Austin Dillon and his crew chief, Justin Alexander, had been paying attention.
They saw Cole Custer‘s dramatic win at Kentucky Speedway and did what they could to repeat that effort in their win Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, just without the four-wide pass to take the lead.
“Justin and I both talked about what kind of happened in Kentucky with Cole, the way they ran,” Dillon said after his win. “If you can get the track position at some point, you can be fast. You saw when we got out front, we had a hot rod.”
Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet became a hot rod when Alexander decided to put two new tires on instead of four following a caution for Quin Houff‘s contact with Christopher Bell and Matt DiBenedetto. That decision allowed Dillon to restart on the front row, survive three late-race restarts and earn the third Cup win of his career.
Dillon was asked whether Sunday’s win meant more than his victories in the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, which he won on fuel-mileage, and the 2018 Daytona 500, which he won after his last-lap contact wrecked leader Aric Almirola.
“Hell yeah, it does,” Dillon declared. “We took it from them. That feels good. … Either way we had to make it happen. So they’re both big wins in my career.
“This one, once again, we had to make it happen multiple times on older tires.”
Dillon added that “it was nice to also have the ball in my court, you know what I mean, to dictate the end of the race.”
The day was made better for Dillon as he got to celebrate his win in front of a grandstand that had an estimated 15,000-20,000 fans in it. TMS was just the fourth track to allow fans for a Cup race since the series returned to racing in May.
“Felt really good,” Dillon said. “I think it would have been awkward without them. That’s why I parked it right in front of them and let them smell that smoke, the burnt rubber. Everything I did was for those fans. I think they loved it.”
After he exited his No. 3 car, Dillon got a dig in at critics of his NASCAR career, which had been spent nearly entirely racing for his grandfather at Richard Childress Racing.
“Not bad for a silver-spoon kid, right?” Dillon told NBCSN.
Does Dillon believe he deserves more credit from fans for his career success, which includes Xfinity and Truck Series titles?
“You got to have someone you don’t like,” Dillon said. “Maybe it’s just my background, where I come from. But I got a lot of people that love me, too. It doesn’t bother me at all really. They can either get on the bandwagon and love me… It’s okay. It’s part of sports. Haters are going to hate sometimes, but we’ll be all right.”
After his first Cup win since February 2018 and his first NASCAR win since a Xfinity victory at Michigan in June 2018, Dillon was looking forward to going back to RCR’s headquarters in Welcome, North Carolina.
“When you cross those railroad tracks, there’s a sign when you come in there,” Dillon said. “I can’t wait to get home because I know what it’s going to say on that sign: RCR goes 1‑2, and the 3 team brings home a victory at Texas.
“That’s my favorite thing to do, (go) home to all the hard‑working employees that have believed in me, those people matter the most to me.”