Ty Dillon, interim driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 25th in Sunday’s Food City 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
It was a more than respectable performance for Dillon on a track that isn’t historically kind to rookies – especially rookies who had to start in the back of the field on the halfmile track. The 24-year-old, making just his 12th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start, drove from 34th up to second in the first half of the 500-lap race. He appeared destined for a top-10 finish until contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and then Landon Cassill with less than 50 laps to go knocked him off the lead lap.
“That finish isn’t indicative of how we ran today,” said an obviously disappointed Dillon on the team radio after the race. “I really appreciate how hard these guys worked this weekend, and they really deserved better. It was a great run, but it just didn’t end like it should have.”
Dillon started 34th after he wrecked coming up to speed on his first qualifying lap Friday. The No. 14 team made extensive repairs to the primary car after the qualifying session and worked on the handling during Saturday’s two practice sessions. It didn’t take long to show they did good work as Dillon drove to 29th in the first 25 laps. The team spent much of the first half of the race working on the car’s handling. Dillon said his car was loose in and off the turns and tight in the middle. He moved into 20th at the lap 150-mark and raced in 15th a few laps later.
The key move of the race came just past halfway: He jumped from midpack to second when No. 14 crew chief Mike Bugarewicz elected to keep Dillon on the track during a caution. Dillon restarted the race in second place on lap 273 and ran in the top-six for the next 60 laps despite the older tires. A caution allowed him to pit for new tires and restart the race in sixth on lap 336 with tires equal to the competition.
Dillon reported his car was tighter as the laps rolled by, but the youngster held his own racing in the top-10. Cautions allowed the team to make adjustments, enabling Dillon to move to eighth with just 50 laps remaining. Just as it appeared Dillon would leave Bristol with a top-10 finish, the day quickly turned sour. Contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the pair battled for position in turn three caused body damage and a tire rub on the No. 14. While struggling with the tire damage, Dillon and Landon Cassill made contact, bringing out a caution with 40 to go and forcing the No. 14 to the pits.
“I don’t know what more I could have done there,” Dillon said.
With 35 laps remaining, Dillon restarted the race in 24th, down a lap to the leaders. His damage was too extensive to mount a charge to regain the lost lap and positions in the final laps, and Dillon finished 25th.
Sunday marked Dillon’s third 2016 start in the No. 14. He finished 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28 and 15th at Phoenix International Raceway on March 13. Dillon and Brian Vickers have served as substitute drivers in 2016 for Stewart, who was in Bristol Sunday talking with Dillon on the team radio during the race.