Driver increases points lead, but still can't find Victory Lane
NEWTON, Iowa -- If there ever was a slam-dunk pick for a driver to win a race, you could’ve done a whole lot worse than putting your money on Austin Dillon in Saturday’s U.S. Cellular 250 presented by Enlist Weed Control System at Iowa Speedway.
After earning the Coors Light Pole in June’s NASCAR Nationwide Series event here and leading 207 laps only to give way to eventual race-winner Trevor Bayne and come away with a bittersweet second-place finish, it’s safe to say Dillon had this race marked on his calendar.
And it showed.
The driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing AdvoCare Chevrolet opened up the weekend by outclassing the field and topping the charts in Friday’s two practice sessions. It seemed a foregone conclusion he would at least start on the front row, if not the pole.
That didn’t happen, as Dillon qualified in eighth position earlier Saturday. Once the race started, Dillon managed his way to the front of the pack and ended up leading a race-high 116 laps.
So, what’s the story?
Well, that slam-dunk pick didn’t pan out, and it was Brad Keselowski burning tires in Victory Lane instead of Dillon, who finished fourth.
A pivotal late restart after Dillon decided to take four tires during pit stops, when many drivers in the top 10 elected to take two, kept Dillon from catching Keselowski and the others.
“You can’t regret (taking four tires instead of two); I mean we were sitting catbird right there against two tires and their two tires fired,” Dillon said. “(But I learned that) two tires is pretty good here at the end.”
As disappointing as the finish was for Dillon, he still increased his points lead from six to 14 after second-place Regan Smith finished 11th. Sam Hornish Jr., who is third and has the same total points as Smith, finished second.
One thing that’s still missing from Dillon’s resume, however, is a victory.
“I guess (I have) mixed emotions (about increasing my points lead), but you just want to win, man,” he said. “The car was that good early. At the middle, we figured it was going to be good for the last run and it wasn’t. It just wasn’t the car we had all night. Oh well, you go from here and try and win the next one.”
The next one is at Watkins Glen International, a road course in which he has just one career NASCAR race under his belt -- last season’s 23rd-place finish in the Nationwide Zippo 200 at the Glen. Two weeks down the road is Mid-Ohio, a road course where he’s never run.
This was Dillon’s best chance to pick up his first win since Kentucky last September, and it’ll be on his mind for quite some time.
“Right now, I’m not even thinking about (Watkins Glen),” he said. “We just have to get out there and get two top-10s at the next two road courses and then we’ll be set for the rest of the year.”