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On ‘back burner’ of rookie class, Ty Dillon aims to leave doubters ‘surprised’ in Cup Series

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Ty Dillon‘s biggest dream came true last November.

At the age of 24, he was finally going full-time racing in the NASCAR’s premier series.

When all the paperwork was done, Dillon was overwhelmed when he called his wife, Haley, with the news he would replace Casey Mears in Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet.

“I remember driving down the road and first called my wife and told her it was a done deal and just started bawling on the phone,” Dillon said last week at the NASCAR Media Tour. “And I called my mom and bawled.”

The grandson of Richard Childress, Dillon will make his debut with the team in the Daytona 500, the day before his 25th birthday. It will be his second start in the “Great American Race.”

“I love this sport, and just to have the chance to be one of the top drivers and chase my dream,” Dillon said. “I know you say I’ve made it, which is obviously a big moment for me in my life, but I still have a lot to accomplish. My grandfather said the other night that he feels like he still hasn’t made it, and that’s how I kind of feel. I’m not going to be satisfied until I win races and championships.”

It’s been such a busy offseason, you may have missed Dillon’s promotion. Erik Jones, the 2015 Truck Series champion and 2014 Xfinity Rookie of the Year, will pilot the No. 77 for Furniture Row Racing.

Daniel Suarez, the defending Xfinity champion and first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title, got the unexpected promotion to replace Carl Edwards in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 car.

Between all that, Monster Energy becoming the Cup Series’ new sponsor and NASCAR’s race and points format overhaul, even Dillon believes his presence in the 2017 rookie class – which will also include Gray Gaulding – is being overlooked.

“I kind of feel people put us on the back burner – me and Germain Racing – and I think they’ll be surprised,” said Dillon, who’s made 18 Cup Series starts since 2014. His best finish last year was 17th at Atlanta.

But in his 111 Xfinity starts dating back to 2012, Dillon has only visited victory lane once, in the 2014 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He has 29 top fives driving Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Camaro while finishing in the top two seven times.

In that same four-year span, his brother Austin Dillon won eight races in 106 starts, six of them coming as a part-time driver the last two seasons. He also claimed 53 top fives.

Jones won six times in 56 starts the last two seasons while Suarez won three times in 2016 on the way to his title. Ty Dillon finished fifth in the standings after failing to advance to the championship race in Miami.

Given all that, what makes him confident he’s ready for the full-time challenges of the Cup Series stage at this point in his career?

“In my heart I feel like I’m the best driver,” Dillon said. “If I didn’t have that kind of confidence, I wouldn’t be driving a race car. I knew I was ready for this opportunity and I’ve proved in different situations. The wins weren’t what we wanted in the Xfinity Series the past couple of years, but we were growing as a team and changing as a team at RCR. We will win Xfinity races this year; I can guarantee you that.”

Dillon will compete in 20 of 33 Xfinity races this season while navigating his rookie Cup season. His efforts with Germain Racing will be aided by a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing.

“I feel it’s going to be the best of both worlds for me,” Dillon said. “We’ll still have that multi-car feel but also be able to separate ourselves and be Germain Racing … so it will be nice to have a little bit of our own identity and me to have my own identity, too. I just think it will help the growth of both programs – myself and the team.”

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Matt Kenseth wrecks out of Auto Club 400 on late restart

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Matt Kenseth crashed out of the Auto Club 400 on a restart with 16 laps remaining in the race at Auto Club Speedway.

Kenseth had restarted fourth following a caution for an incident involving Gray Gaulding.

Kenseth was in the middle groove exiting Turn 2 when he was tapped from behind by Martin Truex Jr. and slid toward the inside wall, which his No. 20 Toyota hit hard. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was cleared and released from the infield care center.

It is Kenseth’s third DNF in the first five races of the season and his second in as many races. He had four in all of 2016.

Kenseth entered the race 20th in the point standings.

Martin Truex Jr. has commanding performance in Stage 2 win at Fontana

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Martin Truex Jr. has taken over as the most dominating driver in today’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California.

After pole-sitter Kyle Larson won the first 60-lap stage, Truex won Stage 2. During the session, Truex’s car showed supremacy with nearly a seven-second lead in the closing laps of the stage.

Truex has now won three of the last six stages, having captured both stages two weeks ago en route to his overall race win at Las Vegas.

Larson is in second place, followed by Chase Elliott, Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Brad Keselowski.

There has been just two cautions in the race – both coming in Stage 1.

We now move to the final stage, an 80-lap shootout to determine the race winner.

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Kyle Larson wins Stage 1 of Auto Club 400 at Fontana

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Pole-sitter Kyle Larson is almost one-third of the way to winning Sunday’s Auto Club 400. The California native won Stage 1 of the race at his home-state Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles.

Larson (43 laps) and Martin Truex Jr. (12 laps) have led the majority of the laps during the opening 60-lap segment. That segment will be followed by another 60-lap segment, and then an 80-lap final section for 200 laps (400 miles) around the 2-mile low-banked track.

It was Larson’s first stage win of the 2017 season under the new enhanced scoring format in the NASCAR Cup Series. Larson has finished runner-up in each of the last three races and four of the last five (dating back to the 2016 season finale). He has just one career Cup win, last year at Michigan.

Truex is running second, followed by Chase Elliott, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Sixth through 10th are Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin.

Each of the top 10 finishers in Stage 1 will earn stage points in the NASCAR Cup standings.

Two incidents of note occurred early in the race, both involving Brad Keselowski:

* On the first lap, Keselowski’s car suffered left rear damage when several cars were involved in an accordion-like wreck. Others involved included Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin, but there was no caution called.

* Keselowski continued on without repairing the damage and was spun out on Lap 3 when he was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson, causing further damage to Keselowski’s Ford Fusion. The caution came out for Laps 5 through 7. Johnson claimed there was little or no damage over his team radio, but Johnson has continued to have struggles this weekend. He’s running 32nd, one lap down.

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Bad race start results in damaged cars for Brad Keselowski, Ryan Newman and Kevin Harvick

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A bad start by the inside lane at the beginning of the Auto Club 400 resulted in damage to the cars of Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Newman.

Denny Hamlin struggled to get to speed at the drop of the green flag, causing the first few rows of cars to bunch up. It resulted in Newman making contact with Keselowski’s left rear and causing damage. Harvick then ran into Newman as the inside bottlenecked.

On Lap 4, after falling back to 17th, Keselowski was hit from behind by Jimmie Johnson on the front stretch, which sent the No. 2 car spinning through the infield grass. Keselowski, the Atlanta winner, was 19th and the first car a lap down when the first stage ended.

During pit stops in the resulting caution, large amounts of tape were put on the front bumper and grille of Harvick’s car and the right-front fender of Newman’s.

With 35 laps left in the first 60-lap stage, Harvick was forced to pit for a flat right-rear tire. He now runs in 28th, a lap down. Newman, who won last week at Phoenix, a lap down in 22nd.

Johnson, a six-time Auto Club winner and the defending winner, was told his No. 48 had damage that could easily be fixed in the pits.  He runs in 20th a lap down. Johnson is winless this season.