The final laps of the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series races at Watkins Glen International this past weekend saw some final lap antics with Austin Hill and Austin Dillon getting into it with other drivers.
In Hill’s case, he was in contention for victory versus Sam Mayer.
Dillon, however, was battling with Kyle Larson – for 17th position.
While Hill is in prime position to contend for a championship this year, Dillon finds himself on the cusp once again, needing to pull out a miraculous Daytona International Speedway surprise to qualify for the playoffs. Dillon has underperformed the last two seasons compared to his teammates Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, while Hill seems to be a great fit for Richard Childress Racing and appears ready to make that step.
With the limited number of seats available and Hill re-signing with RCR, is Dillon a roadblock to Hill ascending to the Cup Series? This week Vito Pugliese and Garrett Cook pick an Austin to champion in 2-Headed Monster.
One Number Making a Mountain out of a Mole Hill
Whenever the topic of a driver “deserving” a ride more than another comes up, I get a little squirmy in my seat. While Hill has obviously progressed to the point where he’s a contender for a Cup Series ride, he’s quickly approaching 30-years old, so the motivation to find something is apparent.
To say Dillon is the obstacle, however, is a bit unfair if not inaccurate.
First off, let’s look at the resume of Dillon, the guy that some want to see kicked to the curb.
He won a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship in his second full season, followed up by a Xfinity Series Championship in his second full season as well. That’s two championships in two of the top three series by age 23. Regardless of who his grandfather is, or how well funded the efforts were, those are still championships against drivers who had done it longer and many who also had competed at the Cup level.
Dillon scored his first Cup Series win in 2017, a fuel mileage victory in the Coca-Cola 600, one of NASCAR’s crown jewel races.
His career defining win thus far was in 2018 on the final lap of the Daytona 500, another crown jewel event, after an aggressive pass on Aric Almirola secured the victory.
Many still decry this move, but it’s one that’s been executed half a dozen times since then to win other races at Daytona International Speedway or Talladega Superspeedway. To hold him to a different standard is a bit hypocritical. Since that race five years ago, he won a duel versus then teammate Tyler Reddick at Texas Motor Speedway in 2020, and last year’s win at Daytona after a rainstorm in turn 1 thrust him into the playoffs after the front half of the field crashed in unison.
There are many more highly revered drivers who have won a handful of Cup Series races – let alone a Daytona 500 – so when the pitchforks come out for Dillon, I have to scratch my cartoonishly large head and ask why?
The obvious answer is the number on the side of the car. If it was 31 instead of 3, I doubt he’d get half of the grief he has received over his career. To that I say, that’s also Richard Childress’ number.
Yes, Dale Earnhardt was great and RCR wouldn’t have six championships without him, but the fact is, it was Childress’ equipment and organization that carried that number. If he wants his grandson to carry it on, that’s his decision to make.
Then, there’s the “granddaddy’s money” contingent.
Well, I am going to break some news here that is going to shock the NASCAR world and probably cause shockwaves to ripple through the entire motorsports industry: NASCAR teams aren’t run by poor people.
I know. It’s a completely counter-intuitive argument that took me a long time to unravel, but it’s true.
Yes, it can and will make wealthy people poor in the process, but it is not an endowment simply based on desire, will and especially talent.
The current state of motorsports demands the following question be answered: Are you able to reliably help bankroll a manufacturing and logistics operation while meeting payroll for a $20-$30 million budget annually? If so, who is the sponsor you are bringing to the table, and what are their activation needs and requirements?
Oh, and the car maker gets a say in all of this, too.
This isn’t anything new, it’s been the name of the game for about 15 years now. Dillon is a known quantity, has a decent resume, with an IMDB page to boot. If there’s a better option for their sponsor, then they get to make that call. Besides, what if Hill does get to the Cup Series, and he performs no better than Dillon?
How might he work with Busch? Why hasn’t Chevrolet found another potential home for him if Dillon has no plans to move on for the foreseeable future?
There’s a lot of factors that go into running a race team, and in the modern era of motorsports, potential alone doesn’t get the transporter out the door 38 weeks a year and keep the lights on in the gift shop. – Vito Pugliese
Time for Dillon to Move on
Dillon is hampering the development of Hill as things stand at RCR.
Make no mistake, Dillon is a pretty decorated NASCAR Driver. He’s won the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. He has made the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs multiple times. He’s won championships in the Xfinity Series and Truck Series. He’s won 20 times throughout NASCAR’s three top divisions.
He’s had a career that a lot of drivers dream of. He had his own reality show, he’s been the man that brought Earnhardt’s legendary number back to victory lane where it belongs. It’s been a good to incredibly mediocre ride for the eldest Dillon brother.
But it’s time to move forward.
This season, unlike any other, has proven that Dillon needs to follow his father Mike Dillon’s footsteps and admit a hard truth. He’s just not an elite driver at the highest level of competition in the sport.
RCR added Busch during the off-season, who in his own right is one of the greatest stock drivers of all time. In the same equipment, Busch has won three times this season, the most he’s won since winning five times in 2019 – a year he won the title. Surely, Dillon would have benefitted from having such a powerhouse teammate in the same shop, sharing information and strategies with him.
But he hasn’t.
Instead, Dillon has had one of his worst statistical seasons of his career in 2023. He’s had one top five and six top 10s this season, which nearly matches his 2015 season, in which he had one top five and five top 10s. He’s just barely inside the top 30 in points this season, which in part was worsened by a penalty his team picked up earlier on in the year.
He’s easily been one of the most disappointing drivers of the season thus far.
Outside of a few good runs, the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro has been pretty much irrelevant, outside of an angry helmet toss at former teammate Reddick in Pocono Raceway and a dust up with Kyle Larson at Watkins Glen this past week. Even when Reddick was with the team last season, he was outperforming Dillon by leaps and bounds in the same equipment.
Even worse than all this, is that RCR has a driver in the Xfinity Series that is experiencing resounding success this season.
Hill has been one of, if not the hottest driver in the most competitive series NASCAR has to offer. He’s won four times this season. He’s leading the regular season points standings by 34 points over John Hunter Nemechek. He’s a factor week in and week out no matter where the race is being run.
Basically, Hill has been the polar opposite ofDillon this season. He’s relevant for all the right reasons, and he was rewarded with a contract extension in his Xfinity Series ride this past week. He earned the contract, but he deserves so much more. Hill is ready for the big time.
Unfortunately, Busch has shown no signs of slowing down at this point in his career. He’s likely to be in that No. 8 Chevrolet for a very long time, probably until his illustrious career ends. That leaves RCR’s other Cup Series entry, and it appears as though Dillon isn’t going anywhere any time soon.
If any other driver in good to top-tier equipment posted the numbers that Dillon has over his career, they would’ve received their walking papers years ago. Cole Custer is a prime example.
His performance in Stewart-Haas Racing equipment over his years in the Cup Series was abysmal compared to his teammates Kevin Harvick, Chase Briscoe, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola over that time period. For that, Custer was dropped to the Xfinity Series for further development.
Dillon will keep his ride as long as he wants, basically because his grandfather owns the team. With all due respect to Dillon and Childress, it makes no sense. When you have someone in your program who is outperforming one of the guys you have in the Cup Series week in and week out, even if it’s in a lower series, you strike while the iron is hot.
Take Briscoe, for example. Briscoe was dominant in 2020 in the Xfinity Series and the next season he was tabbed to replace a retiring Bowyer. Briscoe has had a rocky 2023, make no mistake about it, but he ran well often in his rookie year and was in contention to win multiple times in 2022 picking up his first win along the way. Again, Briscoe has had an awful season, but so has every driver at SHR outside of Harvick.
The point I’m trying to make is that SHR made the move, promoted the right driver and that team got better, even if this season’s results don’t show it. Dillon needs to step away from driving and into the office of RCR to help build a brighter future for the team.
In order for that to happen, it is time for this team to turn and lean into the future.
That future is Hill.
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