KNOXVILLE — Austin Dillon is confident he will make the “Chase for the Sprint Cup” playoffs.
Fresh off winning the most recent NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Pocono, the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet for his grandfather’s Richard Childress Racing team, feels confident he can carry that success over to the Sprint Cup Series. As it stands right now, he’s battling fellow series rookie Kyle Larson for the last spot in the Chase.
“I think moving forward, that win at Pocono will bring a little more confidence to our game,” Dillon said Thursday at the University of Tennessee for a promotional appearance for the upcoming IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. “We’re sitting right there on the edge of the Chase. We’re fighting hard for it, 4-5 races to go. There are four spots available and we need to be one of them. I think consistency will pay off in the end.”
Before getting ready to tackle the high banks at Bristol in three weeks, Dillon enjoyed some of the perks of his job.
He took part in drills with the Vols football team, where head coach Butch Jones praised his passing skills. He even had the rare privilege of Jones taking him on a tour of Neyland Stadium, including a visit inside the Vols’ game-day locker room.
It was a favor repaid by Jones, who visited with Dillon during a rain delay at the Food City 500 at BMS back in March.
The coach found out Thursday that Dillon brought some athletic skills to the field. He was the second baseman on the Welcome, North Carolina, baseball team which made it to the Little League World Series. He was also a starting cornerback on his school’s football team and played wide receiver on offense.
He recalled his first year playing football when his team lost every game although he scored one of their two touchdowns. The next year, the team went undefeated. Dillon added he had the heart to play football at the next level, but at 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds, he was better suited for racing where the size of the driver didn’t matter.
“I played a little sports growing up and I’ve got the baseball throw down,” said Dillon, 23. “I’m still working on that form for my football throw. I worked some with the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and I actually did hit that first target. But, it was like sometimes your first lap is the fastest, my first throw was the best. I love going out and showing how NASCAR drivers are athletes. But, I will never forget the opportunity of training over there and walking in Neyland today.”
Dillon, the defending champion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series and a former champion in the Truck Series, also relishes the opportunity to make history. He would like to become the first driver to win championships in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. He has plenty of support driving the black No. 3 made famous by seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt.
“Fans come up every race excited to see the car back out there,” Dillon said. “They’re really liking where it’s running. We’re getting better every week and you can see the improvements. Starting off as a rookie, we’ve been given a little time because it takes time to start running well. It’s your freshman year. As we’ve run more races, we’ve gotten faster every race.”
He would love to get that first win soon, and could think of no better place than Bristol. He’s won races a few miles down the road at the Volunteer Speedway dirt track, but is still looking for a first Bristol win. His best finish previously was a third in last August’s Food City 250 for the Nationwide Series.
“I enjoy Bristol. We had a good run earlier this year and finished 11th,” he said. “We were improving throughout the race. I can’t wait to get back. Hopefully, the weather will be good this time where we can run out a full race strategy-wise. As you grow with the experience level, you get more comfortable on that track. It’s the biggest short-track race we go to and we love Bristol Motor Speedway.”