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Year in Review: Truck Series title even sweeter for family-oriented Dillon

December 19, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Year in Review: Truck Series title even sweeter for family-oriented Dillon

To understand what a special season it was for Austin Dillon, all one needs to do is listen for a moment to how his grandfather, Richard Childress, attempted to put it in perspective after Dillon secured the 2011 Camping World Truck Series championship.

"This has got to be right up there at the top," said Childress, who fielded the No. 3 truck Dillon drove to the title. "It's so special when you're family. Our whole family is involved, and I remember the very first championship with Dale Earnhardt. I had the same feeling watching Austin, my grandson. It's just so special to have the family involved and to know how hard all of them worked."

The champ

The Truck Series season was a battle between generations, with the youngest of them all besting them all in 2011.

At 21 years, 6 months and 22 days, Dillon became the youngest driver ever to win the Truck Series championship when he clinched the title with a 10th-place finish in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"How does it feel? Amazing. It's the best feeling I've had in my entire life," a beaming Dillon said afterward.

Dillon laid the groundwork for the championship celebration earlier in the season, especially during a remarkable stretch of seven races that led up to Homestead. Beginning with his second win of the season at Chicagoland on Sept. 16, Dillon took over the points lead for good and embarked on a stretch during which he finished in the top seven in six of the next seven events. That included second-place runs at New Hampshire, Kentucky and Texas, and a third at Martinsville.

Childress thought the second-place finish in the next-to-last race of the season at Texas essentially is what sealed the deal for his grandson.

"I think watching the race at Texas was the key to winning this championship," Childress said. "He was conservative when he had to be and he raced hard when he had to. I think that was a big win; I mean, we finished second but it was a great run.

"Going into Homestead, I didn't talk to him a whole lot the entire week because I didn't want to add any extra pressure. But he handles pressure better than most people his age. Both him and his brother Ty. ... They must get it from their mom because me and their dad [RCR competition director Mike Dillon] get a little wound up sometimes."

Once he got to Homestead, Dillon said he relaxed by playing video games with friends on his Xbox and watching movies when he wasn't on the track preparing for the final race. He had a sizable lead to protect and needed only to finish 16th or better no matter what anyone else did, but tried not to think about it too much.

"You can't approach things different," Dillon said. "When you're sitting outside the lead coming into the last race, you can take more chances, that's for sure. ... We needed to finish 16th and we went out and got ourselves a top-10, so we did our job."

It capped a season in which Dillon won twice (Nashville, in addition to Chicagoland), captured five poles, and registered 10 top-five finishes and 16 top-10s in 25 starts. He had an average start of 4.8 and an average finish of 9.3.

Now he'll move on to the Nationwide Series as a full-time competitor in 2012. But he couldn't think of a better way to say goodbye to the Camping World Truck Series that has been so good to him, and vice versa, since he broke into it in 2009 at the tender age of 19.

"The championship, yeah, it's amazing," Dillon said. "You get to spray champagne everywhere. You're on top of the world. It's the best feeling. Darrell Waltrip told me the best feeling in the world is going home stinking and having a trophy in your lap, and we were able to do that.