Running on fumes, trust between Austin Dillon, new crew chief delivered Coke 600 win

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — Somewhere on the pit box for Austin Dillon‘s No. 3 Chevrolet, a light flashed on.

The light gave crew chief Justin Alexander the go-ahead to give Dillon the command he’d been waiting 67 laps – and to some extent 133 Cup races – to hear.

“Turn the switch on and go hard.”

There were three laps left in the Coca-Cola 600. The only thing standing between Dillon and his first Cup win was Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time champion and four-time 600 winner, and an increasingly empty gas tank.

Dillon, Johnson and a small group of other teams had decided to gamble to win the longest race in NASCAR. Dillon last pitted with 70 laps remaining.

How many laps short was the No. 3 Chevrolet after his last visit to pit road?

“Lucky No. 3,” Dillon said.

“It was about 2.7,” clarified Alexander, who was working with Dillon for the first time in the Cup Series. “We told him three.”

Dillon, who had never finished better than third before Sunday, went to work pressuring Johnson.

At the same time, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch had been buzzing through the other fuel gamblers with fresh tires and full fuel tanks, gaining roughly a second on the leaders with each lap.

“I really thought more guys were going to do this strategy, play this out,” Alexander said. “(Truex) was catching us fast. … They were really on pace to catch us and pass us. I knew it was going to be tough at the end. I knew we were going to have to run hard at some point to stay ahead of them.”

Following their pit stop, Dillon had run hard for the first 10 laps of the run, then went into conservation mode for 50 laps.

“You have one of two choices,” Alexander said. “You can figure out how much you need to save, how many laps you need to save, or you can run hard and hope there’s a caution comes out.”

The caution never came.

“A lot of those guys up front with the leaders, they just ran hard,” Alexander said. “With 50 to go we told him what he needed. He did his job.”

Part of that job was putting the pressure on Johnson.

“Seeing Jimmie, I mean, at that point I’m super focused,” Dillon said. “I’m not getting too anxious, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’re going to win.’ I’m trying to stay focused on what we had to accomplish.”

Driving the No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by Dale Earnhardt Sr., Dillon was trying to do what hadn’t been done since October 2000 when Earnhardt won his last race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Dillon’s boss and grandfather, Richard Childress, was also on the pit box with Alexander. Childress wasn’t sure of his grandson’s chances until a team engineer told him “We’re going to make it” after he asked.

“I knew we had a shot at the end,” Childress said. “When he came with two to go, I felt we had a shot.”

With his crew chief’s decision to go all the way, Dillon said Alexander “had ice in his veins tonight.” As the laps ran down, Dillon said “there wasn’t an abundance of over‑coaching” from over the team’s radio.

“You know what the hardest thing in this whole deal is? It’s trust,” Dillon said. “Trust is a lot of it. Justin trusted me he with the skills that he thought I had to fuel save.”

That trust was built over the course of 14 Xfinity races together dating back to last year. The two won their first race together in that series at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“The only thing about Justin is I never worked with an engineer, a calm guy,” Dillon said. “(He has a) totally different background than what I’m used to, working with. He fits. It’s cool. This week was relatively just smooth. We didn’t argue. We talked about the racecar. That’s what I needed.  I needed someone that wanted to teach me, talk about it, not tell me what was wrong with it.”

Eventually, it fell apart for Johnson and came together for Dillon out of Turn 2 with two laps to go. The No. 48 pulled up lame right as it exited the turn.

“That actually kind of took some pressure off me when he ran out truthfully,” Dillon said. “As soon as that happened, I went back to my (save) mode. They had just kind of cut me loose. I went in, caught him a bunch, then he ran out. ‘All right, back to the mode, you’re fine.’ Then bring it home.”

Less than five miles later, right as Dillon crossed the line to win the 58th Coca-Cola 600, he ran out of gas.

“Man, that’s what the 600 is about,” Dillon said. “There’s strategy, there’s staying in the race. It’s a lengthy one. You got to keep yourself in it to win it, and we did that.”

 and on Facebook

Joey Logano holds off Aric Almirola for Martinsville pole

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.

“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”

Aric Almirola was second fastest (97.643 mph), followed by Brad Keselowski (97.458), Kevin Harvick (97.832), Denny Hamlin (97.362), William Byron (97.202), Kyle Larson (97.098), Chase Elliott (97.053), Martin Truex Jr. (97.018), Daniel Suarez (96.830), Clint Bowyer (96.706) and Jimmie Johnson (96.573).

It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.

“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”

Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.

We’ll have the full qualifying grid and starting lineup shortly. Please check back soon.

NOTES:

* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the third and final round. He had to make another qualifying run, as a result.

* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”

* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.

* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch dominates en route to Truck win at Martinsville

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Less than a week after earning his 200th career NASCAR win, Kyle Busch began working on his next 200, capturing Saturday’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch dominated the 32-truck event, leading 174 of the 250 laps around the .526-mile paper-clip shaped oval, winning under caution after Reid Wilson spun on the final lap. It was Busch’s third Truck start and win of 2019 – he also won at Atlanta and Las Vegas – and the 54th of his career.

Busch has two more Truck races left on his schedule this year (NASCAR limits full-time Cup drivers to a maximum of five starts in the Truck Series per year): Texas next Friday and Charlotte in May. If he wins those two races, he will have won all five this year and six in a row dating back to his last Truck start of 2018 at Pocono.

What’s more, Busch now has seven wins in 11 starts across all three NASCAR series thus far this season. He goes for career win No. 202 when he makes his 1,000th career NASCAR start in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Cup race.

“We made wholesale changes to this thing all weekend long, to make it faster,” Busch told Fox Sports. “We had enough tire at the end to hold them off.”

Ben Rhodes finished second, followed by Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain, pole sitter Stewart Friesen, Myatt Snider, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Bubba Wallace.

“We just needed a little something more, we got beat by the best in the business,” Rhodes said of Busch to Fox Sports. “Overall, it was a good, happy day. We’ve got some momentum going and we go on to the next race and see if we can beat him the next time.”

Click here for full results.

Click here for updated point standings.

The only significant caution of note in the race occurred with eight laps to go in the first stage, when the No. 12 Chevrolet of Gus Dean went up in flames – possibly from an oil fire. He was uninjured.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

WHAT’S NEXT: Vankor 350, March 29 at 9 p.m. ET, Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Chevy sweep of top three in final practice

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Chase Elliott paced the final Cup practice Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, turning a 97.542 mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval.

Teammate Alex Bowman was second fastest, and Jimmie Johnson made it a sweep of the top three speeds for Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, which have been winless since Elliott’s win last October at Kansas Speedway..

Austin Dillon and Paul Menard rounded out the top five in the 50-minute session.

The rest of the top 10 were comprised of Ty Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones (the highest-ranked Toyota) and Martin Truex Jr.

Clint Bowyer, who won at Martinsville a year ago, was fastest in the first practice Saturday morning when Chris Buescher was the fastest Chevy in seventh.

The practice ended under a red flag after a crash for Cody Ware.

Qualifying for the STP 500 will be at 5:10 p.m. on FS1.

Click here for speeds during the final practice at Martinsville.

Friesen tops Kyle Busch to take pole for Martinsville truck race

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Stewart Friesen outdueled Kyle Busch to gain the pole for this afternoon’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Friesen covered the 0.526-mile, paper clip-shaped oval with a speed at 96.465 mph. It’s the third career pole in the Truck Series for the Canadian driver.

“Our Chevy was fast, we made a couple small air pressure adjustments and a little bit of track bar there for the last round, and it held up,” Friesen told FS1. “They pay the money at the end of the race, though. That’s what we’re concerned about now.”

Friesen will be seeking his first career Truck Series win in today’s race.

Busch was second fastest at 96.366 mph.

“Overnight, we made a ton of changes,” Busch told FS1. “Hopefully, we can get this Tundra to where we want it to be and where it’ll be good on the long runs. Long runs are going to be important.

“It’s going to be all about track position and staying out front and seeing what we can get. It was a top-five truck yesterday. Hopefully, it’ll be a top-three truck now.”

Busch, who earned his 200th career NASCAR victory last Sunday at Fontana, California, will be making his 10th career start in a truck at Martinsville. He has one win (March 2016), five top fives and six top-10 finishes at the track.

Todd Gilliland (96.249 mph) was third fastest, followed by Sheldon Creed (96.200), Brett Moffitt (96.180) and Matt Crafton (96.132).

The rest of the top 12 qualifiers were: Raphael Lessard (96.083), Johnny Sauter (96.015), Austin Hill (95.550), Ross Chastain (95.468), Derek Kraus (95.266) and Austin Dillon (95.165).

Click here for the full qualifying results.

Today’s 250-lap/131-mile race will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Follow @JerryBonkowski