Tire Gamble Pays Off For Dillon In Texas

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Austin Dillon celebrates in victory lane after winning Sunday's O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway. (HHP/Harold Hinson Photo)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Austin Dillon took advantage of a strategic two-tire pit stop and survived three late-race restarts to earn his third NASCAR Cup Series victory during Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Not bad for a silver spoon kid, right? I’ll take that,” Dillon quipped upon exiting his car Sunday afternoon.

Dillon, who entered Sunday’s race on an 88-race winless streak, was running at the rear of the top-10 when Quin Houff crashed on lap 306 to bring out the caution flag.

The caution flag allowed all of the leaders to hit pit road, with Dillon coming down pit road in the eighth position. His crew chief Justin Alexander, knowing that track position had been more valuable than fresh tires all day, opted to take on two left-side tires while most of the leaders took four tires.

That catapulted Dillon up the running order from eighth to second behind only his Richard Childress Racing teammate and rookie Tyler Reddick, who came off pit road first after only pitting for fuel.

The green flag waved with 23 laps left and Dillon got a strong restart, pulling clear of Reddick coming out of turn two. The RCR started to slip away from the battle for third behind them, with Dillon pulling out to more than a second lead until another caution flag waved with 16 laps left for a crash involving Denny Hamlin and Alex Bowman.

The field was lined back up for another restart, which came with 11 laps left. Dillon and Reddick battled for a lap for the lead, with Reddick actually sneaking ahead of Dillon to lead the a lap before Dillon was able to clear him in turns one and two with 10 laps left.

Dillon held serve in the lead for the next few laps with Reddick giving chase, but the caution flag would wave one more time when Hamlin spun coming out of turn four with six laps left. That set up an overtime restart, with Dillon opting to take the bottom with Reddick in the top lane for the restart.

Using a big push from third-place Joey Logano, Dillon pulled clear of Reddick before the field even got to turn one. Once in front no one was going to catch Dillon, who crossed the finish line to earn his first victory of the season to lock himself into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

“We had a car that had potential, it just didn’t really run well in traffic,” said Dillon, who was taken to the infield medical center post-race to receive fluids after a long day in the Texas heat. “When we got out front we had a hot rod.

“It came down to just some restarts, not screwing up and making it happen when it counted on those restarts.”

Dillon gave credit to his crew chief for making the call that gave him the track position to win the race. He said he was pleasantly surprised to find himself at the front of the field following his two-tire pit stop late in the race.

“It’s a good thing when you see no one in front of you, but I saw my teammate (Reddick) and I knew he was on fuel only strategy,” Dillon said. “I felt like out left sides were going to give us the edge on him. I was able to make it stick on the bottom and that’s what kind of pulled it off for us.

“What a call by Justin. He’s done a great job all year putting us in good positions when it comes to track position,” Dillon continued. “All three of my Cup wins are with Justin. Love the guy, can’t thank him enough for everything he’s done for me and my family. He’s been putting great products out there and he deals with me. I’m not the easiest individual to deal. I can get cranky from time to time, but that’s just because I’m passionate.”

Reddick earned the best finish of his brief NASCAR Cup Series career by coming home second, giving Richard Childress Racing a sweep of the top-two positions for the first time since October of 2011 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The 24-year-old said it was important for him to make sure that he didn’t make a mistake on the final restart and cost Richard Childress Racing a victory.

“It’s just one of those deals where it’s risk versus reward,” Reddick said. “As much as its my responsibility to win for this Cat Oil & Gas Chevrolet, I don’t want to take a win opportunity away from either RCR car. Just trying to race as hard as I can without getting the 3 (Dillon) in position where he lifts, slides up, makes me life and the cars behind us have an opportunity to win that race.”

Logano ended up third ahead of Kyle Busch, who survived a multi-car crash on lap 220 to finish fourth. Kevin Harvick completed the top-five.

Ryan Blaney dominated most of the race, leading a race-high 150 laps, but the incident for Houff on lap 306 trapped him at the tail of the field after he made his final scheduled pit stop. He finished seventh.

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