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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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My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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