Ty Dillon doesn’t have seven NASCAR championships or 83 career victories, but the Germain Racing driver does have one thing in common with fellow racer Jimmie Johnson.
They both now have one stage win in a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.
Johnson, one of NASCAR’s legendary figures and driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, picked up what’s been his only stage win two years ago — the first season the format was used in the Cup Series.
Dillon, driver of the No. 13 Geico-backed Chevrolet, scored his first stage win this past weekend, coming out on top of a two-lap, door-banging, tire-rubbing battle with Stewart-Haas Racing driver Clint Bowyer.
“I like staying in line with him,” Dillon, 27, said when told he matched Johnson’s stage win record. “There are some good things to come if we can keep our stats in line with him.”
Dillon said he felt confident once he realized he was lined up alongside Bowyer on the front row with just two laps remaining in the opening stage of Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
A caution five laps earlier had left teams discussing options. Several of the leaders came to pit road; Bowyer, Dillon (who was just outside the top 10) and a few others chose to stay out.
The conversation with crew chief Matt Borland was brief, according to Dillon.
“I think we both understood and felt like our car was really good at that point,” he said. “We had driven up from 24th and knew it would only be a couple of laps shootout. Matt saw an opportunity to put us in position to get some stage points and I knew what my job was.
“At first, I thought there were some cars that must have pitted that were running in front of me on track that I didn’t realize. I thought we were going to be about fifth by staying out which I was still OK with, still felt like we could get some points out of it. But when I ended up rolling up there in second, and then Clint gave me the top, I knew that we were going to have a chance to win the stage. As soon as he gave me the top, I knew I could get the job done.
“Proud of the effort everyone put forth to get us in a situation to get Geico, Germain Racing and myself all the first stage win. It was such a really great moment to win something for Germain Racing and Geico for all the commitment and hard work that they’ve done.”
Dillon finished 15th in the series’ eighth points race of the season.
RELATED: Full Bristol results
The two-lap battle between Dillon and Bowyer was exactly what officials anticipated when the stage format was introduced in 2017. Guaranteed stoppages that provide a chance to earn additional race points as well as playoff points (the winner of each stage earns one playoff point which can be carried into the playoffs) encourage and often result in harder racing as the end of each stage approaches.
It didn’t matter that Bowyer chose the bottom for the restart, according to Dillon. The brother of fellow Cup driver Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon said he merely leaned on previous experiences at Bristol, where he has four top-five finishes in the Xfinity Series.
“Our car was actually stronger on the bottom – I felt like we could give them a shot at winning the stage top or bottom but when I knew I was on the top I knew I could do things that get the job done,” he said.
Still, he admitted, “it was a lot closer than I wanted it to be.”
A stage win isn’t a race win; Dillon and his team remain focused on improving every week.
“That moment on Sunday was a really awesome time, a really big thing for our team,” he said. “But win or lose, it doesn’t really define us today. Today we’re working on getting better and looking forward to Richmond.”
Nineteen drivers have won one or more stages since the format was introduced. Dillon is now one of six with one stage victory.