By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
It seemed like everything was lining up for Austin Dillon heading into Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
Dillon was off to the best start to a season in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career through four races, he also won Saturday’s XFINITY Series event in dramatic fashion and he was starting from the pole in the Sprint Cup Series race.
Despite starting from the top spot, Dillon was unable to lead a lap in Sunday’s race as he dealt with a loose-handling racecar during the first green flag run.
When his crew chief Slugger Labbe was able to make some adjustments, Dillon stabalized as a top-10 car for the rest of the first half of the event.
When a caution came out at lap 108, Dillon and his team decided to make a couple of pit stops to be sure that they topped the fuel tank off. This dropped Dillon outside the top-20.
Dillon would claw his way back in contention, and when the caution came out on lap 199 to set up an overtime finish, Dillon was sitting inside the top-10. The field would pit for tires under this caution, Dillon and Labbe opted to put four fresh Goodyears on his car, but unfortunately a malfunctioning air gun ruined the stop, and the day for Dillon and team No. 3.
Dillon would finish the day on the lead lap day in 24th position. After the unfortunate heart break, Dillon focused on the positives of his day.
“We win as a team and we lose as a team and this weekend we definitely experienced a little bit of both,” Dillon explained. “We made huge strides as an organization earning the pole award and I liked the view from up front. We got a little bit behind in the middle of the race but we were able to battle back and race our way into the top-10. When the final caution came out it was never a question whether or not to pit, just whether to take two or four tires. We took four but had a parts failure and it hurt us in the end. Nothing we can do about it but be gracious in defeat. On to Martinsville Speedway.”
With the subpar finish, Dillon now falls from eighth to 10th in the championship standings, but is very much still in the thick of Chase contention.
Dillon and his team will now have an off week to regroup and prepare for the paper clip in Martinsville, Virginia. In four previous starts at the half-mile speedway, Dillon has yet to record a top-10 finish and his average finish at the track is 21.5.
Image: Gary Eller for Chevy Racing