Like him or not, Austin Dillon appears to be here to stay

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It has been said that to whom much is given, much is expected. And there’s no doubt that new NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Austin Dillon has been given – and will continue to be given – all the resources he needs to succeed to as he prepares to ascend to the Sprint Cup level.

But with that said, he’ll still have to capitalize on those resources – just as he did when he won the Camping World Truck Series title in 2011 and won the NNS title last night with a 12th-place finish. You can have all the advantages in the world, but it means nothing if you’re not talented enough to make them work for you.

And Dillon has most definitely proven his talent. Truthfully, that should be enough to quiet his legion of critics that say he’s simply been spoiled rotten by his “Pop-Pop,” team owner and grandfather Richard Childress, and that he isn’t the right guy to bring Dale Earnhardt’s legendary No. 3 back to Cup, as he’s expected to do next year.

But, of course, it won’t be enough. Even if Dillon manages to win a Cup title in that No. 3 – a number that really isn’t a number, but an embodiment of NASCAR itself – he’ll always have to deal with that problem. Somebody will always be raging, even while Dillon is at peace.

“I feel like for me, personally, I’ve done a good job getting to where I’m at today,” he said Thursday before his fateful weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway began.

“Things happen for a reason.  You can’t control certain things…I don’t lack any confidence.  For lack of better words, I’m comfortable in my own skin and happy with where I’m at right now.”

For a guy that takes a ton of flak for supposedly having it easy, there was nothing easy about how Dillon won the NNS title last night. Burdened with what he later called the worst car he’s had all season, he was unable to make his way to the front while his title rival, Sam Hornish Jr., looked set to have a Top-5 outing.

But Dillon and crew chief Danny Stockman wouldn’t be denied. After Stockman took numerous swings to try and cure the car’s loose-handling condition, Dillon finally started to move forward as the laps wound down, cracking the Top 10 with around 35 laps to go.

Dillon had Hornish in his sights. And as long as he did, he knew he would be in good shape. The extended, 12-lap yellow following a multi-car crash with 17 laps left helped Dillon further.

Finally, with the green flag coming back again with five laps to go, both Hornish (re-starting third) and Dillon (re-starting fifth) gave up multiple spots. But with a slim lead in the championship, all Dillon had to do was staying within fair distance of the three-time IndyCar champion.

“The last one, I knew with five to go, our car was good enough,” Dillon said. “If I could somehow get [Hornish] off his rocker, get him frustrated somehow, it would work. I pulled out on him down the frontstretch, but his car was a little better. He got sideways off of [Turn] 4 and kind of got him up against the wall.

“I could see him from then on. Then it was just trying to finish it out. Our car was tight there near the end sliding against the wall. As long as I could see him, I was comfortable.”

It wasn’t the most tidy way to finish off a championship. And to some, being the first driver to claim a NASCAR national series championship without a race win will be enough fodder to slam him.

But above all else, championships are about consistency. With 13 Top-5s, 22 Top-10s, and just three finishes outside the Top-20 all season, Dillon did what he had to do.

Now, the expectations and the pressure are set to skyrocket with his full-time move to NASCAR’s top stage. He believes that he’s ready.

“That level is a little bit bigger of a jump for sure,” Dillon said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. [Sprint Cup] Rookie of the Year is definitely what we want to get next year. That’s our main focus, and to gain as much experience as I can. Each lap I hit in a Cup car, a Cup motor, is going to be crucial next year. Finishing laps will be huge.

“We got a good plan. I’m looking forward to battling it out next year.”

And presumably, many more years after that.

Austin Dillon will never completely shake the haters. But just as he’s used to them by now, they’ll have to get used to him.

Josef Newgarden wins pole for Grand Prix of Alabama

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With time running off the clock, Josef Newgarden lapped Barber Motorsports Park with a speed of 122.773 mph to win his third career pole and first on this track in the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Newgarden was .0128 seconds faster than teammate Scott Dixon in second.

Newgarden has two previous wins at Barber. He won last year’s edition of this race after starting seventh and in 2015 from fifth.

“I didn’t know if that was going to be enough,” Newgarden said after winning the pole.

“Team Chevy has done a good job,” Newgarden said. “They’ve really given us good power this weekend – good driveability. We’re going to need some fuel mileage tomorrow, which I think we’ll have. But it’s going to get mixed up with the rain.”

Dixon’s lap of 122.750 mph was not quite enough.

“I’m sure you could pick out a number of different things on a lap when it’s that close,” Power said about what made the slight difference between him and Newgarden. “A little mistake out of 9; a little lift here or there.”

Sebastien Bourdais (122.605 mph) qualified third, with Ryan Hunter-Reay (122.159) and James Hinchliffe (121.859) rounding out the top five.

Scott Dixon was the last driver in the top six.

Fast 12

Newgarden topped this chart with a speed of 123.475 mph.

He brought Power, James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sebastien Bourdais along with him to the Fast 6.

Marco Andretti (122.480), Alexander Rossi (122.216), Simon Pagenaud (122.050), Robert Wickens (122.042), Zach Veach (121.784) and Ed Jones (120.984) failed to advance.

Round 1, Group 1

Newgarden posted the fastest single lap in round one, group one of qualification for the Grand Prix of Alabama with a speed of 122.550 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, and Andretti also advance to the fast 12.

Taking the final slot was Jones with a speed of 119.835 mph after an off-course excursion in final practice.

This was Andretti’s first advancement to the fast 12 for the first time since 2014.

Round 1, Group 2

Power had the fastest lap of 121.570 mph.

Bourdais, Veach (who is battling food poisoning-like symptoms), Rossi, and Pagenaud grabbed positions 2-4.

Scott Dixon had an uncharacteristically slow lap of 121.006, but managed to advance to the fast 12 when the session was red-flagged for an incident involving Tony Kanaan.

With three minutes remaining, Kanaan spun into the tire barriers while leaving pit road. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his qualification time of 119.996 mph.

Takuma Sato had slipped off-course midway through the session and posted only the Ninth-fastest speed of 120.789 mph.

Results are below. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama rolls off at 3:00 p.m. ET.