Growing up around fast cars and burning rubber, Ty Dillon has finally made it full-time to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, yet it didn’t come without some adversity.
Entering his rookie campaign, Dillon already had a half-year of experience in the Cup Series, giving him a leg up on Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, his closest combats for the Rookie of the Year title. But he isn’t a stranger to racing those two Toyota drivers on the race track.
Dillon spent three years competing full-time in the XFINITY Series for Richard Childress Racing. In those seasons he managed two fifth-place, and one third-place effort in the championship standings, with a win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2014.
Coming up through the ranks, Dillon spent much of his childhood competing against his brother Austin Dillon, the 2011 Camping World Truck Series and 2013 XFINITY Series champion. The elder brother spent just two full years in the preliminary series before making the jump to the Cup Series, as compared to the 25-year-old, who spent the aforementioned three seasons, also participating in 27 series races this year.
Dillon has been wanting to jump to the Cup Series for a few years. In a busy 2016, he replaced Tony Stewart for three races after the three-time Cup Series champion missed the opening nine events in his farewell season. The North Carolina native also competed in seven races for Leavine Family Racing and one for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
But Dillon wasn’t sure why he wasn’t able to compete for RCR when it was time to make the move to the top division of motorsports, the team owned by his grandfather Richard Childress.
“When I was younger–a couple years ago, it was frustrating that I wasn’t getting the opportunity with my family team,” Dillon told Frontstretch.com. “That’s what I thought my goal was going to be, but things happen for a reason.”
In late November, Dillon was announced as the driver of the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing for the 2017 season, replacing Casey Mears, who had been the teams driver since 2011, picking up five top 10 finishes. The 25-year-old became just the second full-time driver in team history.
Germain Racing has been an affiliated team to RCR for the past four seasons. Ultimately when RCR didn’t expand to four full teams, it left Dillon as the odd man out, but he’s not that far out, as he and crew chief Bootie Barker will attend competition meetings every Tuesday.
“At this time, this is the best opportunity for me and I’m really enjoying it,” Dillon said. “It feels nice to represent a different team, though still being connected with my family’s team. It is nice to have my own identity too.”
Childress, recently inducted to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, has been around the sport since 1969 when he fielded his own entry at Talladega Superspeedway, finishing 23rd, in the No. 13 car.
Due to his success and longevity in the sport, Dillon will never be lacking support and motivation from Childress.
“He’s [Childress] been super supportive and telling me how proud he is,” he said. “He’s still my grandfather and he’s still a Hall of Famer, so I will go to him for advice all the time. It would be a little ridiculous if I didn’t take it. It’s always great to have a loving and competitive grandfather in your corner.
“Continue to do what I do to get to this point and that’s what I’m going to do. The biggest thing is his support. He’s taught me so much throughout my career to get me to this point. Now, it’s time for me to execute it..”
Dillon joins a stable full of NASCAR veterans. Paul Menard and Ryan Newman remain at RCR, while older brother is entering his fourth full season in the No. 3 car. Adding AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher from JTG Daugherty Racing,= and Michael McDowell from Leavine Family Racing, the rookie has six other drivers to lean on for advice throughout his rookie season.
“We all have to work together as teammates first of all,” Dillon said. “Just like any other team we’re going to work together and I know the guys pretty well. But also having my brother out there helps too, because he’s going to shoot you straight. Hopefully, we can work together all year and improve throughout the whole program.”
Dillon’s time with RCR dates back to 2009, when he made his stock car debut at South Boston Speedway in what was then the NASCAR Camping World East Series.
Throughout his NASCAR career, he had always been in an RCR car, until he hit the Cup Series, though he did compete in seven races in a fourth entry at RCR spanning from 2014-2015. His confidence in his rookie season will be based off how he performs and help he gets from his teammates.
“I’m influenced by so many different people day in and day out,” he said. “I’ve been able to take a lot of experience and just watching my brother and a lot of people race for RCR in the past. It’s hard to say one person. My grandfather is obviously influenced on everything I do. But I’ve been able to gather in a wealth of information from everybody.”
In order for 2017 to be a successful season, Dillon’s main priority is to improve. He believes that competing the last five seasons full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, then the XFINITY Series has prepared him to shine in his rookie year.
In 2016, two Cup Series rookies made the playoffs. Buescher won the rain-shortened event at Pocono Raceway in August, while Chase Elliott remained consistent throughout the season. Now Dillon believes its his time to step up and have a solid campaign.
“Everyone says it’s [Cup Series] one step up from the XFINITY Series, but I feel like its about two or three steps up because everyone is so well prepared and it’s the best of the best,” Dillon said. “It’s really tough. Those races got me mentally prepared for what I needed to do to perform at the top level and how I needed to prepare. I know I’m going to make some mistakes being a rookie at times, but as long as I end the year better than where I started it will be successful.”