Dillon heads into Iowa with points lead
July 29, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- It was a big week for Austin Dillon. In a span of seven days, the former Camping World Truck Series champion pocketed his second $100,000 Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash bonus of the year, won the inaugural MudSummer Classic truck race at Eldora Speedway and took over the Nationwide Series points lead.
He will carry a six-point advantage into this week’s U.S. Cellular 250 (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET) at Iowa Speedway, thanks to a 12th-place finish July 27 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“We weren’t really happy with our run … but it turned out OK for us … we took the points lead,” Dillon said.
Dillon finished third on July 21 at Chicago, the highest finishing eligible driver in the Dash 4 Cash program. Three nights later in Rossburg, Ohio, he became the first driver in 42 years to win a NASCAR national series event on dirt with the Eldora victory.
And while he wasn’t content with his finish in the Indiana 250 at IMS, he avoided the problems that curtailed the efforts of former points leader Sam Hornish Jr. and second-place Regan Smith.
Overheating issues slowed both Hornish and Smith. Hornish fell by the wayside after 64 laps, while Smith completed the race but wound up 19th.
“At the end (of the race), they said it was going to be a good points day,” Dillon said of radio conversations with his crew. He was told “just make it through these last restarts and salvage what you can.”
Richard Childress Racing teammate Brian Scott finished second, nearly snatching the win from Kyle Busch in the final laps. “It’s nice to have a team that’s running well,” Dillon said of Scott’s charge, “so you can push each other.”
Dillon admitted his own group will need “better days … to win the championship, but we’ve definitely had great cars all year long.
“We … just got caught in the wrong position,” he said. “Just keep fighting hard and hopefully we’re holding that Cup at the end of the year.
Smith, who led the Nationwide points standings for 10 consecutive weeks before slipping to second at Chicago, said the closeness of the points race isn’t surprising. Only 28 points separate the top five positions. Elliott Sadler sits third, 13 points behind Dillon while Hornish is now fourth (minus-14) and Brian Vickers is fifth.
“We keep making a big deal out of it, and this is what I said it was going to be at the beginning of the year,” Smith said. “This is truly what I felt it was going to be -- you’ve got a lot of companies that optimize these cars, you’ve got a lot of talented drivers that are going to battle and this is how it’s going to continue to be until we get to Homestead. I believe that.
“So you have to put yourself in the best position you can and capitalize on the opportunities.”
That he was able to salvage a top-20 finish at Indy, he said, was a testament to the Hendrick Motorsports program and the engines it provides to the JR Motorsports organization.
“There’s no reason that thing should not have blown up,” he said. “I can’t tell you the last time I saw a motor smoke like that and not hand grenade.
“So as much as I’m really bummed out because we had a car that was probably capable of finishing somewhere in the top five, depending on how it shook out, I’m also very thankful and very happy that it held together. That shows the durability of the Hendrick motors.”