Fair or not, the shadow of driving the same car number as one of, if not the most legendary driver in NASCAR history will always hang over the head of Austin Dillon until he drives it no more. There’s a white-hot spotlight for the North Carolinian.
In the midst of those expectations, he has still found success in his career within NASCAR’s top division, winning two of the sport’s marquee races and last year advancing to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR playoffs. He also led 135 laps in 2020, a career high.
Both he and his Richard Childress Racing team are coming off a season that can be easily summed up as a strong step forward. Now the goal is to build on it.
A Look Back
In multiple ways, 2020 was memorable for Dillon. Off the track, there was euphoria as he and his wife, Whitney, welcomed their first child. There was also the unpleasant, with him missing a race due to a positive COVID-19 test.
On the track, he picked up career win No. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway, clinching a spot in the playoffs. Dillon and his team didn’t play the role of just being glad to be in the postseason, advancing past the first round before being eliminated in the Round of 12.
His 135 laps led was a career-best, and it came at a mixture of tracks. At Texas Motor Speedway, Dover International Speedway and Richmond Raceway, Dillon led at least 20 laps. His four top-five finishes matched a career-high, and two of them were in back-to-back weeks to begin the playoffs – second at Darlington Raceway and fourth a week later at Richmond.
RCR made some gains in its intermediate track program last year, and Dillon’s results showed that.
At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kansas Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Texas and Charlotte Motor Speedway, he finished just twice outside the top 11, so there’s the definite groundwork laid that he can be competitive and in position for a late-race push.
Dillon’s also a proven commodity on superspeedways. His seven top 10s at Daytona International Speedway are the most for him than any other track. When it comes to superspeedway racing, you cannot put a price on experience. Dillon has it for sure.
Career progression is a long path that does not happen overnight in NASCAR. A driver and team have to mesh and get in sync over time.
But if you’re looking for building blocks toward being a greater contender, Dillion and the RCR No. 3 laid put some big ones in place a season ago. Running strong multiple venues, especially with a number of them being intermediate tracks, was a big help.
RCR appeared to have a good grasp on the aerodynamic package last year, and it showed in both the results of Dillon and Tyler Reddick, who also nearly got into the playoffs.
Dillon was a top-12 driver when it was all said and done in the playoffs last year, and contending for a win in back-to-back weeks at Darlington and Richmond certainly showed a glimpse of where Dillon and his team could be.
If the success of last year can be built on, Dillon is capable of winning multiple races in 2021. Given his past success on the high banks of Daytona, he is also well positioned to start the year off with a strong burst of momentum.