NASCAR Playoff Panic May Be Just Around the Corner for Austin Dillon

·4 min read
Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images
Photo credit: Sean Gardner - Getty Images

The good news for Austin Dillon and Richard Childress Racing is that they’ve had a handful of legitimate chances to win Cup Series race this year. The bad news is that they’re 0-for-12 and in a slightly worse points position than last year at this time.

The No. 3 Chevrolet team goes into this weekend’s 400-miler at Kansas Speedway with three top 5s (two seconds and a third) and three more top 10s (a ninth and two 10ths) in 12 starts. They’re 13th in points, one position lower than after 12 races last year, although not after the same 12 races.

It’s too early for Playoff Panic to set in, but Dillon knows the feeling is looming just around the next corner.

Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images
Photo credit: James Gilbert - Getty Images

“We were pretty strong last year (but) kind of got overlooked because we didn’t make the Playoffs,” he said of his grandfather’s company that has won 13 NASCAR championships spread over three series “We were a consistent team all last year, but I feel like we’ve had way more opportunities to win this year. The disappointing part is that we’ve had more bigger catastrophes… getting wrecked at Phoenix (21st), getting wrecked at Atlanta (36th), and blowing up at Daytona (25th) and Bristol (31st).

“We didn’t have those types of bad days at this point last year. We had a couple more average days, but we’ve also had some bigger days with two second-place finishes (Auto Club and Talladega) and a third (Martinsville). We’ve definitely had more opportunities to win.”

Tyler Reddick, Dillon’s teammate in the No. 8 Chevy at RCR, has enjoyed some highlight moments himself. He’s finished second twice and third once, and has credible fifth- and seventh-place finishes. But he’s 15th in points, mostly because his bad finishes—three in the 30s and two in the 20s—have been really bad.

“If you look at the total of it (as most drivers and team-owners do), we’ve done a good job,” said Dillon. (His career resume is impressive: Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series champion and Rookie of the Year, Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, and Texas 500 victories, and CWTS Most Popular Driver). “We should have been in victory lane at this point. That’s the disappointing part—I feel we’ve had some really close calls and not been able to capitalize. That’s why you see us where we’re at in points. I feel confident we can go to victory lane this year and I think it will happen.”

It'll be something of a surprise if it happens on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City. Dillon has 17 Cup Series starts at the 1.5-mile track with nothing much to show for it: no poles or victories, no top-five finishes and only four top 10s. He’s averaged starting and finishing in the 16th-17th range and has led only six laps. The good news? He’s been running at the finish in 16 of his 17 starts there and has 10 lead-lap finishes.

Reddick hasn’t fared much better: no poles, victories, or top 5s, and only 2 top 10s and six laps led ion five Kansas starts. Similar to his teammate, he’s averaged starting and finishing in the 15th-16th range. His five “running at the finish” stat includes three on the lead lap.

Even now, with Kansas City the midpoint of the 26-race regular season, Dillon and Reddick are aware of the Playoff picture. There have been 10 different winners in the first 12 races, leaving six Playoff spots remaining. (One way or another—by points or with a victory—the regular season “champion” will be among the 16 Playoff drivers).

"(The Playoffs) are on your mind no matter what,” Dillon said. “It stays there because that’s the measuring stick when it comes to your end of the season. You can have a good season and not make the Playoffs; I did that last year. I felt like I had a decent season, but it didn’t matter because I didn’t make the Playoffs.

“The Playoffs are what starts clicking off those bonuses and contracts. It changes your end of the year for your entire organization. So, to me, making the Playoffs is everything. It’s always on your mind. No matter how much you try to conceal it, it’s what determines a solid season, a good season. Getting a win, getting in the Playoffs and making progress.”

The Xfinity Series is off this weekend, leaving a 150-mile ARCA race and a 200-mile Camping World Truck Series race as the support events on Saturday afternoon. The 400-mile Cup Series race is Sunday afternoon.