Xfinity Series Spotlight: Ty Dillon

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Ty Dillon was exposed to racing from every angle as a child.

His father, Mike, once competed in all three national NASCAR series. His grandfather, Richard Childress, went from competing in the Cup Series to being a very successful car owner. Mike even drove for Richard during his career.

Ty, at 24 years old, now does the same in the Xfinity Series, while his brother, Austin, competes in the Sprint Cup Series. Not surprising, Ty’s earliest racing memories also involve family.

“Just being a kid at the racetrack when my dad raced,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “Going with my grandfather and just hanging out with them; being a fan as a kid.”

In his rise through the racing ranks, Dillon captured the 2011 ARCA Racing Series championship after winning seven of the season’s 19 races. In 2012, Dillon was named Rookie of the Year in the Camping World Truck Series. He finished runner-up for the 2013 championship before moving to the Xfinity Series. He captured his first career series win in 2014 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where his grandfather and Dale Earnhardt were victorious in the second annual Brickyard 400.

No matter where Ty has been or what he’s accomplished, his father and grandfather are never far. Mike Dillon, who serves as the Vice President of Competition at RCR, can often be heard on the No. 3 radio during race weekend. Richard Childress not only plays grandfather and car owner but confidant and hunting buddy.

But when did Ty realize that Richard Childress was more than just his grandfather?

“I always knew who he was and how important he was to the sport and knew that he was famous,” Dillon said. “But I didn’t really know the impact he had on people and the way that he impacted the sport and done things as a person until I was driving and starting to meet different people and getting involved with sponsors and stuff. I didn’t really realize how special he really was until that time; he always first been a great grandfather more than anything.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: At home is it hard for you and the rest of the family to separate racing and be together as a family or does it seep over?

Dillon: It seeps over. We talk about it almost every time we’re together; there’s some kind of racing conversation that comes up. But as we get a little bit older and we’ve been in the sport a little bit longer, Austin and I, our conversations start to change, and we’re not so hell-bent on talking about racing 24/7. As our lives are changing and we’re growing up, and I’m married, Austin’s engaged, there are different things going in our lives, and we’re still very involved in racing, but our conversations have changed throughout the family.

NBC Sports: How did your love of the outdoors start?

Dillon: I’d say it had to start with my grandfather. When I was about seven or eight years old was the first time he took me hunting and we really starting going on hunting trips. He started that with Austin and I at a young age and it’s something that as you get older you grow more and more respect for and it’s something that I grew fond of. Just last week I went out and hunted and just sat in a deer blind by myself; it’s nice to get out and appreciate nature. Some people never get out and really see what this world has to offer. I also enjoy doing that with mountain biking, which has kind of grown my outdoors side even more. I love to go to different areas, whether it’s in North Carolina or different states and ride my mountain bike up in the mountains or up in the woods. It’s always fun to see different parts of the world.

NBC Sports: Do you have a favorite hunting story or something you consider an accomplishment?

Dillon: Nothing really specific. Just the times I’ve gotten to spend with good friends and people while hunting is something that I love more than anything about it. The time sitting by a campfire and just talking and telling stories is what I’ve enjoyed.

NBC Sports: You once mentioned that you had a motorcycle but don’t ride anymore because you got hurt, what happened?

Dillon: I used to ride a YZX 250 every day, we had a motocross track behind our house and probably from the time I was 16-17 until the time I was 19 or 20 I rode with a couple of buddies and my dad almost every single day and got pretty decent at it. I was showing my buddy how to do a jump one day, on a rainy day, and over-jumped a jump and broke my fibula and tibia in my left leg and kind of slowed down my racing. That was the end of me riding motorcycles for a while.

NBC Sports: So no more motorcycles or dirt bikes?

Dillon: I still have my dirt bike, but I don’t hardly ever ride it. I did do the Supercross Holeshot with Clint (Bowyer) and all those guys. That’s about as far as I need to go.

NBC Sports: Fantasy Football is a big deal for you and you are all-in when it comes to statistics and players, how did it get that far?

Dillon: It’s kind of like that for all sports; I played all sports growing up until I was probably 16 or 17 and had a passion for all of them. I appreciate the guys who are the top level and what it takes and Fantasy Football is about as close as I’m going to get to being a part of a professional sports team. So I got into that, and then the statistical side grew on me and I enjoyed starting to research it and learning more about it, just playing different stuff, playing the daily fantasy stuff, and you can get better at it by learning the statistical analysis side of it. Plus, it’s something that just keeps my brain going and just doing research. It’s fun, it’s a little hobby of mine and keeps my brain fresh it feels like.

NBC Sports: How did you and (wife) Haley meet?

Dillon: We met when we were both probably 13 or 14, her family is from Seattle, Washington, and they used to race Legends cars out West and they came down for the Summer Shootout, in 2011 maybe, at Charlotte (Motor Speedway) and just so happened that their family was parked beside our family for about the two or three months of time the Summer Shootout was going on. We got to know them pretty well; one of the guys that was working on our car that was also living with us at the time became really good friends with her two brothers. One of them actually came down and started living with our friend and we all became really close. I started asking about his sister because I remember seeing her at the racetrack and being so shy I didn’t even want to look her way because she was so pretty.

I finally got him to give me her phone number, and I tried to text her and call her for the longest time, and she wasn’t having anything to do with me. I kept wearing her out until we were about 18, 19 years old and I think it was around New Year’s her brother invited us to come out to their place in the mountains in Seattle. Around that time, she started to talk to me knowing I was going to be coming out there and the first time we really talked on the phone I think we talked for about five hours. Once she finally gave me a chance we really hit it off and ever since I went on that trip out to Seattle we’ve been together.

NBC Sports: How is married life? (Ty and Haley married in December 2014)

Dillon: It’s been great. Everybody kind of tries to scare you from being married and whatnot, but she’s been an awesome wife. Married life has been awesome for me.

NBC Sports: In an interview a few months ago you’ve mentioned being OCD about doing chores around the house, which ones specifically do you do, and I’m sure that makes Haley very happy?

Dillon: I think I’m probably the best husband (laughs). I do whatever; I don’t mind doing the dishes. I like vacuuming. Vacuuming is very satisfying to me. I got a leaf blower, probably my favorite thing I got at our new house.

Haley in the background says he’s handy

Dillon: Yeah, I just changed the brakes on Haley’s car the other day. I just like doing little projects, and stuff that I can see a difference from start to finish is mentally satisfying.

Previous spotlight interviews:

Morgan Shepherd

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Daniel Suarez

Brandon Jones

Elliott Sadler

Rod Sieg

Chris Gabehart

Garrett Smithley

Brendan Gaughan

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

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RFK Racing reaps benefits of hard work with Bristol win, Texas pole

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When Brad Keselowski arrived at RFK Racing after last season, among the early changes he made included repainting the walls and restructuring the team’s shop.

They were meant to infuse an organization that hadn’t won a Cup points race since 2017 with a new look and feel. And help create a new mindset for the 165 employees.

“The first thing (Keselowski) started changing was colors,” Justin Edgell, tire carrier on Chris Buescher’s team, told NBC Sports. “Everything is satin black. My man is a satin black-type guy. I’m talking about trash cars. I’m talking about equipment. I like it. You know, look good, play good.”

RFK Racing has looked great the last week. Buescher gave the organization its first points win of the season, taking the checkered flag in the Bristol night race. Keselowski followed by winning the pole for today’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). Buescher starts today’s race 13th. 

MORE: Details for today’s Cup race at Texas 

It has taken much for the organization to experience a week like this. The season didn’t start well. Both Keselowski and Buescher failed to make the feature in the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in early February. 

Less than two weeks later, they each won their qualifying race at Daytona. 

RFK Racing wouldn’t be back to Victory Lane until Bristol. In between were disappointments, close calls and plenty of work.

“We’re in a spot where with our company, we’ve made a lot of changes over the last six to 12 months,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the team’s celebration on Monday. “And there’s a maturation cycle to those. 

“Nobody likes that maturation cycle. There’s still things that we’ve invested that haven’t matured. So there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, but we have a long ways to go.”

Having patience in such a fast-moving sport isn’t easy but it is needed.

“I wish we would have matured earlier,” Keselowski said,” but I ain’t going to look at gift horse in the mouth and scream at him. I will take it and we’re going to build off it. Right now we have two teams that are like 10th-place teams. Our last few weeks have shown that’s where we’re at in speed, that’s where we’re at in finishes. If we ran a whole season like that … we’d be a playoff team.”

When Keselowski spoke to the employees at Monday’s celebration, he told them to enjoy the moment. He also had another message for them.

“Winning at this level is really hard and it’s supposed to be hard,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fight to get there this year. Certainly some good moments and some really tough moments. I’m really proud of all of us and the work that went in.”

Another key to the organization’s success finding common ground between those who had been at Roush before Keselowski’s arrival and the new hires and their ideas.

After working through those issues, which included how the cars were prepared, Graves saw progress.

“You step back and embrace it and look at it and it’s like, ‘OK, this makes sense,’” Graves said. “You can start to develop and build on some ideas that make progress.”

The results started to show. Buescher finished second at Sonoma in June. He was sixth at Road America in July. He placed third at Richmond ninth at Watkins Glen in back-to-back weekends in August. 

“It’s been really nice to go to these race tracks and be in the hunt, be up there at the front,” Buescher told the employees at Monday’s celebration. “We’re learning every week. We’ve made huge progress really through the whole year.”

Buescher and Keselowski combined to lead 278 of the 500 laps at Bristol. Buescher found himself toward the front late in the race. Graves made a two-tire call on the last stop. Buescher went from entering the pits fourth to exiting first when no one else made such a move. Buescher led the final 61 laps to win. 

Then he got to do something he hadn’t in years. 

A burnout.

“I’ve only been able to do like three in my career,” he told NBC Sports, noting he didn’t do burnouts in ARCA because he often needed those tires for another event. “Xfinity wins, we were able do do some burnouts. 

“After the Pocono Cup win, it was rained out so we just had to push it to victory way, so it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any legal burnouts in a race car. So that part was nice. 

“It was nice to actually be able celebrate on the frontstretch with the team the real way, in the moment, not hanging around for that that rainout. That’s what made it that much better in my eyes.”

Keselowski looks to join Buescher in winning a points race this year. In a season with 19 different winners, Keselowski admits it’s challenging to be among those who have yet to win.

“Now we are in a spot where we are ready to play some offense,” he said. “It is a good feeling. It comes with a pragmatic view and a lot of humility of being able to walk away from some races where you were legitimately 20th or 25th and go to work the next morning and say, ‘Alright, we aren’t going to burn the house down. We are going to repaint the living room and then we are going to go to the next room and work on it piece by piece.’

“The easy thing to do is to lose control over yourself. That is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to work through it and be methodical in that approach.”

It’s an approach that has led RFK Racing back to Victory Lane.

Dr. Diandra: Surprises in playoff performance

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The first round of playoff performances defied expectations in both good and bad ways.

That is my excuse for why my very first attempt at making predictions was an abject failure. I projected Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon would be the first four drivers out of the playoff. Only Dillon failed to move on to the round of 12.

Of course, my algorithm did not account for Kyle Busch having two engine failures in three races. Especially after his not having had a single engine failure in the previous 92 races.

Nor did the algorithm predict Kevin Harvick’s Darlington race being ended by fire.

Or that none of the 16 playoff drivers would win even one of the first three playoff races.

On the positive side, playoff drivers took 11 out of 15 possible top-fives (73%), and 21 of 30 top-10s (70%.) That’s consistent with a season boasting 19 different winners.

Chase Elliott is the only driver to win more than two races this season. Drivers made the playoffs by finishing well rather than winning of lot of races.

Playoff performance by the numbers

In the table at right, I list drivers in order of points after Bristol — but before re-seeding. Red numbers indicate DNFs.A table showing drivers' finishing positions for the first three playoff races

DNFs played a major role in the first round. Each of the four eliminated drivers had at least one DNF. Harvick and Busch had two each. Both of Busch’s DNFs and one of Harvick’s were due to equipment failure.

Only three drivers earned top-10 finishes in all three playoff races: Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Byron. Two of my predicted eliminations over-performed. And the one driver I expected to dominate the playoffs didn’t.

Relative to the regular season

Excluding equipment failures and crashes, one expects most drivers to perform, on average, at about the same level they ran during the regular season. That mostly didn’t happen.

In the first two elimination rounds, top 10s are enough to stay in the game. So that’s the metric I’ll focus on here.

The graph below compares drivers’ top-10 finish percentage in the first three playoff races to the same metric from the regular season.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to

Each arrow starts at the driver’s regular-season average and travels to his playoff average. Blue indicates playoff performance better than the regular season and red indicates the opposite.

Six drivers performed better than their regular-season averages would suggest.

Byron entered the playoffs seeded 10th with only five top-10 finishes in the regular season. With three top-10s in the first round of the playoffs, he earned the second-most points of any driver in the round of 16.

Hamlin had the second-largest improvement with two second-place finishes and a ninth. That continues his season-long trend of trying to overcome a slow start.

Bell’s 53.8% top-10 rate for the regular season doesn’t give him much room to improve. But he did. He’s also the only driver with three top-five playoff finishes.

Bowman, whose crew chief, Greg Ives, will retire at the end of this season, increased from 38.5% to 66.6% top-10 finishes.

“I think we are super motivated,” Bowman said, “because its Greg’s last 10 races with me and we want to end on a high note. We know the summer doesn’t matter anymore, our troubles, and it’s a good reset for us going into the playoffs.”

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was Elliott. He has the most top-10 finishes of any driver with 18. But only one came from the first playoff round.

Momentum

Driver finishes rise and fall throughout a season. The ups and downs are even larger this year because of the new Next Gen car. For that reason, it’s worth comparing playoff performance not only to the entire regular-season average, but also to just the last five regular-season races.

The arrows on the next plot start at the top-10 rate for each driver’s last five regular-season races and travel to their playoff rate.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to the last five races of the regular season

Seven drivers improved relative to their last five regular-season races — the six from before, plus Daniel Suárez. Suárez rose from 20% to 33.3%. That’s typical of a season that has been fairly consistent, but not at a level that will take him to the final four.

Byron’s turnaround is even more impressive in view of his having zero top-10 finishes in the last five races of the regular season.

“I think we had a lot of really good tracks in the beginning of the year,” Byron said. “As we started to chase some speed and chase some things, we got off a little bit throughout the summer.”

He believes the team has returned to where it needs to be.

“We know what works; we know what doesn’t work,” Byron said. “We definitely know what doesn’t work after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing.”

Joey Logano has the largest downward trend relative to the last five races, going from a 80.0% top-10 rate to 33.3%.

This graph shows Elliott’s playoff decline to be a trend continuing from the end of the regular season. That might be good news for the other drivers struggling to catch up with him.

Scoring and re-seeding

The table below summarizes points and playoff points earned during the three playoff races and each drivers’ final score before re-seeding. The lineup looks quite different than it did going into this round of three races.

A table showing how many points each playoff driver earned in the first round But that’s before re-seeding.

I hadn’t appreciated playoff points until I did the math. Each driver moving on to the round of 12 gets 3000 points, plus their total playoff points.

Because none of these drivers won a race, only five of the 21 playoff points available in the last three races impact the new standings. Bell won two stages; Byron, Bowman and Busch one each.

So we’re mostly back to where we were leaving Daytona.

A table showing the re-seeded rankings entering the second round of playoff racesRyan Blaney fell a spot. Byron’s dramatic turnaround didn’t impact his playoff standing. Most of Bowman’s move up the charts is due to eliminating the drivers originally ranked seventh, ninth and 11th.

The current standings reflect NASCAR’s eternal struggle between winning and consistency. On the one hand, I understand the desire to mimic other sports’ playoffs and not let the results of the last round impact the next. But carrying over regular-season playoff points means that Elliott returns to P1 despite having earned fewer points in the three playoff races than seven of the 16 drivers.

That’s why Bell, who earned almost twice as many points as Elliott and won two stages, ties for sixth place with Hamlin and Blaney. Elliott goes from 40 points behind Bell to 27 points ahead of him.

If Bell or any of the other remaining drivers wants to challenge Elliott, even top-five finishes won’t be enough.

In these playoffs, performance isn’t enough. You have to win.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).

Noah Gragson wins Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway

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Noah Gragson opened the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs the same way he has run much of the season.

Gragson sidestepped a web of issues plaguing playoff drivers and won Saturday’s 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway, tying a decades-old Xfinity record by winning for the fourth consecutive race. Sam Ard, formerly a series mainstay, won four in a row in 1983.

Gragson, continuing to establish himself as the championship favorite, took the lead with 11 laps to go from Jeb Burton as most of the day’s leaders were running different tire and fuel strategies over the closing laps.

Gragson, 24 and set to jump to the Cup Series next season, led 85 laps. He won by 1.23 seconds.

“This number 9 team, man, they’re on fire,” Gragson told NBC Sports. “Luke Lambert (crew chief) and the boys executed a great race.”

MORE: Texas Xfinity results

The win was Gragson’s seventh of the year. Following in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

The victory pushed Gragson into the second round of the playoffs.

A big crash at the front of the field on lap 117 changed the face of the race. John Hunter Nemechek lost control of his car on the outside and was clipped by Justin Allgaier, starting a wreck that scrambled most of the field. Damages forced playoff drivers Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones and Allgaier from the race.

“The 7 (Allgaier) chose the top behind me, and I haven’t seen the replay of it, but the 7 chose the top behind me and started pushing,” Nemechek said. “The 21 (Hill) made it three-wide on the 9 (Gragson), and I was three-wide at the top, and I think we ended up four-wide at one point, which doesn’t really work aero-wide in the pack.”

Pole winner Jones, a playoff driver taken out in the crash, said Nemechek “was pushing a little too hard. Nothing to fault him there for, but probably a little early to be going that far. It is what it is.”

Six laps earlier, another multi-car crash scattered the field and damaged the car of playoff contender and regular season champion Allmendinger.

The wreck started when Brandon Brown slipped in front of Allmendinger and went into a slide, forcing Allmendinger to the inside apron. Several cars scattered behind them trying to avoid the accident.

Allmendinger’s crew repaired his car and he later had the race lead.

Playoff driver Jeremy Clements had a tough day. He parked with what he called mysterious mechanical issues about halfway through the race.

Below the cutline after the first race are Herbst, Hemric, Jones and Clements.

Stage 1 winner: Daniel Hemric

Stage 2 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson is threatening to turn the final weeks of the Xfinity season into a cakewalk. He clearly had the day’s dominant car Saturday in winning for the fourth race in a row. … AJ Allmendinger’s car was damaged in a wreck in heavy traffic, but his crew taped parts of the car and gave him an opening to finish fourth.

Who had a bad race: Jeremy Clements, in the playoff field, finished 36th after parking with mechanical trouble near the race’s halfway point. … Jeffrey Earnhardt crashed only 17 laps into the race and finished last.

Next: The second race in the first round of the Xfinity playoffs is scheduled Oct. 1 at 4 p.m. ET (USA Network) at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.