Of our 2017 NASCAR team reviews, Germain Racing will kick off the small side of the garage we will overlook.
And it was an interesting year for the single-car team, as they welcomed a new driver in Ty Dillon, who gave the No. 13 crew a few things to be proud of heading into 2018.
Maybe it wasn’t expected. Dillon, 25, came into 2017 with only 18 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races under his belt along with three full-time XFINITY Series seasons with Richard Childress Racing. And with the grandpa-owned organization booked, Dillon was moved to the allianced No. 13 Chevrolet — what many expected was struggles and hard lessons learned.
Though those came throughout the 36 races, the rookie also gave Germain a new sponsor in Twisted Tea and some of their best numbers in their seventh full-time Cup season.
Most of those numbers came when the checkered flag fell, finishing in the top 20 on 19 occasions, their most ever in a season. Additionally, Germain had their best average finish of 20.7 and scored their most lead-lap finishes of 20.
Speaking of quicker pace, Dillon and Germain had arguably their best race at Dover International Speedway in June. Here, the team led 27 laps, their most in a single race before finishing 14th.
But it wasn’t that straightforward.
Winning the race off pit road with 67 laps to go, Dillon restarted second while RCR and affiliates populated six of the top 10 spots. Jumping to the lead, Dillon eventually lost the lead to Kyle Larson and fell to third after a pass by Jimmie Johnson.
What became impressive was the pace thereafter, as in the following 40 laps, Dillon kept the third spot until Martin Truex Jr. passed with four laps to go… mere seconds before the caution flew with four laps to go.
Lining up fourth with only two laps on the board, the epic run hit a wall on the backstretch after contact from Ryan Newman. The crash erupted with more than 10 cars past the overtime line, ending Dillon with only 14th, his fifth top 15 of the year.
Though the result didn’t tell the story, that day set a standard for the remaining of the season.
“I think we proved we can run inside the top five any day,” Dillon told Frontstretch after the crash. “We proved as a little engine that could that we could go out and run with the big boys. This is huge.”
What followed may not have been top fives, but consistency was their strong suit, earning seven top 20s in the next 10 races through the summer.
What was missing? A top 10, one of the benchmark statistics that people look at when they want to understand one’s improvement. Coming off a season without one with Casey Mears in 2016, the streak continued into ’17 with Dillon.
But he was close, tying his career-best finish of 13th at Darlington before besting it with 11ths at Talladega and Phoenix. Just one spot short.
Maintaining a solid level of competition from Daytona to Homestead, along with learning the rookie strips, Dillon and Germain Racing had only three DNFs (the second lowest of 2017), proving reliable in the mid-pack scramble.
2018 will have a little new mixing with a stable foundation. Dillon and GEICO return to the No. 13 while Matt Borland jumps from RCR’s No. 27 to crew chief the No. 13. The move ends an eight-year relationship with Robert “Bootie” Barker, who led the team since 2009.
Another big adjustment will also come from home, as Dillon welcomed his first child on November 20.
37 weekends 68 races it’s been a dream come true to be behind the wheel so much in one year. Cheers to a year of growth and good health. I can’t wait till 2018 but first let’s meet Oakley Dillon @HaleyKDillon. #Daddytime
— Ty Dillon (@tydillon) November 20, 2017
— Germain Racing (@GermainRacing) September 1, 2017
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) July 27, 2017
— Ty Dillon (@tydillon) September 5, 2017