2020 Playoffunderdogs
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Custer, Dillon ready to keep playoffs interesting as underdogs

Austin Dillon is ready to bust some 2020 NASCAR Playoffs brackets.

The pilot of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet already threw the Cup Series’ 16-driver postseason field for a loop when he secured himself a spot with a regular-season victory. He was outside the playoff picture at the time of his win, with eight races remaining. Every driver with a win – surprise or not – means one less opening for someone else to point their way into championship contention.

“I love being dismissed,” Dillon said Wednesday during the first day of the virtual 2020 NASCAR Playoffs Media Days. “I think it’s great. I’ve just always kind of been that way. … I feel like that’s what propels us, and then we sneak up on people.”

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Dillon did just that in July, and so did rookie Cole Custer, driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing’s No. 41 Ford.

Before Custer won at Kentucky Speedway, he ranked 25th in the overall point standings – not even close to the bubble. Dillon was 16th in points prior to his win at Texas Motor Speedway the next week, but when it came to the playoff picture, he was actually bumped from the top 16 because of Custer’s guaranteed spot.

“I think we can go in there and prove some people wrong is the biggest thing,” Custer said. “But at the end of the day, it’s about being consistent and it’s about being competitive. I think we’ve had a lot of peaks and valleys at times this year, but at the same time, we just need to try and level it out more going into these playoffs.”

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William Byron flirted with the cutline by single digits – a slight edge toward the good – so his berth can’t really be seen as a complete plot twist. The No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet wheelman had the opportunity to point his way into the playoffs. But then he won the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway last week, so it didn’t end up mattering anyway.

Also, Byron qualified last year. Dillon did not. Custer wasn’t even in the Cup Series.

“Obviously, our goal going into this year was to make it further than we did last year in the playoffs, which was the Round of 12 last year,” Byron said. “So, if we can make it to the Round of 8 this year, it would be a success, for sure.”

Byron closed out 2019 ninth in the final standings. Dillon wound up 21st, which ties for his worst career finish.

In this season’s initial playoff seedings, Byron is ninth at 2,007 points, followed by Dillon and Custer in order with 2,005 points apiece. Top-seed Kevin Harvick has 2,057 points and bottom-seed Matt DiBenedetto has 2,000 points – for perspective.

The Round of 16 kicks off Sunday at Darlington Raceway with the Cook Out Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The Round of 16, Round of 12 and Round of 8 consist of three races, with four drivers getting eliminated at the end of the segment. Winners automatically advance. Otherwise, points keep title chances alive. In the Championship 4, the highest-finishing driver among the title-eligible drivers wins the title.

“You got to get points,” Dillon said. “So we’re going to be very aggressive in getting those points, and hopefully mess up a lot of brackets.”