Pressure No Foe To Dillon

Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon admits he'd like to hit the reset button on some things in his rookie season, but he's still in contention for a Chase spot with three races to go. (Photo: Getty Images)

BRISTOL, Tenn. - Pressure, anxiety, and maybe even a bit of uncertainty. Austin Dillon knows those feelings well as he heads into tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway trying to earn a spot in the Chase.

Twelve years ago, those sensations filled his small frame as he stood in the batter’s box in a Little League World Series game. A second baseman for a team from North Carolina, Dillon was among the smallest players in the lineup.

As he stood at the plate in one game, he faced what proved to be the tournament’s most dominant pitcher, one whose speed and accuracy confounded batters.

“I remember getting in the box and thinking, ‘Lord, if they’ll walk me, it would be a good day,’ ‘’ Dillon said.

Dillon crouched his small frame as low as he could to make it harder for the pitcher to throw strikes. It worked. Dillon walked.

So when one looks at Dillon’s chances today of making the Chase - he’s 22 points out of what is the final transfer spot, has not finished better than 15th in his last three races, and starts 26th tonight - it’s easy to think Dillon’s chances of making the Chase as slim.

Instead, Dillon thinks why not him?

“I’ve run well here the last three or four times I’ve been here,’’ he said. “I just hope we can find what we found the last few times and that is a good car during the race under race conditions.’’

The key to Dillon’s season has been consistency. He’s run more laps than any other driver this season, completing 99.8 percent of the laps (6,109 laps run of 6,121). Although he has only three top-10 finishes, he has seven more finishes between 11th and 15th. Dillon knows there could be more.

“If I could hit the reset button as a rookie right now there are so many more things I would do differently up to this point,’’ Dillon said. “It would be nice to have that, but you don’t so you go out and try to finish the season strong. Moving forward next year I wouldn’t want to be in this situation. Hopefully, we have a win or are farther up in points.”

So, what would Dillon do differently this season?

“You just have to take it to another level,’’  he said. “There is always that level that you have to push yourself to and you don’t realize that level I feel like, at least for me, until you have done it. You have experienced a full year. I was able to come back and win championships in the other two series after our first year.

“I would love to be able to do that in the Cup Series. I think it’s a possibility. You just have to reset and set goals higher and then also I think as far as keeping your body mentally and physically in shape for the entire year. I feel like I’m physically in shape. I think mentally the Cup Series is a draining series because of how long it is. You learn that, and you learn how to cope with it.

“I feel like I’ve figured it out, but there is a lull section of our series where you go through a lot of different tracks and you have to stay focused during that. Looking back, I could probably have improved on those, some of those races. Anytime you get experience it is just better.”

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