Truck Series title hopes run high after rookie campaign
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Older, wiser and more seasoned is a hard claim to make for someone just two weeks shy of their 21st birthday, but Ty Dillon seems believable when speaking in those terms. His belief that a championship could be in the cards seems just as plausible.
It's lofty stuff for the rising sophomore in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but the title aspirations seem to match the driver and team's capability.
"Very realistic for us," Dillon said Thursday at NASCAR Media Day fueled by Sunoco. "I think that's the only thing we're wanting this year is to win a lot of races and win that championship. Anything short would be a disappointment for us."
Dillon will get his second truck series season started in next Friday's NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway, but only after a healthy dose of dirt-track racing at nearby Volusia Speedway Park. Going from slinging mud on a dirt half-mile to the giant asphalt superspeedway might seem like a huge leap, but then again, Dillon is used to making sizable transitions.
His jump to the Truck Series last year came with a certain degree of learning curve built in, but the results didn't portray any sense of early jitters. Dillon rattled off nine straight top-10 finishes to start the season, leaving him firmly in the top three in the points by May. He never fell lower than third from then on, until a crash in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway knocked him to his final rank of fourth place.
"The first half of the year, we were really true rookies and it took us a while to learn," Dillon said. "Then the second half, we matured a lot as a team, got our first race win and turned our top-10 finishes into top-five finishes. We really started narrowing down and getting closer to running up front and winning. I think that's what brought us into the points chase there at the end and I think that just looks up for us this year. … We've got a full notebook going into this year so we can fine-tune our trucks just that much better."
Besides having a well-tenured Richard Childress Racing team in his corner, Dillon had one more valuable resource -- his brother Austin Dillon, the 2011 Truck Series champion. While some elements of a mild sibling rivalry exist, Ty said that Austin's assistance in his first year was anything but adversarial.
"It was huge because he'd already been through his rookie year in trucks, so he knew what I was going to expect and the things that were going to go on for me the first time," Ty said. "He was always there for me to lean on, to call. And he would call me, too. As much as we're competitive against each other, we also want to see each other do well. He was there to help me get better and be better as a driver, and anything I could help him with, I was there, too."
The "family first" mentality seems to pervade within the Childress operation, run by the Dillons' grandfather and legendary car owner. For the youngest Dillon in the bunch, that seems to be enough.
From there, the confidence to perform on the track becomes second nature.
"A good family, a good support system, a good girlfriend … It sounds silly, but it really means a lot when you have a lot of people who believe in you," Dillon said. "We've got a great race team who are like brothers to me. When you've got a great support system, you can go through the ups and downs and it makes it a whole lot easier."