Austin Dillon finally had a reason to wear the cowboy hat he so desperately craves after winning the O’Reily Auto Part 500.
If ever NASCAR needed a feel-good story in the midst of the toxicity that the community has been knee-deep in it was now. After years of mediocrity and slowly finding themselves in an ever-deeper hole leading to the basement of racing competitiveness, Richard Childress Racing had arguably the best day of it’s entire existence.
Austin Dillon winning and his teammate finishing second behind him is no small feat and means a lot more than meets the eye. This race might dwarf almost any moment in RCR history even some that came from the late-great Dale Earnhardt. The reason isn’t just because Childress’s grandson got the win, although that is a big deal for their family I’m sure.
This race provides reassurance that Austin Dillon does in fact possess Cup level talent. Dillon has been the butt of a lot of jokes about being a “silver spoon kid,” which honestly are fair criticisms. His Cup career has had fleeting moments of success and while a lot of the issues are from mediocre to bad equipment; stats don’t lie. Dillon has been the second-best driver at RCR since joining Cup in 2014, outside of last season when Daniel Hemric was on the team.
Ryan Newman brought the same RCR equipment to better finishes and even Paul Menard brought his RCR rides to comparable stats. This year, Tyler Reddick a rookie has put up similar if not better numbers prior to yesterday’s win. That being said, it was never a question that Dillon was talented; winning Truck and Xfinity series championships is no easy feat, but he’s never put it together in Cup.
While I don’t expect this to be the great turning point for Dillon where he becomes a championship contender, I do think that it helps validate his grandfathers faith in him. While pit strategy put Austin Dillon in a position to win, the fact that he was able to hold off Joey Logano and Kyle Busch three separate occasions is nothing short of impressive for anyone. Especially someone whose car was obviously not the class of the field. That took pure wheelman driving talent.
This win is about more than Dillon however. RCR drivers finishing first and second had not happened in nine years. The team had fallen off the competitive map drastically in the last ten years and a day like this was much needed for more than just competitive reasons.
The entire economic climate of NASCAR is touchy at the moment; well really the entire world’s economic climate is. As it refers to NASCAR though, while it hasn’t been a topic for public conversation, it’s been speculated that many lower-tier teams were probably struggling after the NASCAR hiatus due to Covid-19. The threat of shutting down garages was looming for some teams as the season nears its end.
I will never claim to have sources nor be a person you can look to for breaking news and rumors, but I do have it on good authority that RCR was a team that was dangerously close to shutting its doors near seasons end and still might be.
I live in North Carolina and have the pleasure of knowing a select few people that work in NASCAR garages, one of them being from the RCR camp. I don’t have an exact quote, but it was along the lines of: “If we start wrecking race cars we might not be around too much longer.” It makes sense that after RCR’s competitive drought that financials have also come into question.
While yesterday’s amazing finish for RCR may not be the saving grace, It was a great win from an economic side as well as competitive. This win helps with money and sponsors and may open up more opportunities for the team to now better itself moving forward with a playoff birth guaranteed from at least one driver.