Where does Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 victory rank?
Well … I look back, and it’s right there at the top with Dale Earnhardt’s Daytona 500 in 1998, and winning Indy, and winning our first race with Ricky Rudd. But it’s really special when it’s family, though. By that, it would be at the top of the board.
I’ve had so many great wins here at Richard Childress Racing and so many special, meaningful wins, but to have your grandson [Austin Dillon] win in the No. 3, knowing the pressure he’s carried inside him and on himself…
I know how hard it’s been, but Austin never shows it. And it’s extra special because he was able to win a major race, one of the three triple-crown races, which I consider to be the Daytona 500, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Coke 600.
Another reason it was so special to me was the location.
There are only three or four drivers left from North Carolina — Austin, Ty and Dale Earnhardt Jr. come immediately to mind. We look at Charlotte as our home track, and to be able to win right there was meaningful. All of our family was there. Ty had fallen out of the race, and he had gone home, but he called Austin in the Victory Lane. It was really special for our family.
I spoke to Kelly Earnhardt (on Wednesday), and she said she was so proud of us, and she knew her dad would be proud, too. And just to hear that from her meant a whole lot.
And, of course, the big story was the return of the No. 3 to Victory Lane.
The biggest question I had in bringing the No. 3 back to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2014 was the pressure that goes along with it. We had won a couple of races with Dale Jr. (driving No. 3 in the XFINITY Series). I know the pressure that was on him. And I knew the pressure it would put on Austin, but he had won the championship in the 3 in XFINITY, and he had won the championship in the 3 in the Camping World Trucks, and I know that helped me make a decision to go ahead and do it with him. It was a big move, and it was kind of a bold move on my part, but I knew if I ever brought the 3 back, it would have to be an Earnhardt or one of the Childress family members.
We had talked about him being the first driver to win (championships) in all three series, but we’ve got to get a little more speed in our car, and I think we can do it. Our cars have run a lot better than our finishes. We had trouble in several races this year when we were running top-10, but we’re working on getting all that behind us. We showed Sunday night that we can run for 600 miles and be competitive. Austin was from sixth to 10th all night. He got points in the (Stages 2 and 3) and was 11th in the first stage, so he was right there in a good position to be able to win.
I came on the digital radio and I asked one of the engineers when I heard they were going for it on fuel mileage, ‘Can you make it?’ And he said ‘We will make it,’ and that really gave me a little bit of comfort, ’cause those guys are usually pretty much spot on. Those guys had it figured out: 2.7 laps (of fuel) was what he had to save. They told him three, where he could save a little extra. I knew when it got down to two (laps) to go that he had a shot. We have a fuel reserve, a light that comes on when you’re down to two laps to go, depending on the size of the track. They told him to turn the switch on, and he took off then. I knew we were going to make it at that point, and I felt he was running fast enough at that time that he could stay in front of the 78 (Martin Truex Jr., who was second until Kyle Busch passed him on the final lap).
And it was thrilling to win the Coke 600 with a Coke family driver. That was our sixth Coke 600 win. We won three with Dale, two with Kevin Harvick and one with Austin now. That’s pretty amazing for us as well. (Sponsor) Dow was just thrilled, and AAA and American Ethanol, just thrilled with the results of that win.
As soon as Austin crossed the finish line, I was screaming. I was with my wife, and we both started screaming. It was big. This Coke 600 victory is very special to our family.
(As told to Reid Spencer of the NASCAR Wire Service)