NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 20 Austin Dillon

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Austin Dillon

Season finish: 20th

2014 Season Stats: 0 Wins, 1 Top-5, 4 Top-10s, 1 Pole.

What went right: The famous No. 3 was revived for Dillon’s ascension to the Sprint Cup Series with Richard Childress Racing, and he made a great first impression by snagging the pole for the Daytona 500 in February. From there, Dillon settled largely into the mid-pack but avoided a single DNF all season. A fifth-place finish in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July was his best result, so Dillon appears to have potential for becoming a solid restrictor-plate racer. The man that drove the No. 3 before him, late seven-time Cup champ Dale Earnhardt Sr., wasn’t too bad in that discipline, either.

What went wrong: While Dillon didn’t have a lot of seriously bad finishes in 2014, he didn’t have a lot of great ones either. Some of that can be put down to lack of experience and perhaps Richard Childress Racing’s overall performance (even their Championship 4 representative, Ryan Newman, only had five Top-5s and 41 laps led). At the same time, he was put in the shade by fellow freshman Kyle Larson as he delivered a needed boost to Chip Ganassi Racing. One could argue that wasn’t exactly a good look for Dillon, who hit the Cup level as the reigning XFINITY (Nationwide) Series champion.

2015 Prospectus: As we saw in 2013 and 2014, Dillon has a knack for avoiding the killer finishes. If RCR steps up on overall speed, that will become a more important asset to have as he tries to make the 2015 Chase. Also possibly helping him further will be the additional track time he’ll get from running a “majority” of the XFINITY races along with his normal Cup duties.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.