“I’m ready to make that step (into the Sprint Cup Series). I feel confident as a driver that I can go and compete inside the top 10, top 15 in the Sprint Cup Series if I get a full-time gig.”
Those words were spoken by Ty Dillon prior to the XFINITY Series Food City 300 at Bristol last weekend. Dillon, the 24-year old North Carolina driver, was about to make his 100th start in NASCAR’s second-tier series and hope to back up the claims he’s made all season that he should join his brother Austin full-time in Cup.
The experience is there, and it appears as though team owner (and grandfather to the Dillons) Richard Childress, might have a ride opening up for the younger Dillon in 2017. But Ty has largely underperformed in the XFINITY Series throughout his three year stint – with just one win and a best finish of third in the final standings. Brother Austin, on the other hand, had two wins and a championship during two years in the series.
So is Ty ready for a Cup ride next season? Or should he continue to hone his craft in the minors?
HE’S NOT READY
First off, congrats to Ty for hitting 100 starts in the NXS. He’s got sticking power, and talent too. He does rack up top 10s by the score each season. But he’s frustrating because he’s so consistent yet so … not flashy.
I’ll admit, the move he made to wrestle the lead away from Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski on Friday night was masterful. He stole the lead, and I found myself thinking if he keeps driving like this I see the merit to the claim he deserves a full-time Cup ride. Then he drove into the outside wall. Oh well.
And then later, Ty didn’t appear to slow at all and drove straight into the back of a slowing Busch. I get Bristol is a fast track and things happen quickly, but it appeared Ty made a rookie mistake – the same one that Justin Allgaier made two days later when he had nearly half a lap to slow down for the caution and still drove into a stopped Busch.
There’s a reason why Allgaier is back in the XFINITY Series following two seasons in Cup. He wasn’t ready to move up. Allgaier, if you’ll recall, is not a poor driver. He scored three wins in NXS before moving to Cup, yet was unspectacular at the premiere level. Sure, his Cup ride is a lower-tier outfit. But it’s important to remember that Richard Childress Racing isn’t lighting the world on fire right now. Chase berths are great but other than Ryan Newman’s near-snatching of the Cup title in 2014, RCR has done nothing but rack up participation ribbons.
Other notable NXS graduates in Cup? Chase Elliott had four wins and an NXS title before moving up this season. Chris Buescher had three wins and a title. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had eight wins and two titles. Kyle Larson had no wins. While there have been flashes of speed from these drivers, only one has broken through for a win – Buescher, who used pit strategy and fog to sneak a win at Pocono.
What makes Ty think that he’ll do any better? Isn’t the point of racing in Cup to be competitive? It took Austin – on paper a more accomplished racer than Ty – three years to become a Chase contender, and he still isn’t knocking on the door of victory lane. Ty has some solid runs in Cup during his spot starts with five top 20s in 15 career starts, but that’s no better than former RCR teammate Brian Scott did in the same equipment. Scott is doing nothing in Cup this season.
Ty Dillon will no doubt be in a Cup car full-time. I just think it would serve him better to go out and dominate the XFINITY Series before moving up to try his hand at Cup.
OF COURSE HE DOES
Ty Dillon’s sprint to the Cup Series is something that we haven’t seen in recent years with all of these young drivers.
Dillon spent two years battling for championships in the Camping World Truck Series with a best championship finish of second in 2013 to Matt Crafton. He has spent the last three seasons in the XFINITY Series driving the No. 3 car for his grandfather, Richard Childress and has the lone win at the Brickyard in 2014.
The younger Dillon will always be compared to his older brother Austin Dillon, who has won championships in each the Truck Series and the XFINITY Series. But this year, 2016, he is finally coming into a comfort zone, currently sitting 11th in the standings, the highest of drivers who have yet to win.
While Richard Childress Racing’s plans are coming along for 2017, the main question is will Dillon be in the Cup Series next year?
With both Ryan Newman and Paul Menard having contracts up at the end of the season, it is hard not to see Dillon in one of those two machines going forward. With full-time sponsorship from Menard’s, it almost guarantees that the No. 27 car will not be open, leaving the No. 31 Chevrolet vacant.
Dillon has 15 Cup Series starts to his credit, finishing a career-high 14th at Michigan in June of 2015. He’s competed for RCR, Circle-Sport Racing, Circle-Sport Leavine Family Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing all at the premiere division of NASCAR, leading four laps, all coming this year.
The 24-year-old will have a ride with RCR, it’s only a matter of time. There has been no rush to get him to the Sprint Cup level for that reason. Once he gets here, it will be up to him and the team to perform.
Only winning one XFINITY Series race in over two-and-a-half years of full-time competition there might be some worried folks in the RCR camp. Could the Dillon brothers take the team to the next level, or at least to a new level since Kevin Harvick at the end of 2013.
Currently RCR is in the midst of its longest winless streak in program history at 96 races. Throwing Dillon into the grind that is the Cup Series schedule will be a challenge at first, probably a comparison to his older brother.
However, time will tell on whether or not RCR is once again a winning organization, or if it will collapse in the hands of Richard Childress. Both of his grandsons have proven themselves on the track, but it’s all about winning in NASCAR.
Regardless of winning a championship or not, expect Dillon to be in the Cup Series in 2017. In his first two full-time campaigns in the XFINITY Series, he has a best point’s finish of third coming last season.
Anything can happen at Homestead this season, with the XFINITY Series adapting to the new Chase system, but first he has to beat the likes of Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing and even his two teammates at RCR.
Dillon has had a chance to win the last two races. At Bristol last week, he was the man out front with less than 10 laps to go, but got into the wall. The No. 3 would have had a hard time staying in front of Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch, but one mistake changed his race, as a few laps later he was in an accident with the other two.
At Mid-Ohio, he paced the field for five circuits, finishing third in the rain to a dominating performance by Justin Marks.
Dillon has led laps in the last five races, including a series-high 83 at Iowa, a track that he was also leading with a couple dozen laps to go. He’s come up on the short end of the stick this season, but it looks as though RCR has turned the corner in both the XFINITY Series and the Sprint Cup level.