Dillon's Focus Turns to Sprint Cup
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on November 21, 2013 | 9:35 A.M. EST
Austin Dillon is one of four drivers to have won championships in two of NASCAR's three national series. (Photo: Getty Images)
After collecting another NASCAR championship ring, Austin Dillon’s focus turns toward a series mastered by a driver he says is “a robot.’’
If the 23-year-old Dillon thought it was challenging to win Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series titles, wait until he competes full time next season in the Sprint Cup Series - ruled by six-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
“He performs like a machine,’’ Dillon said, explaining his robot description about Johnson. “He proves you can do things that I didn’t think were possible.’’
Dillon will do that as well next season. Who would have expected the No. 3 to return to the Cup series after Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in 2001?
While it hasn’t been announced that Dillon will run that number, he acknowledges he’ll have a greater responsibility with that number in Cup because of Earnhardt’s history with it.
Dillon understands more people will be watching him because of that number. The key for him is not be susceptible by that pressure .
“I’d like to go out there and win every race and set the world on fire,’’ Dillon said. “(But) I have to set realistic goals. I’m focused on finishing races.
“Next year is definitely going to be a tough year. I’ve watched the guys that were very competitive in the Nationwide Series and it’s not like they can go out there and win races.’’
Two-time Nationwide champion Ricky Stenhouse earned rookie of the year honors this season, placing 19th in the points. That’s the highest a rookie has finished in Cup since Denny Hamlin placed third in 2006.
Dillon also admits that next season he’s “got to go after it and find the edge of those cars.’’
The Cup cars aren’t new to him. He started 11 races, driving for three different teams, including a couple of races filling in for Tony Stewart. Dillon’s best finish was 11th at Michigan International Speedway in June. He even got airborne in a crash at Talladega Superspeedway.
As he moves to Cup, Dillon will still look to fellow driver Max Papis for help and advice. They’ve developed a kinship as Papis has helped tutor the young driver.
While Papis can give advice to Dillon on driving techniques and such, he’s just as valuable providing help in other areas.
“He listens well to everything that is going around and then he can come back and ... shoot me straight,’’ Dillon said. “Everybody needs that to keep pointed in the right path.’’
Dillon showed his appreciation to Papis after winning the Nationwide title.
Papis wrote on Twitter: “Awesome to wake up and thinking of what @austindillon3 did and what he told me after the race.’’
What did Dillon say?
“I thanked him and told him he was like a brother,’’ Dillon said. “Max has a ton of heart. That’s where all my strength comes from. I’ve never been the strongest or fastest or most athletic guys. I don’t look at myself as the most talented driver either. I just think when it comes down to it, I’m going to do my work and give up.’’
It’s helped him become one of four drivers to win titles in two of the three national series - joining Greg Biffle, Bobby Labonte and Johnny Benson. No drivers has ever won a championship each in Cup, Nationwide and Trucks.
One thing Dillon has done that has never been done before in NASCAR is win a national title without scoring a win.
While critics will bemoan that fact, Dillon embraces it even though he admits they had chances to win races.
“It’s a championship to me,’’ he said. “It’s pretty cool. No one has ever done it.’’