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.