Austin Dillon Misses Gear & Chance to Win Martinsville

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer

A late caution in Sunday’s Blue Emu Maximum Pain Relief 400 from Martinsville Speedway gave the field one last shot at the night’s dominator, William Byron.

For Austin Dillon, it came down to one string of gear shifts.

Running second when a caution flew with seven laps to go, Dillon choose to restart on the inside lane for the overtime restart. Lining up directly behind Byron, the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing driver had one thing on his mind.

“Had it played out in my mind… get through the gears, get to Turn 1 and shove him [Byron] up the track,” Dillon said.

Unfortunately for Dillon, he was unable to match Byron’s gear changes after spinning his tires in the restart zone. The mistake gave clear track for Byron and second-place Joey Logano to battle it out while Dillon settled for third place.

“I was supposed to stay with Byron through the gears… I didn’t,” he said. “I had to worry about the No. 45 [Kurt Busch], I was spinning the tires too much. So, I was defensive through there. Joey [Logano] was already tucked in line. I was hoping [Byron and Logano] would get together and then I’d have a run. I gapped myself too much and wasn’t able to take advantage of that forward drive we saved through the last run.

“We had a little bit left if I could get through the gears and I couldn’t.”

With only two cautions for cause across 403 laps of racing, opportunity to challenge the Hendrick cars of Byron or Chase Elliott (who led 185 laps to Byron’s 212), Dillon believes the clean night was due to multiple reasons.

“The world’s best drivers, a lot of talented drivers,” he said. “We got to give it to the car, it’s pretty indestructible. However many laps [were run], I shifted every lap, every corner. That’s pretty physical. You had to minimize mistakes throughout the night. I didn’t mind it. I came from 23rd, did a lot of passing.

“It was difficult, but there was ton of grip on the track. It’s freezing, the track is fast with fast lap times. We’re averaging lap times close to qualifying there at the end. When it gets hot and slick, it will be a whole other race and I’m looking forward to that.”

With his first top five at Martinsville since 2017, Saturday was Dillon’s third straight top-10 in 2022 and second top-five finish after placing second at Auto Club Speedway in February.

The team has found the right direction.

“We’ve been pretty strong all year long. [This finish] definitely gives us direction,” he said. “I had a couple unfortunate weeks getting wrecked at Phoenix and Atlanta, so this feels pretty good to right the ship.

“Twice now, Fontana and here, in second and in position to win and we didn’t take advantage of it. That’s a big thing for us though. Over the years in the Cup level, I haven’t about three, maybe four, opportunities a year to do this. We got two early in the season to win.

“We’re here for one thing and that’s wins. Points is so difficult to get your way [into the playoffs]. It feels good, like I said, but I wish I would have clutched it. I like to think of myself as getting it done when I get those opportunities. I didn’t do it tonight. That’ll be on my mind.”

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