NASCAR Veteran Austin Dillon Says ‘Losing Gives Me Confidence’ for Daytona 500 Success

Jackson Wheeler
8 Min Read


  • The races that Austin Dillon thinks most about are the 2021 and 2023 Daytona 500s, races he lost in heart-breaking fashion.
  • Dillon drives the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress, his Hall of Fame owner and grandfather.
  • At 33 and into his 11th full season with RCR, Dillon is generally considered among the second- or third-tier drivers who occasionally hits it just right.

Austin Dillon was the top Craftsman Truck Series rookie in 2010 and its champion and most popular driver in 2011.

He was the most popular Xfinity Series driver in 2012 and the series champion in 2013. His four Cup Series victories have been biggies: the 2017 Coca-Cola 600, the 2018 Daytona 500, a 500-miler at Texas in 2020, and the 2022 summer 400-miler at Daytona Beach.

Despite those successes—20 victories in NASCAR’s top three series—the races he thinks most about are the 2021 and 2023 Daytona 500s, races he lost in heart-breaking fashion.

“The most dominant car I’ve had here was 2021, when Michael McDowell won,” Dillon said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway, scene of Sunday afternoon’s Daytona 500. “I won the (150-mile) Duel, ran top-five all day in the 500 and was very close to winning, but finished third. That was everything, a magical weekend.

nascar cup series 65th annual daytona 500 practice

Chris Graythen//Getty Images

Austin Dillon has had his share of near wins at the Daytona 500.

“And last year, when (teammate) Kyle Busch and I were first and second coming to the white flag. But the caution fell and mayhem ensued after that restart. There was me trying to push Kyle around the backstretch before I got hit (and finished a crash-related 33rd). Those are the ones you think of, the ones that got away.

“There’s potential of having three Daytona 500 wins in my career, so that gives me even that much more confidence. You know how to find that way, to be in that position in this thing, so it gets you excited.”

Dillon drives the No. 3 Chevrolet for Richard Childress, his Hall of Fame owner and grandfather. Richard Childress Racing, entering its 51st NASCAR season, won the 1998 Daytona 500 with the late Dale Earnhardt and the 2007 Daytona 500 with Kevin Harvick. Earnhardt won two summer 400-milers for RCR and Harvick one.

In his 11 Daytona 500s, Dillon has five finishes inside the top-10. He’s not thrilled with his 4-for-372 career record, but his recent Daytona 500 performances (if not the actual finishes) encourage him entering the weekend. He’s among seven drivers with 500 victories: Denny Hamlin (3), Jimmie Johnson (2), and Joey Logano, Ricky Stenhouse, Austin Cindric, and Michael McDowell (one each).

auto feb 18 monster energy nascar cup series daytona 500

Icon Sportswire//Getty Images

Austin Dillon celebrates after his 2018 Daytona 500 win.

“Losing hurts, but it also gives me the confidence that there’s a pattern,” Dillon said. “There’s a reason I’m able to get to the end and be in a position to win. I lean back on that confidence, that pattern I’ve been able to create. I use that (confidence) to my advantage. This time around, it’s coming up with a game plan. When (a team) doesn’t have a game plan it can commit to, it gets stuck in the middle and doesn’t know what it’s doing. That usually doesn’t turn out.”

At 33 and into his 11th full season with RCR, Dillon is generally considered among the second- or third-tier drivers who occasionally hits it just right. He led only two laps at Charlotte in 2017, only one lap in his 2018 Daytona 500 victory, 22 laps at Texas in 2020, and 10 laps in the 2022 summer race here.

He’s well aware of his “meh” position within the Cup Series garage. “I’m at a place where I need to step up and try and have a multi-win season,” he admitted. “I need to go further than I’ve ever gone in the Playoffs. (His best points finishes have been 11th, in ’20, ’22, and ’23). My ultimate goal since getting to Cup is to be the first guy to win the championship in (Cup, Xfinity, and Trucks). That’s still where my head is.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes, starting when Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and Dale Jr. were in the Cup and I got to race against them. Now, we’re at a whole new change of the car and new style of racing, so I’m going to try to put myself and my name back in that top tier.

“Last year was one of those years when I got kicked and kicked. (No poles, no victories, seven top-10 finishes, and 29th in points). I was wondering when it was going to end. It was a struggle. We hit the wall a lot, a lot of crashes. And then by the end of the year, we started having some pretty good runs.

“This year is a fresh start. Everybody is excited to go. My family and everybody being at the track to support us, so it’s going to be a good year. I want to put myself where I feel I can be… in that top tier. I’ve been there before and I want to be a multi-win guy at the Cup level.”

Starting, it goes without saying, with this weekend’s 200-lapper on Sunday afternoon at 2:30. “Once you’ve won the Daytona 500, you put pressure on yourself because you want to do it again,” Dillon said. “You know what that experience is like. I don’t feel pressure from the outside because I’ve already become a Daytona 500 champion. But, it’s more for me because I enjoy this place. Once you win here, it’s a game-changer. You taste it, and it’s something you crave after that.”

Lettermark

Unemployed after three years as an Army officer and Vietnam vet, Al Pearce shamelessly lied his way onto a small newspaper’s sports staff in Virginia in 1969. He inherited motorsports, a strange and unfamiliar beat which quickly became an obsession. 

In 53 years – 48 ongoing with Autoweek – there have been thousands of NASCAR, NHRA, IMSA, and APBA assignments on weekend tracks and major venues like Daytona Beach, Indianapolis, LeMans, and Watkins Glen. The job – and accompanying benefits – has taken him to all 50 states and more than a dozen countries.  

He’s been fortunate enough to attract interest from several publishers, thus his 13 motorsports-related books. He can change a tire on his Hyundai, but that’s about it.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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