News & Media


Penalty doesn't detract from Dillon's Kentucky win

July 05, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com

Austin Dillon and Danny Stockman say the No. 3 team has improved, and is continuing to do so. (Getty)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Late last Friday night, after the biggest race victory of Austin Dillon's career in NASCAR, crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. finished media obligations and returned to the Nationwide Series garage at Kentucky Speedway only to be met with a somber message from team operations director Gil Martin. In post-event inspection, the rear of the No. 3 car had been found to be too low.

"It sucked the life completely out of you," Stockman said Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. "We definitely don't want to be known as someone trying to cheat or get something by NASCAR, because we're not doing that. That's not very fun. But that week's over. We're done with that, we're on to Daytona now and then to Loudon, and we'll be paying attention to the details a little more."

"That was our mulligan, I think, because Elliott had it happen to him earlier this year. So it brings it back to even, I think, with the points deal."

--AUSTIN DILLON

The violation ultimately cost Stockman $10,000 and Dillon six points in the standings, forcing him to give back the four-point series lead he had taken after the race. The Richard Childress Racing driver is now two points behind teammate Elliott Sadler entering Friday night's 250-mile event at Daytona, but the penalty didn't detract from a breakthrough victory in which Dillon led all but eight laps to claim his first triumph on the Nationwide level. Dillon added that RCR won't appeal the penalty, which was identical to one that befell Sadler for the same infraction earlier this season.

"We're still the winner, and we celebrated at the lake the next day," he said. "The whole team came, we talked to them, had a good meeting with the team and we're all set for the second half of the season and making sure little mistakes like that don't happen. That was our mulligan, I think, because Elliott had it happen to him earlier this year. So it brings it back to even, I think, with the points deal. From this day forward we're very focused on not having mistakes. ... You can definitely tell the guys are beat up by it, but they're excited to go racing the next couple of weeks."

With good reason, given the performance the 22-year-old Dillon has shown since making the leap from the Camping World Truck Series, where he won the championship last season. Dillon leads the Nationwide tour with eight top-five finishes, and his Kentucky victory comes amid a stretch where he's also claimed poles in two of his past three events. It's all seemed to be a seamless transition for a team that made the step up from the Truck tour, and has established itself as a title contender despite the notable differences between the vehicles and the circuits involved.

"I feel like we've been putting in double the amount of effort from the Truck Series, making sure that effort is there and that our transition has been seamless," Dillon said. "It's been good, and it can be better. That's where we've been pushing ourselves, and not happy with some of the top-10s that we've gotten, and felt like we were better than that. That's where you've seen the performance at Michigan and Kentucky, where our cars have been better, and I've been better, and our communication is getting better. ... I think there's so much more to racing now with the mental aspect, the physical aspect, and then just staying on what really matters, and that's performing and making sure everyone on the team is on the same page. We've done a good job with that this year, and I hope we can keep it going."

It hasn't come without work. Stockman said the team tests almost every week, and has dealt with adjustments in terms of communication and making the vehicle better over longer races. Truck events are so short, he said, the balance on the vehicle doesn't change as much as it does on a Nationwide car. The challenge for the No. 3 team earlier this season was knowing where the car needed to be for the last run, and communicating clearly enough to get it there. "It's been a big stepping stone for us," Stockman said, "but we're definitely getting better."

That much was evident last Friday night, when Dillon dominated the field en route to his first Nationwide victory. And according to the team, it happened despite -- rather than because of -- the part failure that led the No. 3 to be too low in post-race inspection. Stockman said the RCR Nationwide program used one type of clamp on the rear jack bolts, but switched to another after Sadler's penalty at Iowa Speedway earlier this season. The old clamps were used on Dillon's car for the Kentucky race, and the rough track surface in Sparta created enough of a vibration for the piece to wiggle itself out.

"We thought we had the problems fixed, and we just made a mistake and didn't put the new-style fix that we had on the back of the car," Dillon said. "Mine had the old clamp, and it just came loose at the track during the race. We went through tech before and after qualifying and [it] was fine. Started the race fine. Iowa and Kentucky are both rough tracks ... but we should have had the new one on. Just a mistake we made on the rear of the car."

Had the clamp stayed in place, Stockman said, the car would have been faster. "It's definitely not what we wanted to happen, wasn't what we intended to happen," the crew chief said. "We all know what we're trying to do is keep the back up and the front down, and that ... definitely was not intended."

Dillon said simulations following the event proved as much. "I knew it didn't help me, having that go wrong. It hurt us," he said. "After we ran the sim, it kind of justified it even more back at the shop. We looked at it, and we were slower. It justified it even more after that. But maybe for a minute after getting the news ... you knew what was going to happen. Half the people were going to say, 'Oh, it helped him.' The real racers know what it did, and that's who matters to me."