After early scare, Dillon delivers for SHR
August 18, 2013, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- What started inauspiciously for Austin Dillon turned into just the kind of effort Stewart-Haas Racing was hoping for out of its substitute driver.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series regular spun early at Michigan International Speedway, but Dillon and Tony Stewart’s No. 14 team regrouped and rallied for -- appropriately -- a 14th-place finish on the 2-mile track. SHR had hoped for a top-20 finish from Dillon, driving in the second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event that Stewart has missed since breaking two bones in his right leg in a sprint car crash Aug. 5.
In that regard, it was mission accomplished.
“We’d have loved to have run up front and gave him a shot to win it. But we came here to get a solid finish, (and) we did that,” crew chief Steve Addington said. “We got a little behind there at the beginning, but did all the wave-arounds and stayed on our plan, and it worked out for us. All the guys are pumped up. They enjoyed working with him, and that’s the main thing. We had a great weekend. Everything went really smooth.”
On a slick Michigan track surface where Clint Bowyer spun on the first lap and Kyle Busch went around twice, Dillon spun 13 laps into the event and collected the car of J.J. Yeley. Addington said the contact knocked in the right side of the car, but the incident occurred early enough in the race that the No. 14 crew was able to pull out the vehicle’s fenders and keep their fill-in driver competitive.
“Our goal was a top-15, but I put us behind at the beginning,” Dillon said. “Thought I was going to be able to pass J.J. pretty easy, but I just got loose under him. It was totally my fault. I got in there hard, grabbed the brake and slid into him. I hate it for him and the 36 team. I know they’re out here battling each and every week. That was a bad deal for them. I didn’t mean to get into them like that.
“I pretty much did exactly what I did not want to do. Going into it, I knew I needed to stay calm and take my time because it was 200 laps, and then we’re wrecked before we even get to Lap 20. I just made a big mistake. It happens when you’re out there racing hard and just trying to give it your all. I knew the car was fast. I was just trying to get too much, too early. But I’m proud of the way we battled back and earned this finish.”
Dillon’s finish left the No. 14 car in 13th place in Sprint Cup Series owners’ points, a drop of two positions from the previous week, where Max Papis filled in at Watkins Glen. Stewart has endured two surgeries on the broken tibia and fibula in his right leg, and is under doctor’s orders to remain in bed with the extremity elevated to prevent swelling.
SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said Friday that the team is planning a schedule of substitute drivers for the remainder of the year, a list that should be finalized before the series arrives at Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend. An announcement of a replacement driver for the half-mile short track -- expected to be Mark Martin -- could come as early as Monday.
But Sunday that duty fell to Dillon, whom Addington said kept cool even after his early incident. “He did a good job of hanging on,” the crew chief said. “He’s got to be proud of it.”
It was a busy weekend for the Richard Childress Racing driver, who on Saturday helicoptered to the inaugural Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to compete in that event. Although Dillon practiced his No. 3 car on Thursday, he remained in Michigan on Friday and through Saturday morning, forcing him to start at the rear on the road course. He finished 21st, and fell from atop the series to fourth in Nationwide standings, 15 behind new leader Sam Hornish Jr.
Sunday’s substitute effort on the Sprint Cup tour produced a more positive result.
“The kid is mature beyond his years,” Addington said. “He’s got a ton of talent. That kid is going to be a star in this sport.”