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Late strategy lands Austin Dillon a much-needed Martinsville top five
- Updated: April 2, 2017
By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor
MARTINSVILLE, Va. – After opening the season with five-straight finishes outside of the top 10, 2016 playoff participant Austin Dillon found himself stuck back in 20th in the championship standings, in dire need of a reprieve.
That reprieve finally came on Sunday, as the fourth-year driver rallied through an attrition-filled STP 500 to claim his second-career top five at Martinsville Speedway.
Dillon’s rose as high as third in his No. 3 Chevrolet, and though his machine faded lightly in the race’s final laps, the Lewisville, North Carolina native held on to fifth to claim his best finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series era.
The run was a much-needed return to form for Dillon.
Fresh off of his first appearance in NASCAR’s postseason, the 26-year-old limped through the opening month of the 2017 tour, tallying two finishes outside of the top 20 and finishing no better than 18th at Phoenix Raceway while teammate Ryan Newman earned Richard Childress Racing’s first victory in nearly four years.
Dillon finally showed signs of a potential breakout in an 11th-place run at Auto Club Speedway, but it was on the .526-mile Martinsville oval where he finally looked like a legitimate contender. A decision to stay out on a late caution left Dillon in position to compete for a good finish, and the grandson of Richard Childress moved forward from there.
Afterwards, Dillon took a moment to reflect on his race.
“It’s really big for our team and for everybody at DOW and Okuma,” Dillon said. “Our pit crew did a really good job today. We had a fast car on restarts and could really take off. The middle of the run was shaky for us but that last run we held on, which was really nice. That’s why I was worried about on older tires, there; but it worked out for us.”
The run was significant for Dillon, elevating the young shoe to 18th in the championship standings, just 14 points behind the current playoff cutoff position. However, Dillon acknowledged that his team still has more work to do if they want to contend on a weekly basis.
No, it’s really key that we do stuff like this, and short tracks have been a lot better for us the last year, and this year it was good to come back and repeat that,” Dillon said. “We’ve still got work to do, but it’s huge to see RCR running better and having cars capable of running with guys like this. It’s just fun to see his back bumper most of the time.