Though it didn’t work out, the Germain Racing driver produced his best race yet through 31 starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
Dillon and his No. 13 Chevrolet finished 14th after being involved in the overtime crash on the backstretch of the 1-mile track.
The result matches Dillon’s best this season on a non-restrictor plate (Kansas). He finished 13th at Talladega.
Dillon was fourth on the final restart in the outside lane behind Kyle Larson when he got loose exiting Turn 2. His car broke left and got into Ryan Newman, which set off a chain reaction and collected nine cars.
“We had to restart fourth on old tires and I just think the air off (Newman) got me a little loose and they left a bunch of sand there off Turn 2 and as soon as I got loose and hit that sand it was all over,” Dillon said. “I feel bad for all the cars that got torn up, but, really, I don’t know what (Newman) or myself could have done any different to stay out of that crash.”
The accident didn’t dampen Dillon’s mood, who up to that point had produced the best race of the year by a Cup rookie.
Dillon began the day in 21st and his average running spot during the 406-lap race was 15.01.
The 25-year-old driver’s prospects improved on Lap 331. Dillon and seven other cars stayed out just long enough during green flag pit stops to benefit from a caution caused by Regan Smith.
In the pits, Dillon beat Newman, Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson out.
Dillon would lead the next 27 laps, which included another restart on Lap 349. Dillon was finally overtaken by Larson on Lap 361 with a pass on the outside.
“To lead laps like that meant a lot to me,” Dillon said. “I’m proud of our effort today. We proved to ourselves as a team that we can run up front with the big boys and just proud of our effort by our GEICO team overall.”
Dillon’s 33 laps led also are more than his predecessor, Casey Mears, had in last four seasons driving the No. 13 Chevrolet (24 laps).
After 13 races, Dillon is 22nd in the point standings. Jones and Suarez are 18th and 19th respectively.