By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
It was quite the captivating weekend for Austin Dillon, who not only led the field to the green, but also battle an illness throughout Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, finishing a valiant 10th.
Dillon’s Busch Pole Award on Friday was overshadowed after none of the 12 competitors crossed the line before the final round struck zero, and because of him being the fastest in Round 2, he was credited as the pole winner.
The qualifying fiasco was the least of Dillon’s concerns as he was under the weather, to the point that Richard Childress Racing brought Saturday’s Xfinity Series winner Cole Custer on standby.
Custer was informed by the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet team about an hour before arriving the track in the most intriguing circumstances – while eating a jumbo platter at a fast food restaurant.
The team got Custer a spare uniform and was ready if Dillon can’t make the full 200-lap distance.
Fortunately for Dillon, all was good with his health and was ready to lead the 38-car field to the green, but his time at the front wouldn’t last as Denny Hamlin took the lead and led the opening lap. However, Dillon showed strong pace in the first half of Stage 1, staying inside the top-five while battling a very loose car.
As the stage wind down, Dillon faced another hurdle to his chaotic weekend on the 55th lap. Dillon was still running strong and battling Martin Truex, Jr. until his right rear tire went down and later made contact with the Turn 4 wall.
Dillon’s car began smoking and it warranted the first caution of the afternoon, reporting that his tire was already flat before hitting the wall.
The No. 3 team made repairs on his car and were able to keep his car rolling without losing laps, finishing the stage in 21st.
Once the repairs were to their liking, Dillon rallied back and gained track position, resulting in a 13th place result in Stage 2. He would later crack the top-10 to early in the final stage, where he would consistently stay in that area for almost the remainder of the race.
Dillon crossed the line in 10th, equaling his best from a year ago and marked his first top-10 since Phoenix last November.
After the race, Dillon unstrapped from his car and walked towards a cart and headed to the medical care center for evaluation. He was treated and released from the care center.
Dillon thanked them in a tweet a few hours after the checkered flag dropped:
Really thankful for all the @NASCAR infield care center staff. They def helped me finish that race. Some type of flu bit me bad. The adrenaline has worn off and the pain is setting in. It was worth our first top 10 of the year. Good job #3team
— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) March 18, 2019
Now heading into Martinsville Speedway in Virginia March 24, Dillon will be 20th in points, seven markers behind 16th points man Alex Bowman.