Pit crew changes weren’t easy for Austin Dillon: ‘I hang out with those guys’

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JOLIET, Ill. – The changes on Austin Dillon’s pit crew for the playoffs might have seemed relatively inconsequential and minor: a new rear-tire carrier and jackman.

For the Richard Childress Racing driver, who lives 5 minutes from the team’s headquarters, these aren’t nameless faces but close friends.

“I’m in that pit department probably more than I am anywhere in the shop.” Dillon said during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast released Thursday. “I’m there all the time during the week. I hang out with those guys. Half of them are my friends. We play volleyball together. We play sports together. I work out with them. So I know almost everyone in that pit department. So it’s hard to make that change when you’ve had guys the entire year who have worked their guts out for you.”

Both of the new crew members – jackman Adam Lewis and rear tire carrier Brad Robison – were transferred from the No. 31 Chevrolet of teammate Ryan Newman, who missed the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Considering that Robison replaced an interim tire carrier who hadn’t planned to compete during the Chase (and actually allowed the team’s natural rear carrier to return to the front), Dillon said it “wasn’t a huge change.

“There’s just a little more experience with the jackman, he had run in the Chase with the 31 a couple of times, and he does a good job. You’ve got to play the guys that you have there that are really good. If something goes wrong, we’ve got guys behind them that can step in and do well, too.”

That doesn’t make it easier to relay the news to someone who’s being replaced such as jackman Sam Abney.

“It’s difficult,” Dillon said. “Anybody with a competitive bone in their body is going to be frustrated. We feel he’s going to do a good job, and the team he’s on, he’s moved to the 31, I’m still close friends with him. He understands, and there’ll be opportunities for him along the way.”

Dillon also hashed out any hard feelings with Paul Menard after furiously battling with his teammate for position a few times at Richmond. Dillon and Menard sat next to each other on the return flight.

“It was pretty quick to work it out,” he said. “I kind of explained where I was at, and he explained where he was at, and we got where we needed to be. I messed up at Darlington and got into his fender there. There was a little bit of carryover from there. I got into his fender and cut his tire down, and that’s why they had the wreck there, so that was my fault there.

“This past weekend at Richmond, I’d put him three wide because I was blocking (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) that he had tried to put me three wide. And we talked it out. With the points situation I was in, he understood the intensity was there for me. He’d been in the same position (in 2015) at Richmond. You know that’s going on and you try to help those guys. Moving forward I think we’ll be just fine.”

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