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Dillon struggles after early issues at Road America

June 25, 2012, Jill Erwin, NASCAR.com

Gearbox problem anchors No. 3 car back in field despite hard-core preparation

ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. -- Austin Dillon knew something was wrong as soon as he tried to shift into third gear.

It was Lap 12 in the Sargento 200 at Road America and Dillon tried to upshift. Problem was, the No. 3 was not going to allow that.

"I knew third gear was going away from the beginning," Dillon said. "More and more I started using it, and then that first caution came out at Lap 12 and I went to third and it just kicked it out and I was like, 'We lost it.'

"I tried to put it in a few times and we couldn't do nothing with it."

Dillon qualified 23rd and fell back nearly from the start. He spent most of the race in the mid-20s before recovering late to finish 18th.

It was not the result Dillon wanted after the effort he put in to prepare himself for the first road-course race of his NASCAR national touring series career.

Richard Childress Racing put experienced road racer Max Papis in the No. 33, and he became Dillon's mentor.

The duo spent hours in a two-seat racing car, going over the ins and outs of turning left and right. Papis offered advice, Dillon absorbed it and asked questions, and the 22-year-old came into the weekend feeling as prepared as he could.

But all the preparation in the world can't always overcome mechanical fate.

"It was just a little disappointing that he had the gearbox problem," said Papis, who finished fourth. "We were aiming for a top-15. I really want to hear his comment because I think that he learned a lot.

"Too bad that he lost third gear because I wanted him to shift, no mistake, and I want to hear why they lost that gear. I never saw him in the gravel trap, so that was my goal."

It wasn't Dillon's goal. But as is his wont, Dillon took what he could from the day and turned his attention forward.

He doesn't throw tantrums or complain. And Saturday was no different.

"The guys did a good job with strategy to get us some spots," Dillon said. "We just had to make what we had out of second and fourth [gear]. It was second and fourth all the way around this place, and that's pretty tough.

"We were able to use up the brakes and we had a strong car that could stand the beating we put on it. It's disappointing that we lost third gear so early. We had a decent car; I think we actually had a really good car, but just nothing for 'em without third gear."

As a slight bit of silver lining for Dillon, he wasn't the only driver high in the points to have trouble. Points leader Elliott Sadler was spun out on Lap 39 by Jacques Villeneuve. He was working his way into the top 10 when he was dumped, dropping to 25th. He recovered to finish 15th.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is third in the points, but finished outside the top 10, as well, in 11th.

Dillon did lose points to both of them (he fell three further back of Sadler, to 11 back; he's only 12 ahead of Stenhouse after entering 19 up) but he's ready to get back to business next weekend.

"Thankfully the guys who are racing around us, they didn't beat us by too much," Dillon said. "We'll have to go to work at Kentucky next week, which is a really good track for me. It's one of my favorites and I can't wait to get there."

It's not just Kentucky that Dillon will be preparing for. He'll also be getting ready for some retribution.

"We've been working really hard," he said. "Just going and testing and now we just have to go and test more and get our transmissions better. I don't understand why we should lose third gear on an upshift, so we'll go work on it and go to Montreal and Watkins Glen."