This week at Richmond we saw Brad Keselowski continue his quiet bid for a championship favorite status after he all but dominated. This wasn’t an easy win in the traditional sense, in fact, the person he had to pass for the win was one of the last names you’d expect. Austin Dillon once again attempted to come out of nowhere for a win for the second week in a row.
Austin Dillon has been labeled many things from the silver-spoon kid, bust, and Grandpa’s boy. For the first time in his career, he is being called a championship wildcard. After a second-place finish, last week and a 4th place finish where he threatened for the win throughout most of the night on Saturday we are having this conversation. Could Austin Dillon contend this year’s championship?
These last two races weren’t flukes. Dillon ran up near the front all night in both instances and this is also a culmination of a major shift this year in RCR’s running place as a whole. This is the best statistical year for Dillon since 2016, and the first year in many where RCR seems to be a mid-tier Cup team who can threaten for wins once again.
Is this a couple of lucky races? It’s hard to know for sure because this is so out of nowhere even for this season where the #3-car has been running much better. However, the fact that Dillon’s car was one of the fastest in the field on Saturday after what was a top ten car the week before, it seems that the #3-team has stepped up their game come playoff time.
Justin Alexander should get the majority of the credit here because Dillon is not a generational talent that can wheel a bad car to the front. He can only drive as well as his car is running. Alexander and his crew have clearly made major strides with RCR and this is an upgrade team-wide.
In a season where the likes of Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott, and Joey Logano are so up and down in their seasons and really only Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been a consistent week in and week out. This year is the perfect year for a wildcard to make a late-round run.
I believe that Austin Dillon’s success is real and that he will continue to be competitive in the next round. But is he a true wildcard championship threat? Not right now, but we will see some great momentum heading into the next round, and heading to some tracks he performs decently at.