It was another stellar performance for Austin Dillon in the early stages of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, this time at Richmond Raceway on Saturday, September 12, as the Welcome, North Carolina, native continued his late surge for an opportunity to contend for this year’s championship. On a night where he was hit with two curveballs, both involving pit road, he rallied and was in position of collecting an upset victory before he settled inside the top five when the checkered flag flew.
Starting in third place and coming off a strong runner-up result at Darlington Raceway to open this year’s Playoffs, Dillon had early speed to start the race at Richmond. By Lap 12, Dillon made his way into second place after passing Joey Logano. Nine laps later, Dillon muscled his way into the lead after passing Kevin Harvick. After taking over the top spot, Dillon started to pull away from the field and he was able to maintain his advantage through the competition caution on Lap 30.
Retaining the leader under caution and following a stellar pit stop from his crew, Dillon was able to launch ahead with the lead. A lap later, however, Dillon was overtaken by Denny Hamlin for the lead. By then, he had led his first 17 laps at Richmond. Despite battling loose conditions to his No. 3 Dow Norkool Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, Dillon kept himself in contention for the lead. When the second stage concluded on Lap 80, he was scored in second place and collected a multitude of stage points.
During the pit stops under the stage break, however, Dillon was sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road, a situation that also affected Stage 1 winner Denny Hamlin. Restarting in 29th place for the start of the second stage, it took Dillon time to work his way back towards the front.
By Lap 100, he worked his way up to 29th place. Ten laps later, he moved up to 14th place. Another 11 laps later, he was scored in 11th place. With a fast race car on the long runs, Dillon and the No. 3 car emerged back with the lead on Lap 182. He went on to lead 36 laps before he was overtaken by Brad Keselowski. Dillon went on to finish in second place behind Keselowski in the second stage, which concluded on Lap 235, and collect more stage points.
With 157 laps remaining, the final stage started with Austin Dillon still in contention for the win. Throughout the early portions of the final stage, Dillon struggled to keep pace with the leaders as he slipped back to the top 10. While the run progressed under green, Dillon’s car slowly came back to life as he marched his way back to the front. With 64 laps remaining, however, Dillon missed the entrance to pit road after having issues slowly his car down to enter pit road and with Kurt Busch closing in. To avoid a commitment line violation, Dillon cycled his way around the track and completed a successful pit stop, losing three seconds in the process and still having an opportunity to win.
Despite the late misfortune, Dillon battled his way back inside the top five and emerged with the lead with 48 laps remaining. He was overtaken, however, for good by Keselowski the following lap and he went on to post a strong fourth-place result, thus losing spots from Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.
By collecting his fourth top-five result of this season and racking up back-to-back top-five results for the first time in his Cup career, Dillon is in sixth place in the Playoff standings and is 36 points above the top-12 cutline approaching next weekend’s Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“It’s unfortunate,” Dillon said on NBCSN. “We had a speeding penalty, also. To come from the back to finish second in that stage, too, which is so awesome…This No. 3 team’s on fire right now and showing up when it matters. The biggest thing is when we came to pit road, we were trying to bring everybody down and The No. 1 car was in my mirror on tires. I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking that I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red box’ so I had to make another lap around the track. That cost us three seconds. but anyways, great run and it’s a lot of fun out here. We’ll go to Bristol.”
Dillon also took a shot at his skeptics and doubters as he sets his sights for next weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway and the opportunity to stabilize his title hopes in 2020.
“I hope they keep doubting us,” Dillon added. “We got a lot of work still. We’re putting ourselves in positions to win and you do that long enough, it pays off. We haven’t been here, we’re kind of new to this. We gotta keep running up here and those wins are gonna start clocking off. We need to make it happen when we got cars like this.”
Dillon, along with his fellow Playoff contenders, will return for the next scheduled NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, September 19, which will air at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.