A win in the cutoff race at the Daytona International Speedway last August got Austin Dillon into the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs for the fifth time in his NASCAR Cup Series career. This season, the 32-year-old driver is hoping to do more than just make the cut. With a new teammate in the stable, he hopes the entire Richard Childress Racing operation will take another step toward returning to the dominant form it once had.
It isn’t as if RCR was lagging way behind the competition last year. After all, Dillon scored the one win and then teammate Tyler Reddick drove to victory lane on three separate occasions for the Welcome, North Carolina-based organization. However, neither driver was able to make past the second round of cuts as Dillon finished 11th and Reddick ended the season 14th in the final standings.
Dillon believes RCR did move ahead in 2022. Still, there is room for improvement.
“It was a good progression,” Dillon declared during a NASCAR media availability. “I think it was our best finish in points for the No. 3 team and for me in the Cup level. I thought we finished strong. We had some moments that were lulls in the season that we’ve got to cut out, probably. But overall, getting that win was huge for us, obviously, at Daytona. Now we’re looking forward to flipping the page.”
Part of flipping the page will include a new crew chief for the Lewisville, North Carolina resident. Keith Rodden will take over those responsibilities from Jason Alexander after spending some time working with Chevrolet. Dillon’s new pit boss has previously called the shots on the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 car when Kasey Kahne drove that machine.
It was announced mid-season last year that Reddick would be joining 23XI Racing for the 2024 season. Then when Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing could not come to terms on a new contract, the two-time Cup champion was free to look elsewhere. After the deal making was completed, Reddick went to 23XI a year early and Busch moved over to RCR to assume the driving chores in the No. 8 Chevrolet.
“Going to miss Justin Alexander but we’ve got a new crew chief in Keith and we’re kind of building his mindset into our team and seeing where that takes us,” the four-time Cup Series winner said. “The good part is Randall(Burnett, Reddick’s former crew chief) and Justin are still going to be at the shop and we’ll be able to continue to build off of what we did last year. But bringing in Kyle and Keith, that’s two more racers and you can’t have enough racers when you’re building a race team and we’re filling the shop full of them. We’ve got a huge asset in a two-time champion coming over.”
Dillon is no stranger to championship battles himself having won the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title in 2011 and the NASCAR Xfinity Series crown in 2013. Busch’s arrival is bringing even more of a championship mentality to a company that routinely won titles back when Dale Earnhardt drove the No. 3 machine for RCR.
“I think everybody at the shop is a little bit more … I don’t know how you’d say it,” Dillon explained. “It’s an edge that we’ve got to get everything, we’ve got to cross our T’s and dot our I’s because we want to go out there and show the entire racing industry how good we really are and that we’re stepping our performance up each year. We’re getting back to where RCR was on the top of the stage every year in New York.”
The grandson of team owner Richard Childress feels ready to take the next step in his career as the organization works to return to the top.
“Between Kyle and I and everybody at the shop, we want to uphold that. I want to be the first to win all three championships and Kyle wants to continue winning championships. I think we’ve got a good formula between the two of us to make some things happen. I can already tell that Kyle is a very focused individual. He’s not going to take no for an answer, it’s just the competitive nature that he has. He’s persistent, I love that about him.”
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Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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