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Dillon's day obscured by clouds

May 20, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Austin Dillon's momentum came to a halt when a piece of trash lodged on his grill, causing his water temperature to rise. (Getty Images)

NEWTON, Iowa -- No. 3 driver can't keep pace with Stenhouse Jr. when cooler temperatures prevail

Dark clouds don't always have a silver lining. Just ask fourth-place finisher Austin Dillon, who would have preferred a little more sunshine in Sunday's Nationwide Series race at Iowa Speedway.

One hundred laps into the Pioneer-Hi Bred 250, the sun peeked out from behind the clouds while Dillon was running third and chasing down leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

"We've just got to pick it up. We can't let them run away with those."

--AUSTIN DILLON

"Right there, we had hit our peak," Dillon said. "Our car was really fast, and I actually think we were running down everybody. We were a tenth [of a second] to the good on [Stenhouse]. That was the only time we were better.

"But that was when the sun came out, so obviously we had our stuff figured out when the sun was out, like [Saturday] in practice. [Sunday], with the cloud cover, it hurt us a little bit."

On a cloudy, windy spring day when cooler temperatures prevailed, debris -- either a piece of paper or a bag, according to Dillon -- lodged itself in the center of the No. 3 Chevrolet's grille.

With his water temperature rising, Dillon's momentum halted. Plus, he had to duck behind a couple of competitors in an effort to blow the debris out of the way. By then, Stenhouse pretty much had checked out on the field.

"Those guys obviously have something figured out," Dillon said. "Their stuff's running well. We've just got to pick it up. We can't let them run away with those."

With the weather not to his car's liking, Dillon couldn't make changes that would allow it to keep pace with Stenhouse. Even if he could have, Dillon said it became extremely difficult to pass.

There were only four cautions, including two in the final 68 laps, but Dillon wasn't confident in his car's ability to run anywhere but the bottom groove.

"It felt like this tire this year, it grained up and we couldn't run two-wide," Dillon said. "[I was] sliding around quite a bit and really loose if you got [out of the low lane]. [Turns] 3 and 4, you could carry the momentum a little bit but in 1 and 2, the way the tires were throwing rubber up, it just made it hard to pass, and that would bog you down for a few laps."

The only car that seemed to gain ground at the end was Michael McDowell's Toyota. He ducked onto pit road for new tires with 50 laps to go, along with Justin Allgaier and Brendan Gaughan.

It was a gamble that Dillon wasn't willing to take. And even though McDowell got by in the closing laps, Dillon was more than pleased to come away with a fourth-place finish -- moving up one place when Kurt Busch scrubbed the wall on the final lap.

It was not only Dillon's best Nationwide finish in three trips to Iowa but also his sixth top-five finish in 10 races in 2012.

"This was a great run for us, another top five [finish]," Dillon said. "We're clicking them off. We're staying right there, and [Stenhouse is] not really getting too far away. We can still see him. We've just got to gain a little bit here and there throughout the year, to be there at the end.

"We're going to have to do something, obviously, because he is fast this year."