew chief’s me next year. Someone that has a good, positive attitude and is willing to go work and make me better, push me to be a better driver. All options are on the table right now.”