By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the top-30 drivers in the series leading into the 60th running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Four
Career Wins: One
In 2017, Austin Dillon joined the club of drivers that have won in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with his triumph in the Coca-Cola 600 to claim one of the crown jewels on the schedule. Even though it was due to a fuel mileage gamble, a win is a win and he punched his ticket to the playoffs as a result.
He would only last through the first round of the playoffs, finding himself eliminated from championship contention after the fall race at Dover, ultimately finishing the season 11th in points. Overall, Dillon would end the year with his Charlotte win, three top-five finishes, four top-10 finishes, 12 laps led, and an average finish of 18.6 in 36 starts.
Heading into 2018, Richard Childress Racing has become leaner with the organization shrinking to two cars, Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet and Ryan Newman’s No. 31 Chevrolet, while bringing Richard Petty Motorsports in as an alliance member.
Despite having one less RCR car in house, Dillon noted that he was still excited about their prospects for the season ahead.
“That was something I was really excited about in the off-season, when we decided going to a little bit smaller organization,” said Dillon. “We did add the Petty organization to the group, so that was a good hit to bring in another driver. That’s what I was most excited about – to have another driver to look and see what he does with the throttle pedal and the brake.
“So bringing a little bit of different perspectives into the group is good for me as a driver, so I can learn more. As RCR as an organization, I see a lot of two-car teams being successful. I’m really positive about that. It’s nice to be able to focus on two cars, and our crew chiefs are best friends. They’ll be working hard and they want to put RCR where it needs to be, and that’s winning championships.”
Dillon also detailed the steps his team needs to take in order to be more competitive going forward.
“I think you need to see us consistently running in the top five and top 10 more often,” he added. “We hovered from about eighth to 14th all year long. I felt like we were able to win a race last year, but to be able to have shots to win races consistently we need to move that little group of cars forward. When you’re running from the fourth to the eighth position, you have a lot more opportunities to win. That top-five area is key. So consistently would like to run further forward. You put yourself in that position enough, you get good at it and you’re comfortable running in it.
“I’m really excited about the Camaro ZL1. It’s an awesome-looking race car. Some of that speed that we were missing last year I hope we gain this year, as far as the body goes. It catches us up and puts us in a better position to be able to compete.”
Whether or not, Dillon and RCR can improve on the past two seasons remains to be seen, but if they can continue their forward progress, there’s no reason why the No. 3 team couldn’t make the playoffs for a third straight year and even contend for a win or two.