By Matt Weaver — When he was a child, Austin Dillon made the decision to follow in the family business of stock car racing and has been groomed ever since for the Sprint Cup Series by his father (Mike Dillon) and grandfather (Richard Childress).
And four years into his NASCAR national touring career, on the eve of Dillon’s graduation to Sprint Cup, virtually everything has gone according to plan.
Dillon captured the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship on Saturday night in dramatic fashion over Sam Hornish Jr. in what was the most recent goal achieved in the three-step plan to ready the elder Dillon brother for the highest level.
In 2011, Childress paired his progeny with crew chief Danny Stockman Jr. and together, they’ve won four races and two championships across both the Camping World Trucks and Nationwide tours. With that, Dillon now faces the challenge of becoming possibly the first-ever driver to win championships in all three National Tours — a feat that only he and Greg Biffle can currently accomplish.
Adding to the pressure is that he is likely going to arrive full-time in the Sprint Cup Series in the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet for the first time since Dale Earnhardt drove that car during Speedweeks in 2001.
“That level is a little bit bigger of a jump for sure,” Dillon said of the Sprint Cup Series after the race. “I’m looking forward to the challenge. I definitely think Rookie of the Year is definitely what we want to get next year. That’s our main focus and to gain as much experience as I can.”
Dillon has met every challenge that has been presented to him thus far, winning the various races and championships. But Dillon credits the people around him for his success — the sponsors, crew and family at Richard Childress Racing.
“It’s obvious,” Dillon said. “My family, support from sponsors, guys like Danny Stockman, our crew at RCR. From (when) I was really young, I was always really competitive, hated to lose and I still do today.”
It appears set that when Dillon moves to the next level, it will be without Stockman. So in many ways, Saturday was the end of an era and a fitting one at that, ending in their second championship together. Stockman says that up to 80 percent of his team was with Dillon going back to their tenure in the Truck Series, making the Nationwide crown all the more special.
Now the attention is being placed on the Sprint Cup Series — just as it was always planned.
“The Cup Series is going to be fun to run,” Dillon said. “I feel like going out there, the guys that we’ve got a plan for, everything, we’ve got a plan.
“I feel like RCR has been very successful. Kevin Harvick has been runner-up to Jimmie Johnson for a long time. My dad was telling me a stat, the last six or seven years he’s been number two for the amount of finishes compared to Jimmie. I’m really excited that RCR’s equipment and everybody is leading in the right direction.”