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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Ty Dillon

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Ty Dillon was exposed to racing from every angle as a child.

His father, Mike, once competed in all three national NASCAR series. His grandfather, Richard Childress, went from competing in the Cup Series to being a very successful car owner. Mike even drove for Richard during his career.

Ty, at 24 years old, now does the same in the Xfinity Series, while his brother, Austin, competes in the Sprint Cup Series. Not surprising, Ty’s earliest racing memories also involve family.

“Just being a kid at the racetrack when my dad raced,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “Going with my grandfather and just hanging out with them; being a fan as a kid.”

In his rise through the racing ranks, Dillon captured the 2011 ARCA Racing Series championship after winning seven of the season’s 19 races. In 2012, Dillon was named Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series. He finished runner-up for the 2013 championship before moving to the Xfinity Series. He captured his first career series win in 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his grandfather and Dale Earnhardt were victorious in the second annual Brickyard 400.

No matter where Ty has been or what he’s accomplished, his father and grandfather are never far. Mike Dillon, who serves as the Vice President of Competition at RCR, can often be heard on the No. 3 radio during race weekend. Richard Childress not only plays grandfather and car owner but confidant and hunting buddy.

But when did Ty realize that Richard Childress was more than just his grandfather?

“I always knew who he was and how important he was to the sport and knew that he was famous,” Dillon said. “But I didn’t really know the impact he had on people and the way that he impacted the sport and done things as a person until I was driving and starting to meet different people and getting involved with sponsors and stuff. I didn’t really realize how special he really was until that time; he always first been a great grandfather more than anything.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: At home is it hard for you and the rest of the family to separate racing and be together as a family or does it seep over?

Dillon: It seeps over. We talk about it almost every time we’re together; there’s some kind of racing conversation that comes up. But as we get a little bit older and we’ve been in the sport a little bit longer, Austin and I, our conversations start to change, and we’re not so hell-bent on talking about racing 24/7. As our lives are changing and we’re growing up, and I’m married, Austin’s engaged, there are different things going in our lives, and we’re still very involved in racing, but our conversations have changed throughout the family.

NBC Sports: How did your love of the outdoors start?

Dillon: I’d say it had to start with my grandfather. When I was about seven or eight years old was the first time he took me hunting and we really starting going on hunting trips. He started that with Austin and I at a young age and it’s something that as you get older you grow more and more respect for and it’s something that I grew fond of. Just last week I went out and hunted and just sat in a deer blind by myself; it’s nice to get out and appreciate nature. Some people never get out and really see what this world has to offer. I also enjoy doing that with mountain biking, which has kind of grown my outdoors side even more. I love to go to different areas, whether it’s in North Carolina or different states and ride my mountain bike up in the mountains or up in the woods. It’s always fun to see different parts of the world.

NBC Sports: Do you have a favorite hunting story or something you consider an accomplishment?

Dillon: Nothing really specific. Just the times I’ve gotten to spend with good friends and people while hunting is something that I love more than anything about it. The time sitting by a campfire and just talking and telling stories is what I’ve enjoyed.

NBC Sports: You once mentioned that you had a motorcycle but don’t ride anymore because you got hurt, what happened?

Dillon: I used to ride a YZX 250 every day, we had a motocross track behind our house and probably from the time I was 16-17 until the time I was 19 or 20 I rode with a couple of buddies and my dad almost every single day and got pretty decent at it. I was showing my buddy how to do a jump one day, on a rainy day, and over-jumped a jump and broke my fibula and tibia in my left leg and kind of slowed down my racing. That was the end of me riding motorcycles for a while.

NBC Sports: So no more motorcycles or dirt bikes?

Dillon: I still have my dirt bike, but I don’t hardly ever ride it. I did do the Supercross Holeshot with Clint (Bowyer) and all those guys. That’s about as far as I need to go.

NBC Sports: Fantasy Football is a big deal for you and you are all-in when it comes to statistics and players, how did it get that far?

Dillon: It’s kind of like that for all sports; I played all sports growing up until I was probably 16 or 17 and had a passion for all of them. I appreciate the guys who are the top level and what it takes and Fantasy Football is about as close as I’m going to get to being a part of a professional sports team. So I got into that, and then the statistical side grew on me and I enjoyed starting to research it and learning more about it, just playing different stuff, playing the daily fantasy stuff, and you can get better at it by learning the statistical analysis side of it. Plus, it’s something that just keeps my brain going and just doing research. It’s fun, it’s a little hobby of mine and keeps my brain fresh it feels like.

NBC Sports: How did you and (wife) Haley meet?

Dillon: We met when we were both probably 13 or 14, her family is from Seattle, Washington, and they used to race Legends cars out West and they came down for the Summer Shootout, in 2011 maybe, at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) and just so happened that their family was parked beside our family for about the two or three months of time the Summer Shootout was going on. We got to know them pretty well; one of the guys that was working on our car that was also living with us at the time became really good friends with her two brothers. One of them actually came down and started living with our friend and we all became really close. I started asking about his sister because I remember seeing her at the racetrack and being so shy I didn’t even want to look her way because she was so pretty.

I finally got him to give me her phone number, and I tried to text her and call her for the longest time, and she wasn’t having anything to do with me. I kept wearing her out until we were about 18, 19 years old and I think it was around New Year’s her brother invited us to come out to their place in the mountains in Seattle. Around that time, she started to talk to me knowing I was going to be coming out there and the first time we really talked on the phone I think we talked for about five hours. Once she finally gave me a chance we really hit it off and ever since I went on that trip out to Seattle we’ve been together.

NBC Sports: How is married life? (Ty and Haley married in December 2014)

Dillon: It’s been great. Everybody kind of tries to scare you from being married and whatnot, but she’s been an awesome wife. Married life has been awesome for me.

NBC Sports: In an interview a few months ago you’ve mentioned being OCD about doing chores around the house, which ones specifically do you do, and I’m sure that makes Haley very happy?

Dillon: I think I’m probably the best husband (laughs). I do whatever; I don’t mind doing the dishes. I like vacuuming. Vacuuming is very satisfying to me. I got a leaf blower, probably my favorite thing I got at our new house.

Haley in the background says he’s handy

Dillon: Yeah, I just changed the brakes on Haley’s car the other day. I just like doing little projects, and stuff that I can see a difference from start to finish is mentally satisfying.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Morgan Shepherd

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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Austin Dillon: Richard Childress Racing looking to be ‘leaner and meaner’ with two-car team

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – When the 2018 Cup season begins next month, Richard Childress Racing will show up with what Austin Dillon hopes is a “leaner and meaner” two-car operation.

Dillon confirmed RCR will only field two full-time cars this season Tuesday during the NASCAR Media Tour.

The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet will be joined by Ryan Newman in the No. 31.

Paul Menard, who drove the No. 27 for RCR from 2011-17, is now with Wood Brothers Racing driving the No. 21.

“That was something I was really excited about in the offseason, when we decided to go to a little bit smaller organization,” Dillon said. “I see a lot of two-car teams being successful. Furniture Row is going back to one car and they were a two-car team last year, won the championship. I’m really positive about that. … It’s nice to be able to focus on two cars and our crew chiefs are our best friends. … They want to put RCR where it needs to be and that’s winning championships.”

This will be the first time RCR has been a strictly two-car operation since 2000, when it fielded entires for Dale Earnhardt in the N0. 3 and Mike Skinner in the No. 31. The next season, they fielded a third part-time car in eight races. At its peak, RCR fielded four full-time cars.

It went from four to three full-time cars in 2012.

The team has also downscaled its Xfinity operation from five to three cars.

RCR was able to win two Cup races last season, with Dillon in the Coke 600 and Ryan Newman in the spring Phoenix race. They were the team’s first Cup wins since 2013. Dillon, entering his fifth full-time season in Cup, doesn’t see 2018 as a rebuilding year.

“I think (it’s) just a go forward year,” Dillon said. “We’re getting more resources than we’ve ever had for two teams for a full year. Three teams, you’re getting spread thin at times and now we have the people that we want around us and enough of them.”

When it comes to personnel, Dillon said the team has “grown stronger” in the area it most needed to – engineering.

“It is leaner and meaner, but as far as the depth and places you need them, it’s probably better, truthfully,” Dillon said.

One new addition for RCR is an old face for the team. Andy Petree, who won two championships with RCR as Earnhardt’s crew chief in 1994 and 1995, has rejoined the team as the vice president of competition.

Dr. Eric Warren, who was the director of competition beginning in 2012, will now report to Petree in his role as chief technology advisor.

“I’ve enjoyed Andy since he got to our organization,” Dillon said. “It’s a line between my grandfather and myself and Eric Warren and my grandfather. … Our sport’s moving in a direction that’s heading toward the future and Andy has a passion and always has had a passion for engineering, but also kind of plays to my grandfather’s cards where he’s got an old school part to him, too.

“He’s letting Eric Warren work in his area and Andy’s kind of relaying those messages and pushing my grandfather in the right direction we need to go.”

Whichever direction they go in, they’ll be joined by Richard Petty Motorsports.

The team that owns the No. 43 Chevrolet driven by Darrell Wallace Jr. entered a technical alliance with RCR and now finds its home on RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina.

“It was really cool yesterday having the King (Petty) in the room for a meeting with all of us,” Dillon said. “My grandfather, seeing those two iconic brands kind of standing together, it makes it special. I’m sure Chevrolet is excited about that, too.”

 

Richard Petty Motorsports following the footsteps of Furniture Row

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WELCOME, N.C. – All of the noise at Richard Petty Motorsports’ cozy new home on a recent Friday afternoon was coming from behind a short wall in the corner.

Several No. 43 cars were parked on the shop floor in various states of inactivity and incompletion, but the “Fusion” on the front bumper betrayed they were last year’s models.

Drew Blickensderfer, RPM’s crew chief, didn’t seem concerned as he cast a smile toward the source of the noise – a specialized fabrication department that could be the key to solving a championship-tested equation.

Less space and fewer people can equal better results.

“We have shrank quite a bit,” Blickensderfer said. “Right now, we’re bare bones, but we have the people we need to go racing and performance-wise to go racing.

“To grow into a Furniture Row, or a model similar to that, we need to get that (fabrication department) up and running.”

As RPM makes significant structural changes – switching to Chevrolet, aligning with Richard Childress Racing, shuttering its body-hanging staff – no one is expecting a quantum leap in performance for a team that finished 24th in the 2017 owner standings.

But an improvement to a top-20 car with long-term winning potential is expected, and the model is the reigning team in NASCAR’s premier series.

In winning the 2017 title with Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78 Toyota, Furniture Row Racing has excelled by taking Joe Gibbs Racing chassis and optimizing the accompanying suspension parts and pieces through precision engineering and manufacturing.

RPM hopes to mirror the process through its reorganized fab department, which will have the same equipment from its previous home but with a more laser-targeted focus.

“If we can get that up and running, we’d be better off in the long run,” Blickensderfer said. “And that’s the ultimate goal is to be able to take a car from Richard Childress Racing and develop and work on it and ultimately have a better product for Sunday.”

RPM has traversed various paths toward competitiveness in recent seasons.

In 2014, the team was receiving chassis from Roush Fenway Racing but hanging its own bodies when it made the playoffs with Aric Almirola via a win at Daytona International Speedway. In 2015, RPM added chassis building to its workload but stumbled. Last year, it returned to hanging bodies on chassis supplied by Roush Fenway.

This year, RPM relocated from a 65,000-square-foot shop in Mooresville to a 20,000-square-foot space adjacent to RCR, which will deliver cars from its base just down the hill.

On arrival at RPM, all that is needed is interior (such as driver’s seat, steering wheel and column, air boxes and gear coolers) and mechanical work.

“Basically, it comes as a shell, the chassis with a body on it,” Blickensderfer said. “We do the wiring, the plumbing, the suspension parts, front and rear. Basically, all the parts you would bolt on.”

The change has allowed RPM to run leaner because there’s less work to be done on bodies. After employing about 80 last year (with 60 working on cars), RPM will have about 40 employees in 2018 with roughly 25 working on cars (about a half-dozen of those crew members will stay in the shop for assembly while the team is on the road, and RCR will supply the team’s pit crew).

The staff reduction will allow RPM to reallocate some funding toward R&D (after making zero trips to a wind tunnel last year).

Blickensderfer said the alliance with RCR should provide an aerodynamic foundation that will allow fine-tuning to have a greater impact. Last year, RPM “did a really good job of putting stuff that drove well under our race cars” but still faced the aerodynamic limitations of the Roush chassis.

“The thing that really creates speed on cars is the body and aero,” Blickensderfer said. “You can have the wrong springs in your car and mess up the other stuff a little bit, and you’d still be fast, at least in portions of the race. If you get all the springs right, and your aero is terrible, you still might be only a 20th-place car. That’s just the reality of it. The thing that is the most expensive to develop, create and implement is the aero stuff.

“So that’s why the big teams, they have all the wind tunnel data, and you’re racing against teams that are just developing faster than you can even produce cars. That’s why you’ve got to jump on board with them to get some of their information, or you’re going to be watching them coming behind you ready to lap you.”

With consolidation among chassis and engine builders an overarching trend in NASCAR for the past decade, alliances have become more prevalent. Besides RPM, Germain Racing and JTG Daugherty also have similar arrangements.

But few have made it work as well as Furniture Row, which made the championship round in 2015 through an RCR alliance before switching to JGR and Toyota the next season. Relying on the setups and strategies of crew chief Cole Pearn, Truex consistently outran JGR’s fleet of four Camrys in 2017 with a series-high eight victories and 19 stage wins – despite a few hundred fewer employees working at its Denver location.

“You step back and say, ‘How come no one else has been successful in that model?’ and you look at what Furniture Row has done with their model,” Blickensderfer said. “They still do some stuff in-house. So we pay RCR for an engineering agreement and to get cars from them, but that doesn’t mean we can’t develop ourselves. So you’d only be better off if you get extra money, you can start developing things yourself.

“Get all (the alliance team’s) information. Dump yours on top of it. You can’t help but get better in the long run that way. That’s what Cole and those guys have done. That’s the model that I would think the JTGs, the RPMs, the Germains, companies of this size, that’s what we need to strive to do is use that model to build up into that next level of race team.”

Though RPM will benefit from RCR’s aerodynamic R&D and assembly line capability, some of the information will be transferred the other way, too.

“They’re incorporating some of the stuff we had in our race cars into theirs that they think is going to make them better,” Blickensderfer said. “Before they put the body on it, we can change the brake system and do what we want, which eventually they’re going to do. And that saves us both time to make sure we have the best product.”

RPM took delivery of its first Camaro late last week for the Jan. 31-Feb. 1 test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Its hauler will be on the road Jan. 26 to Nevada, leaving about a week to finish preparing and setting up the car.

“That’s not all that tight of a timeframe,” Blickensderfer said. “What will happen in the future when we start racing is we’ll get a car two to three weeks before the event, and when we come in on a Monday morning after an event, the next week’s car is on the setup plate ready to go, so there’s only about a day’s worth of work we have to do to it.”

RPM has put its surface plates and other tools in cold storage, keeping open the option to revert to hanging bodies. But with the sponsorship landscape scarce, it makes such autonomy more difficult.

“If you could do everything yourself, you’d be better off, because then nobody gets your information,” Blickensderfer said. “But if (RCR) can take the money they’re developing cars with, and we can take the money we’re getting to develop cars and combine it, I think we all end up better. When there is less money in the pot to grab, the more of us that can throw the money in, the better we’ll be.”

Danica Patrick has a Daytona 500 team: Premium Motorsports

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The first piece of the “Danica Double” has been fully confirmed.

According to the Associated Press, Danica Patrick will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet for Premium Motorsports in next month’s Daytona 500. The AP reported that the car will be locked into the field through a charter and will receive engineering support from Richard Childress Racing.

Patrick entered NASCAR driving the No. 7 for JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2010-12. For the Feb. 18 race, she also will be reunited with crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who helped guide Patrick to her career-best NASCAR finish of fourth in a 2011 Xfinity race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The car will be sponsored by GoDaddy, which announced last week that it would sponsor Patrick in both this year’s Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500. Patrick has yet to reveal which team she will drive for in the Indy 500, which will conclude her racing career.

She already has made history in both events.

As a rookie in 2005, she became the first woman to lead the Indy 500 before taking fourth (and became the highest-finishing female in the race’s history with a third in 2009).

In the 2013 Daytona 500, she became the first woman to win the pole position and lead a race in NASCAR’s premier series.

New details of road course at Charlotte Motor Speedway

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CONCORD, North Carolina — The Sept. 30 Cup race on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s road course will be on a slightly altered 2.28-mile circuit.

The race, which airs on NBC, will serve as the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs. It is the first road course race in the 14-year history of the playoffs.

The alterations shorten the original 2.4-mile, 13-turn layout of the circuit. The track is now 2.28 miles and 17 turns after the removal of two of the last three infield turns. There will be more than 35 feet of elevation changes between Roval Turn 4 – the lowest point in the track – and Roval Turn 9, the highest point.

A chicane has also been added to the backstretch right before the entrance of Turn 3 of the oval. The track is adding 440 temporary rumble strips.

The distance for the race will be announced at a later date.

NASCAR held a test on the road course last October with Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Hemric and Jamie McMurray. Busch suggested the elimination of those turns in order to “speed up the track.”

“There are a lot of slow sections with Turns 5, 6 and 7,” Busch said. “Those are good rhythmic corners. … (But) a 3,500-pound car going 35 mph too many times isn’t too exciting.”

Truex was part of Monday’s presentation and gave his thoughts on the change.

“The lap times were so long that we were going to be looking at a race that was, I don’t even know how many hours,” Truex said. “Way too long. Basically taking out those two turns cut out quite a bit of lap time off the laps. It’s more so like a regular road course like Watkins Glen … we’ll be in kind of that realm.”

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said that the race could be held at night if pushed back for various reasons. The race is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. ET.

“We’re working with the track who we believe will have something in place,” O’Donnell said. “Goodyear will be ready with rain tires if we had to make some adjustments.’’

There will be a Goodyear tire test in March and an open test for Cup teams in July.

O’Donnell said NASCAR is “comfortable” with the current layout of the course and that no changes are expected to be made following the tests.

NASCAR on NBC analysts Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton took a few laps around the new layout and shared their thoughts on Facebook Live.

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