With the 2021 NASCAR season less than a week away from concluding, Austin Dillon is within reach of achieving a milestone start. By competing in this weekend’s Cup Series finale at Phoenix Raceway, the driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE will reach career start No. 300 in NASCAR’s premier series.
A native of Welcome, North Carolina, and the eldest grandson of NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Richard Childress, Dillon made his inaugural appearance in the Cup circuit at Kansas Speedway in October 2011. By then, he was a full-time NASCAR Truck Series competitor for Richard Childress Racing and contending for the series’ championship. Driving the No. 98 Curb Racing Chevrolet Impala, Dillon started and finished 26th in his Cup debut.
After making one Cup start in 2012, where he finished 24th at Michigan International Speedway in June, Dillon made his Daytona 500 debut in 2013, where he finished 31st in RCR’s No. 33 Chevrolet SS. He competed in 10 additional Cup races throughout the 36-race schedule, piloting between the No. 33 RCR Chevrolet SS and the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet SS. He also made two starts in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet SS as an interim competitor for three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who suffered a broken right leg following a sprint car accident at Iowa in August and was forced to sit out the remainder of the season. Throughout the 11-race schedule, Dillon’s best Cup results were a pair of 11th-place finishes in both Michigan International Speedway scheduled events (June and August). At Talladega Superspeedway in October, Dillon, who was driving the No. 14 SHR Chevrolet, was running in third place on the final lap and was primed at a run for the win until slipping sideways in front of Ricky Stenhouse Jr., spinning in the middle of the backstretch and being t-boned by Casey Mears that sent Dillon’s car airborne before landing on all four wheels. Despite the accident, Dillon, who survived, nursed the car back to the garage and in 26th place.
A month after the 2013 NASCAR season concluded, where Dillon achieved his first Xfinity Series championship despite going winless, RCR promoted Dillon as the driver of the iconic No. 3 Chevrolet SS for the 2014 NASCAR Cup Series season. The 2014 season marked the return of the No. 3 in the Cup Series since the 2001 Daytona 500, where the late seven-time NASCAR champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. died after an accident on the final lap.
In Dillon’s first run in the No. 3 car in the Cup circuit, he won the pole position for the Daytona 500, thus becoming the fifth rookie competitor to achieve the 500 pole and the fourth overall to do so in the No. 3 car. Despite finishing ninth, Dillon went on to achieve one top-five result and three additional top-10 result throughout the 36-race schedule before finishing in 20th place in his rookie Cup season and missing out on the Rookie-of-the-Year title to Kyle Larson.
Dillon’s sophomore Cup season, 2015, was overshadowed by a harrowing last-lap accident at Daytona International Speedway in July, where Dillon hit the spinning Toyota Camry of Denny Hamlin across the finish line at the tri-oval, launched over a handful of cars and smashed into the catchfence while upside down. After coming to rest on his roof, his battered No. 3 Chevrolet was then hit by a spinning Brad Keselowski before coming to a full stop on the roof. With several crew members running across the track to aid to Dillon, Dillon was able to exit the carnage uninjured, where he was diagnosed with a broken tailbone and a bruised forearm. In the midst of the incident, Dillon managed to finish in seventh place, which was one of five total top-10 results he achieved throughout the 2015 Cup season. Managing a season-best result of fourth place at Michigan International Speedway in August, Dillon was unable to make the Playoffs as he finished in 21st place in the final standings.
The 2016 Cup season was one of Dillon’s consistent seasons to date, where he earned two poles, four top-five results, 13 top-10 results and a career-best average-finishing result of 15.9, throughout the 36-race schedule. He also made the Playoffs for the first time in his career and advanced into the second round of the Playoffs before his title hopes came to an end prior to the penultimate round, where he was beaten by Hamlin in a tie-breaker for the final spot to the third round. Nonetheless, Dillon settled in 14th place in the final standings. By then, Dillon surpassed 100 career starts in NASCAR’s premier series.
Commencing the 2017 Cup season in 19th place in the Daytona 500, Dillon achieved his first NASCAR Cup Series career victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May after he overtook Jimmie Johnson when Johnson ran out of fuel with two laps remaining before fending off Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line. With his first Cup career victory, Dillon returned the iconic No. 3 to Victory Lane in the Cup circuit since Dale Earnhardt won at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2000. He also became the seventh different competitor to achieve a first Cup win in the Coke 600. Dillon went on to achieve a total of three top-five results and four top-10 results throughout the season before making the Playoffs and settling in a career-best 11th-place result in the final standings.
Dillon opened the 2018 Cup season on a high note by winning the 60th annual Daytona 500 in February and claiming his second Cup career victory after he turned Aric Almirola on the final lap and muscled away from the field entering the frontstretch. The victory made Dillon the 38th different competitor to achieve a victory in the 500 as he also recorded the third 500 win for Richard Childress Racing and the first for the No. 3 since Dale Earnhardt won his first and only Daytona 500 title in 1998 following a 20-year effort. To go along with a total of two top-five results and eight top-10 results, Dillon made the Playoffs, but was eliminated from title contention following the first round. He went on to finish in 13th place in the final standings. By then, he was nearing 200 Cup career starts.
Coming off a disappointing 2019 Cup season, where he earned a total of six top-10 results and finished 21st in the final standings despite winning three poles, Dillon, who earned four top-10 results through the first 17 events of the 2020 season, achieved his third Cup career victory at Texas Motor Speedway in July following a late two-tire strategic pit stop and a battle with teammate Tyler Reddick. Despite being absent for the inaugural Cup event at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course due to a positive COVID-19 test in August, Dillon qualified for the Playoffs for the fourth time in his Cup career. Despite being eliminated from title contention following the second round, he went on to finish in 11th place in the final standings and cap the season with four top-five results and nine top-10 results.
This season, Dillon, who won the second of two Bluegreen Vacations Duel events at Daytona in February following a final lap, slingshot move on Bubba Wallace approaching the tri-oval, has recorded one top-five result and eight top-10 results, with his best on-track result occurring in the Daytona 500. Though he did not make the 2021 Cup Playoffs, he is currently ranked in 17th-place in the standings, the highest-ranked position for the remaining competitors whom did not make the Playoffs.
Through 299 previous Cup starts, Dillon has accumulated three career victories, six poles, 16 top-five results, 57 top-10 results, 333 laps led and an average-finishing result of 17.8 with his best points result being 11th (2017 and 2020).
Dillon is primed to make his 300th Cup career start at Phoenix Raceway, host of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Championship event, on Sunday, November 7. The event is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.