Dillon Subs for Stewart at Michigan
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on August 12, 2013 | 2:58 P.M. EST
Stewart-Haas Racing has named Austin Dillon interim driver for Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nationwide points leader Austin Dillon will drive Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Sprint Cup car this weekend at Michigan International Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Monday.
Greg Zipadelli, competition director at Stewart-Haas Racing, said the decision is only for this weekend. No plans have been made for the future, although Zipadelli said the team is talking to Dillon about other races.
Zipadelli said Stewart, who suffered a broken right leg in a sprint car crash last week, has a doctor’s appointment Wednesday and that will help gauge how long the team will need a replacement driver. Zipadelli visited Stewart on Monday morning and said Stewart is "doing well.''
Zipadelli, speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, offered no timetable on when Stewart will return. Zipadelli said the notion of having someone else drive the car would be a weekly occurrence “for a little while.’’
Dillon works because he pleases the team's sponsors and has had success at Michigan. Although he drives for Richard Childress Racing, a rival organization in the Sprint Cup Series, he shares Bass Pro Shop sponsorship with Stewart.
“A big part of how we go through this is making sure that our partners are happy with what we're doing as far as who we're putting in the car and who will represent their brands in the way they want it represented,’’ Zipadelli said.
Dillon won the pole for the June Nationwide race at Michigan and led a race-high 61 laps before cutting a tire late and finishing 20th. He placed a season-best 11th in the Cup race at Michigan the next day, driving the underfunded No. 33 car owned by Joe Falk. Dillon has run seven Cup races this season.
Zipadelli said this past weekend at Watkins Glen he was concerned about having a Nationwide driver in Stewart’s car at Michigan because the Nationwide Series is at Mid-Ohio and the schedules between the two tracks overlap.
Zipadelli said Monday his fears were relieved because of the extra track time Nationwide cars have at Mid-Ohio since it is a new venue for the series.
Zipadelli said the plan is for Dillon to be with the Nationwide team for Thursday’s open test at Mid-Ohio. Dillon will spend Friday with Stewart’s team and miss all the Nationwide practice at Mid-Ohio.
Dillon said it appeared he would miss Nationwide qualifying because Cup teams are practicing at the same time. If Dillon misses Nationwide qualifying, he’d have to start at the rear of the field. A Richard Childress Racing spokesperson said that Max Papis would drive Dillon’s car for a few laps on Friday at Mid-Ohio while Dillon was at Michigan. Papis is entered in a Richard Childress Racing entry at Mid-Ohio. Papis drove Stewart’s car this past weekend at Watkins Glen and finished 15th.
Dillon said he couldn’t pass on this opportunity but added that he was not giving up on the Nationwide title. He leads Sam Hornish by three points, Regan Smith by five and Elliiott Sadler by 12 heading to Mid-Ohio.
“Road courses have not been our strong suit, but we're getting better at them,'' he said. "The good thing was we were able to test earlier this year at Mid‑Ohio, so I have some track time. We'll just do our best and try to work our way up to the front with whatever starting position we get.’’
As for Michigan, Zipadelli said his expectations are modest for Dillon, who will be making his 10th career Cup start.
“I think we're going to go there and run all the laps and try to stay 15th or 20th, and just see from there where we go,’’ Zipadelli said. “We're going to be setting our goals very obtainable and stay out of trouble. Most important thing is running as many laps as we can. We need to finish the race. By his track record there in the past, we should do better than those.’’