News & Media

Cup debut new experience for Truck leader Dillon

October 08, 2011, David Caraviello,

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- In the months since his Sprint Cup debut was announced in March, Austin Dillon hadn't once considered the disappointment that would ensue if he failed to make the race. That is, until right before he slid into his No. 98 car during qualifying Friday at Kansas Speedway.

"You get in the car, and you start thinking about everything that can go wrong, and what would go wrong, and wow, if I don't make it, that would really stink," said Dillon, who had to make the race on speed. "You start thinking about bad things, and you've really got to erase them from your mind. But it's always in the back of your head, especially when you get up there. I tried to keep it out of anything before I got in there, but it's inevitable you're going to get nervous before your big debut."

"What's important to me is to run all the laps in this race. ... I feel like I've got a good, level head on my shoulders, and a lot of people around who tell me how I need to race."


Not surprisingly, then, Dillon said he over-drove his qualifying effort a little, but still managed to secure the 26th-place starting spot for Sunday's event. The grandson of six-time championship car owner Richard Childress and the current leader in the Camping World Truck Series, Dillon is ready for the next step in an ascendant racing career that's seen success every stop along the way. At Kansas, though, the goals are relatively modest -- complete the laps, get the car home in one piece, and don't interfere with the drivers competing for the series championship.

"The biggest goal is running all the laps," said Dillon, who is running a car owned by Mike Curb and Cary Agajanian, with equipment and support from Richard Childress Racing. "If we can have a clean car at the end of the race and run all the laps, I think that would be mission accomplished. I'd like to run on the lead lap, and I think 25th would be great. Anywhere in front of 25th would be a great finish. I'm going to set realistic goals."

His grandfather, who owns one of the 12 cars competing in the Chase, has been among those providing instruction on how to race the title contenders. "You look out for those guys," Dillon said. "It's tough, because you want to race hard. But I know what's important to me is to run all the laps in this race [Sunday]. ... I feel like I've got a good, level head on my shoulders, and a lot of people around who tell me how I need to race. My grandfather's been on me about it to make sure I don't get in their way. But I would like to race up there. It would be fun to see if we can get up there and see if we can race around them."

Childress always has taken an active interest in the racing careers of grandsons Austin and Ty, the latter the ARCA points leader who will be a rookie in the Truck Series next season. This is no different -- during practice sessions, Childress made sure Austin drilled on green-flag pit stops, knowing how to get on and off pit road in the more powerful Sprint Cup car. Dillon said he's also received advice from five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson in addition to RCR teammates Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Paul Menard. There's a lot to absorb, particularly since Dillon had never before raced a vehicle that used bump stops or a sway bar.

"It's like learning a different language," he said. That learning curve extends to the race track, where the Sprint Cup car allows Dillon to use more of the surface than the less powerful truck does. Although Dillon prepared for this weekend by testing at Pike's Peak, Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia, and earlier this week with the rest of the series in an open two-day session at reconfigured Phoenix, he's still learning as he goes, as he discovered when he almost got into Mark Martin during practice.

"You're running on different parts of the track. That's the different part, just because you've got so much more horsepower," he said. "I ran a bunch around the top, and then I moved to the bottom, and you have to back your corner way up when you try and catch the bottom of the track. I ran with Kyle Busch and Mark Martin out there and was able to run right behind them for a long time. I pulled under Mark, actually was going to pass him, then got into [Turn] 3 too hard and started shoving up. I was like, oh, I almost got into Mark. You've just got to remember to back your corner up when you're under someone."

Despite Bowyer's looming departure from his grandfather's organization, Dillon said he's set to run the full Nationwide Series next year. "That's pretty much done," he said, adding that the sponsor and the car number -- he's been using the famous No. 3 in his Truck Series efforts -- should be finalized by the end of the month. He said Childress has mentioned running more Cup races next season, perhaps the first five, in a program shared with another driver, but none of that is concrete.

Either way, he hopes additional Cup events are in his future. "We'll see," Dillon said. "Nothing is done yet. That's just a lot of talk. By the end of the year we'll know more. I think they'll have something where I'll run a few here or there, just scattered. That would be nice."

* Trackside: Dillon joins SPEED set to discuss his Cup debut