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.

NHRA: Schumacher, C. Force, Kramer No. 1 qualifiers at Phoenix

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NHRA press release

The 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series season continued Saturday as Courtney Force set both ends of the Funny Car track record at the 34th annual NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park.

Tony Schumacher (Top Fuel) and Deric Kramer (Pro Stock) are also No. 1 qualifiers in their respective categories at the second of 24 events on the 2018 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series schedule.

Force took over the top spot in the category with a record run of 3.826 seconds at 335.98 mph in her Advance Auto Parts Chevrolet Camaro during her second pass of the day. After recording seven No. 1 qualifiers in 2017, she is aiming for her first event victory since Houston 2016.

“That last pass today was pretty incredible, we have run well here in the past and I’m excited to be back in that top spot,” Force said. “We are hoping to turn this consistency into a win, we just have to keep being consistent on race day.”

Force is set to face off against Del Worsham in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Ron Capps sits second after a 3.844 at 330.80 in his Napa Auto Parts Dodge Charger R/T during the final pass of qualifying on Saturday. The defending Funny Car champion Robert Hight qualified 11th after a 3.927 at 329.26.

Schumacher led the category with a run of 3.649 at 334.65 in his U.S. Army dragster posted during the first qualifying session on Friday. Schumacher also set the Top Fuel national speed record at 336.57 with a time of 3.667 seconds during his second pass on Friday. After securing four No. 1 qualifiers in the 2017 season, Schumacher locked in his first of the year in day two of qualifying.

“We earned our three points and kept the top spot so it’s been a great weekend for us so far,” Schumacher said. “The car continues to be great and [crew chief] Mike Neff is comfortable and knows what the car is doing, so I think tomorrow is going to be great day.”

He will go head-to-head against Greg Carrillo in round one of eliminations on Sunday. Steve Torrence qualified second after a 3.665 at 331.45 in his Capco Contractors dragster, while the defending world champion Brittany Force qualified in the 14th spot.

In Pro Stock, Kramer took over the top spot after driving to a 6.522 at 210.80 run in his American Ethanol Dodge Dart during the fourth qualifying session of the weekend. He secured the first No. 1 qualifying position of his career as Kramer also chases his first-ever victory in the class.

“It feels great to get that first No. 1 qualifier, and we had a great package put together this weekend and that was able to move us to the top,” Kramer said. “There were definitely some tuning adjustments from Pomona, but we went back to our old game plan with that KB power and it was a great combination.”

Kramer matches up against Alan Prusiensky in the first round of eliminations. Erica Enders is second in the qualifying order after a 6.527 at 209.98, while Alex Laughlin sits in the third spot.

Eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday.

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Sunday’s first-round pairings for eliminations.

TOP FUEL: 1. Tony Schumacher, 3.649 seconds, 336.57 mph vs. 16. Greg Carrillo, 4.227, 220.91; 2. Steve Torrence, 3.655, 331.85 vs. 15. Steven Chrisman, 4.089, 281.30; 3. Clay Millican, 3.664, 335.23 vs. 14. Brittany Force, 3.828, 253.52; 4. Leah Pritchett, 3.679, 334.15 vs. 13. Troy Buff, 3.809, 318.77; 5. Richie Crampton, 3.683, 325.30 vs. 12. Scott Palmer, 3.788, 326.63; 6. Billy Torrence, 3.697, 331.45  vs. 11. Doug Kalitta, 3.742, 328.78; 7. Blake Alexander, 3.705, 332.59 vs. 10. Terry McMillen, 3.740, 325.85; 8. Antron Brown, 3.712, 333.66 vs. 9. Mike Salinas, 3.737, 326.32.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Kebin Kinsley, 5.118, 136.79; 18. Terry Totten, 8.158, 69.73; 19. Terry Haddock, 10.095, 91.23.

FUNNY CAR: 1. Courtney Force, Chevy Camaro, 3.826, 335.98 vs. 16. Del Worsham, Toyota Camry, 5.089, 173.99; 2. Ron Capps, Dodge Charger, 3.844, 330.80 vs. 15. Tim Wilkerson, Ford Mustang, 4.551, 182.82; 3. Jack Beckman, Charger, 3.845, 332.43 vs. 14. Richard Townsend, Camry, 4.244, 235.27; 4. John Force, Camaro, 3.864, 332.51 vs. 13. Jeff Diehl, Camry, 4.120, 307.79; 5. Jonnie Lindberg, Camry, 3.866, 317.27 vs. 12. Bob Tasca III, Mustang, 3.971, 316.75; 6. Tommy Johnson Jr., Charger, 3.879, 329.91 vs. 11. Robert Hight, Camaro, 3.927, 329.26; 7. Cruz Pedregon, Camry, 3.888, 333.25 vs. 10. Shawn Langdon, Camry, 3.927, 329.42; 8. J.R. Todd, Camry, 3.919, 324.20 vs. 9. Matt Hagan, Charger, 3.926, 330.88.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Jim Campbell, 7.402, 91.58.

PRO STOCK: 1. Deric Kramer, Chevy Camaro, 6.522, 211.00 vs. 16. Alan Prusiensky, Dodge Dart, 6.663, 207.94; 2. Erica Enders, Camaro, 6.527, 209.98 vs. 15. Steve Graham, Camaro, 6.659, 208.55; 3. Alex Laughlin, Camaro, 6.529, 209.59 vs. 14. Val Smeland, Camaro, 6.640, 209.69; 4. Greg Anderson, Camaro, 6.530, 211.66 vs. 13. Kenny Delco, Camaro, 6.581, 209.82; 5. Jason Line, Camaro, 6.531, 211.03 vs. 12. Vincent Nobile, Camaro, 6.567, 210.08; 6. Bo Butner, Camaro, 6.532, 210.60 vs. 11. Jeg Coughlin, Camaro, 6.553, 210.14; 7. Chris McGaha, Camaro, 6.534, 211.63 vs. 10. Tanner Gray, Camaro, 6.550, 210.41; 8. Matt Hartford, Camaro, 6.542, 210.05 vs. 9. Drew Skillman, Camaro, 6.550, 211.39.

Did Not Qualify: 17. Joey Grose, 6.720, 206.64.