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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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NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones get a feel of how Olympians train (video)

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NASCAR drivers talk almost continuously about how they have to be in top physical condition to endure sometimes often very difficult conditions while on a racetrack and behind the wheel.

One only needs to look at seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to see the rewards of being fit.

But going to one of the Olympic training centers in the U.S. is a whole other thing, something that separates folks who think they’re fit from those that really are.

Ask Toyota drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who recently participated in a two-day training session at an Olympic training facility.

We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still nursing sore muscles, given the workouts they endured – and which gave them new appreciation for what many Olympians must go through to be the best.

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NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch ready for Daytona fireworks (video)

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NASCAR’s summer classic, the Coke Zero 400, celebrates this country’s independence, its military heroes and concludes with a great fireworks show.

But as Clint Bowyer and this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, will vouch for, there’s also a lot of fireworks during the race, as the 2.5-mile, high-banked tri-oval can be one of the most difficult and intimidating places to race upon.

If a driver isn’t dodging fellow drivers, he or she is trying to stay in the draft to gain forward movement and momentum. Unfortunately, a lot of times when dodging and draft collide, so too do a lot of cars and drivers, as well.

It may not be the Daytona 500, but winning at Daytona in July is still a big prize that everyone wants to win. And don’t forget, because it’s Daytona, it’s also a place to be careful at because of the danger that can pop up at any moment.

Find out why by clicking on the above video.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte kicks off weekly feature honoring pit crews (video)

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They’re the unsung heroes of NASCAR, the guys who typically don’t get enough praise when things go right, and then oftentimes have the finger of blame pointed at them when things go wrong.

We’re talking about one of the most important jobs in NASCAR: pit crew member.

Starting with Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, a guy who knows a lot about pit crews – former crew chief turned NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte – kicked off a feature that will run each week for the 20 remaining weeks of the season.

Letarte’s series will spotlight the importance of pit crews, and he’ll also choose pit crew all-stars to recognize their contributions to the sport and their perseverance on pit road.

This week’s first bunch of pit crew all-stars are Caleb Hurd, gasman for Denny Hamlin; Jeff Zarella, tire specialist for Kurt Busch and Frank Mathalia, engine tuner for Austin Dillon.

Give them and their peers some love and check out the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants one final Daytona win for himself and his father (video)

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Daytona International Speedway has been a bittersweet place for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s been the place of his biggest NASCAR Cup career wins, including the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014.

But it’s also the same place where he lost his father  in a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now, Earnhardt returns to the “World Center of Speed” for what will be the final time in his 18-year NASCAR Cup career.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Earnhardt reflected upon all the good and bad Daytona has meant to him and his family.

On his first time back to Daytona after his father’s death nearly five months earlier: “Once we got to Daytona, we drove by the racetrack, pulled in, parked in Turn 3, got out and walked around. The track was empty, quiet and I’d never been to the crash site. That’s where dad, in my mind, lost his life. That was where we all remember him last.”

Returning to Daytona for the first time after his father’s death there: “I felt like that was a place I wanted to visit. And every time I go to Daytona, even today, I go around that racetrack, I look at that spot, I look at that knoll of grass before the exit of Turn 4. I wanted to go there and see how I felt and see what kind of emotions happened so that I could get whatever was going to be out of the way.

“I told myself what I was going through is the same sadness that some guy somewhere in the Midwest is dealing with right now. Who am I to go on and on about how hard it was, because somebody, somewhere right now is dealing with a loss.”

How he wishes his father was still here to see the man and driver he’s become: “I’d have loved it if he’d stuck around a lot longer, but that’s not the way it was supposed to be. And we figured out how to make it (when he won the 2001 Coke Zero 400 in his father’s honor).”

On wanting to win one last time at Daytona in a Cup car this Saturday night: “I’d love to win at Daytona and add another win to the Earnhardt column. Every time I win there, I think it’s another win for me and dad because his success there stretches far beyond the Daytona 400 and July 400. But any time I win there, that’s one more stake in the ground that we claim this track as a place we dominate.”

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