RELATED: Talladega results
Ty Dillon subbed in for three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart on Sunday, taking over the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevrolet and driving it to a sixth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway.
The team made the driver switch in the 52nd of a scheduled 188 laps in Sunday's GEICO 500. The swap went according to plan, with Dillon intending to fill in during the first caution period as Stewart eases back to full-time competition after suffering a broken back in an offseason all-terrain vehicle accident.
From there, Dillon managed to avoid the four multicar crashes that followed, including one that punctuated the event at the checkered flag. The result earned Stewart 35 valuable championship points as he tries to position himself for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.
"All in all I'm so glad I got a good finish for Tony," Dillon said post-race. "I know this team is so strong they're going to win a race and get in the top 30. Just glad I got to be a part of what they're going to do this year."
After a pit-road speeding penalty during the first round of green-flag pit stops, Stewart was running a lap down at the time of the first caution period, triggered by a three-car crash involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Matt DiBenedetto.
Stewart was the beneficiary of the yellow flag, putting him back on the lead lap. After regaining his lost lap, Stewart pitted separately of the main pack and Dillon resumed near the tail end of the field in 33rd place.
"I think it went well; it might have been a little bit slower … but we were being patient, methodical," Dillon said of the driver swap, a change-over the team rehearsed during Friday practice. "I had my belts tight and everything was really smooth. We just made sure everything was perfect. We knew we had ample amount of time and it went well."
Stewart told FOX Sports' Jamie Little after exiting the car that "it sucks" to turn over the wheel, but that he understood the reasoning. He plans to return full-time next weekend at Kansas Speedway.
"If I wouldn't have broken my back in the end of January, we wouldn't have been in this situation," Stewart said. "The good news is it's the last time I've got to do it and then I'm back in the next week. Really appreciate Ty. I mean, he's been a rock star through this whole thing and especially this weekend. He's done all the heavy lifting and I just go riding around for 50 laps and turn it over to him."
Multiple chaotic wrecks ensued in the laps that followed the driver change, further justifying Stewart's decision. Dillon, a NASCAR XFINITY Series regular with 12 Sprint Cup starts, managed to keep the SHR entry free of major involvement the rest of the way.
"I don't know how I missed them, really," Dillon said. "(Spotter) Bob Jeffrey on top of the roof did a great job navigating me through. Just missed them by a narrow margin but we missed them. That was all that mattered."
Dillon drove the No. 14 in Saturday's Coors Light Pole Qualifying to the 14th starting spot. Stewart started Sunday's 500-miler, dropping to the rear of the 40-car field before the green flag because of the driver change.
"Guys, I know this isn't the optimal situation, but we have a kid who's done a great job for us," Stewart told his team over the radio during pace laps. "He'll do another great job today."
As the driver of record at the initial start, Stewart was credited with the finish and points. The two-driver effort moved Stewart up two spots to 38th in the Sprint Cup driver standings, 71 points behind 30th-place DiBenedetto.
Under the terms of the medical eligibility waiver granted by NASCAR upon his return, Stewart must win a race and finish among the top 30 in driver standings to qualify for a Chase berth.
Dillon made three starts for SHR this season in place of Stewart, dividing driving duties with Brian Vickers in the eight races Stewart was sidelined.
Contributing: Kenny Bruce