Austin Dillon was told by his Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) crew to either bring back the trophy or the steering wheel in the Camping World RV Sales 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Subbing for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet SS, Dillon obliged.
On the final lap of the 188-lap race around the 2.66-mile oval, Dillon was in third, drafting with restrictor-plate ace and fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. As the two raced down the back straightaway looking to overtake race leader Jamie McMurray, fourth-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made a move to the inside of Dillon. Dillon swept low to defend his position, and as he came back up the track to get in line behind Earnhardt, the nose of Stenhouse’s Ford hooked the bumper of Dillon’s Chevrolet. The kind of wreck that makes the highlight reel of network morning shows was on.
Dillon spun low before momentum carried him back up the track, directly into the path of Casey Mears. The nose of Mears’ Ford drilled the back of Dillon’s Chevy, launching Dillon skyward. The car landed on its front wheels before coming down hard on its rear tires. Miraculously, Dillon was still able to drive his Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 machine. He manhandled his mangled ride and kept it off the inside retaining wall, all the while keying his in-car radio to alert the crew that he was “all good.” Dillon drove his car straight to the garage, where live TV and radio were waiting for him to recount his wild ride.
“The guys told me to bring back either the steering wheel or the trophy. They got the steering wheel, but we were close to the trophy,” said Dillon, who ended up 26th, the first car one lap down.
“We had a really fast Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevy. I was trying to help the 88 (Earnhardt) right there at the end. The 17 (Stenhouse) had a run, so I went low and then when I was coming back up he just hooked me. Wild ride.
“Got to thank NASCAR for everything they’ve done for safety. I was all good. I even got to drive the car back. Racing’s a lot of fun when you’ve got good safety equipment like that. And thanks to Bass Pro Shops, Mobil 1, Tony Stewart and everybody at Stewart-Haas Racing for giving me this opportunity. That was a whole lot of fun right there coming to the white flag at Talladega and having a shot at the win.”
Dillon’s entire outing at Talladega was impressive. The Camping World RV Sales 500 marked only the 12th career start for the 23-year-old, and his first at Talladega. When many veterans had problems slowing from 200 mph to the pit road speed limit of 55 mph, Dillon performed four flawless pit stops. Despite the outcome, Talladega proved to be an excellent learning experience.
“My goal is to be a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver next year,” Dillon said, “and getting as much experience in a Cup car this year can help me make that transition.”
Consider Dillon’s Talladega debut mission accomplished.
Dillon’s SHR teammate Ryan Newman had a solid day at Talladega. Newman drove his No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet SS to a ninth-place finish, scoring his 16th top-10 of the season and his ninth top-10 in 24 career Sprint Cup starts at Talladega.
Newman is representing SHR in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup and entered the sixth race of the 10-race Chase 12th among the 13 Chase drivers, 78 points behind Chase leader Matt Kenseth. Newman leaves Talladega in 11th, 72 points behind new Chase leader Jimmie Johnson. Johnson holds a four-point lead over Kenseth with just four races remaining.
Danica Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet SS for SHR, finished 33rd. It was Patrick’s 42nd career Sprint Cup start and her second at Talladega. Patrick is competing for Rookie of the Year honors against Stenhouse, who placed a career-best third.
McMurray won the Camping World RV Sales 500 under caution to score his seventh career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his second at Talladega.
Earnhardt finished second, while Stenhouse, Paul Menard and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. David Ragan, David Gilliland, Martin Truex Jr., Newman and Clint Bowyer comprised the remainder of the top-10.