Going into last season, Austin Dillon arguably had the highest profile among the Sprint Cup rookie crop. The 2013 Xfinity Series champ moved to Cup in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet made famous by Dale Earnhardt.
But the spotlight quickly shifted to Kyle Larson, who won Rookie of the Year honors.
However, Dillon didn’t necessarily have a bad year. Although he only had one top-five finish, he completed all but 53 of the 10,541 laps run last year.
That’s something for Dillon to build upon as he enters this season.
“I thought last year was a solid year,” Dillon said Thursday morning at Daytona International Speedway. “I think that we competed well with the competition and really hit some of our goals, which were to complete a lot of laps. I think this year, moving forward, we’ve got to capitalize on the stuff we learned from last year and run better and have more opportunities to win races.
“I think that’s our biggest goal this year is to have opportunities to win races and win a race and put ourselves in the Chase and give us a shot to be there in the end.”
If last year is any indication, Dillon will have one of his better chances to do that at the Feb. 22 Daytona 500.
Dillon won the pole for last year’s Great American Race and converted that into a ninth-place finish. When Cup returned to Daytona in July for the Coke Zero 400, he placed a season-best fifth.
A victory from the No. 3 car at Daytona would no doubt be a popular one considering the car’s history there, which is both triumphant (Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 win in 1998) and tragic (Earnhardt’s death in 2001).
Dillon himself was part of Earnhardt’s celebration in Daytona Victory Lane in 1998, which he regards as his first 500 memory.
“Being in that moment and going through the hat dance and getting dragged by my grandma by the arm to get into Victory Lane because it was such chaos at that time – it was crazy,” Dillon recalled.
No doubt that Dillon would like some of that chaos for himself.