Austin Dillon’s hopes for making up ground in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs hunt took a significant hit Sunday after a mid-race tangle with Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at Michigan International Speedway.
Dillon’s No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet had just crossed the start-finish line in sixth place at the end of Stage 2 in the FireKeepers Casino 400. His car made contact with the No. 2 Team Penske Ford of seventh-place Brad Keselowski, sending the No. 3 hard into the outside retaining wall on the track’s sweeping frontstretch.
“My bad, guys,” said Dillon over the team’s radio communications. Team owner Richard Childress replied on the No. 3 radio: “Hit him on purpose. I’m an old man but I’d kick his ass.”
Keselowski apologized on the No. 2 team radio. “Aw, man. I didn’t want to do that,” he said, adding the contact was not intentional.
“I was starting to come up off the apron because it’s so rough down there,” Dillon said after he was checked and released from the track’s infield care center. “But I figured by that point, he would have given me a little room. I hate it. I’m thankful that the good Lord kept me safe today. That was a heck of a wreck, but I feel fine. I hate it for (sponsor) BREZTRI and my guys, most of all. They built a rocket ship. They really wanted this one, and I did, too. Just working our tails off right there. I think we would have had a shot to do something there at the end with our race car. It’s the best race car we’ve brought to the track at RCR this year, I feel like.
“It’s just a bummer but we’ve got Daytona left and I just hate it. I don’t know why it happened, really. I thought I had a little room to come up and he just held me down there a little bit too long, I guess.”
Dillon — in a fevered pursuit of RCR teammate Tyler Reddick for a final playoff spot — quickly rose from the 26th starting position, leading two laps and running among the top five through the first half of the race. One race remains in the regular season — Saturday’s finale at Daytona International Speedway (7 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM).
Dillon finished 36th in the 37-car field but earned 14 points thanks to strong finishes of third and sixth at each stage break. That total was actually better than Reddick’s 11-point day, a total that was hurt by a solo spin with a flat tire with six laps remaining. He finished 29th. Reddick’s lead in his bid for the final playoff spot actually shrank from 28 points to 25 entering Saturday’s Daytona finale.
Keselowski continued to finish ninth in his home-state race.
“I am bummed. I wanted of course to get a win and I hate that I had that contact with the 3,” Keselowski said. “That really sucks for everybody. It really hurt our day and obviously ruined his. That was crappy. So it goes.”