BROOKLYN, Mich. — A brand-new car is just what Austin Dillon needed to turn around a trying season since his Daytona 500 win in February.
Dillon finished fourth in Sunday’s Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, piloting a freshly built No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet chassis for his second top-five finish of the year — and his first since winning in Daytona.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing for Dillon. Running second behind eventual race winner Kevin Harvick with two laps remaining, his car shot up the race track abruptly and Dillon lost two positions to Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch while he tried to regain control.
Dillon quickly climbed out of the car after the race and checked the tires in an effort to diagnose the problem. He still wasn’t sure what caused the issue.
“The tire … with two laps to go, it was like the tire was unraveling or the lug nuts were loose,” Dillon said. “Just wanted to bring home a good finish. We really needed that.”
Team owner and Austin’s grandfather, Richard Childress, applauded Dillon for his quick thinking to avoid potential disaster.
“I wish he could have gotten that second that he was running,” Childress said. “All of a sudden he just shot up the race track and it started vibrating. He pulled over and let them go, which was the smart thing. Better to do that than hit the wall. But it felt good to see a Chevy run up there.”
Despite the strong finish, Dillon couldn’t help but think of what might have been without the vibration that he said came out of nowhere.
“Man, I wish I could have brought it home in second,” Dillon said. “Awesome racing with Harvick there at the end in our Camaro. Ah, man, it just feels great when we’ve been struggling all year long since Daytona.”
“To have a top-five run like that is huge,” he added. “If the 4 makes a mistake we’re there to capitalize. … He (Harvick) was the dominant car all day and I felt like we were the second-place car behind him.”
While recent finishes have been disappointing, Childress did offer an explanation for why the team hasn’t run up front much this season. With Dillon’s Daytona win already in hand early in the season, the No. 3 team has been focusing on the bigger playoff picture.
“That’s what we’re working on right now,” Childress said. “Everything we’re doing. We missed it a few times because of trying stuff for the playoffs. So, pretty good right now.”
After collecting six stage points in Stage 2 to bring his season total up to 18 bonus points for the playoffs, Dillon flexed his muscle by following right in the tire tracks of Harvick’s No. 4 Ford throughout much of the final stage at what he considers one of his best race tracks.
“I think it just all came together,” Dillon said. “This is a big place for everybody, especially all the manufacturers. To come out here and be the top-finishing Chevy that means a lot for RCR. We’ll keep working hard. This is a great showing leading into the playoffs.”
The finish is a huge boost of confidence for Dillon & Co. after they scored only three top-10 finishes since his Daytona triumph. Dillon is hoping the momentum carries him through the final three regular-season races.
“Top tens, consistency and the ability to win races is there,” Dillon said. “Anybody who runs in the top five on a given basis has the chance to win and we have to do that more often going into the playoffs.”
Dillon said that if the 3 team can continue to bring top-notch cars to the track, he can continue to challenge for victories.
“I feel like I have one of the biggest hearts out there in this garage as a driver and can get it done when we put great cars on the track,” he said. “We put a great car on the track today and I showed what we can do.”