WELCOME, N.C. — Team owner Richard Childress has been inexplicably coy about the presumed upcoming announcement that Austin Dillon will drive the No. 3 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next year, but that hasn’t stopped people from talking about it — people including Austin Dillon.
As he accepted his NASCAR Nationwide Series championship trophy Monday night in Miami Beach, Dillon, Childress’ grandson, offered an emotional good-bye from the stage to the team members who helped propel him to his second title at the NASCAR national series level.
Earlier in the day, over lunch with reporters, Dillon talked about the difficulties the transition to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series might bring.
“It’s going to be tougher, obviously,” Dillon said. “I’d like to go out there and win every race and set the world on fire, but you have to set realistic goals. I think what we’ve gone through for four years (in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series) is really going to prepare me for that. We’re going to fight hard for anything we can do, and we’ll take little victories as we go.
“I’m excited. The Sprint Cup Series is going to be tough, but you’ve just got to hit it head-on and jump in there. The good thing is I have those rookie stripes next year. I am focused on finishing races, so I do have some mulligans with the yellow stripes. I need to go out there and get to the edge, to the limit of those cars — try and find it. I can’t just go out there and run every lap and not be trying to make things happen. You’ve got to go after it and find the edge of those cars somehow.”
Dillon drove the No. 3 to a championship in the truck series two years ago, and this year he won the NNS title in a No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro. He understands that driving the No. 3 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wouldn’t be without controversy.
Dale Earnhardt won six of his seven championships in the No. 3 RCR Chevy. If Dillon is in the No. 3 next year, will fans gravitate to him the way they did to Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his father’s death at Daytona in 2001?
“I’m a huge Junior fan myself,” Dillon asserted. “I think Junior not only has fans because of what he’s done, [but] I think it’s because of the person he is, too. I was jumping up and down pulling for him the other night (in the season finale at Homestead, during an intense late-race battle for second against Matt Kenseth). I thought he was going to win that race. They were racing so hard. I wish he would have got clear, because I think he would have got to the lead. He fights hard, and he wants it just as bad for his fans as they want it for him.
“As far as them gravitating to me, I think there’s going to be some lovers, some haters… there’s going to be a little bit of everything. I really enjoy the support from our fans. It’ll be interesting to see. Every time we got the lead in that 3 car [in the NASCAR Nationwide Series], people were standing up in the stands, especially when you go to Talladega or Daytona and take the lead.”
If Dillon drives the No. 3 in NASCAR Sprint Cup, brother Ty Dillon, who ran the No. 3 in the truck series this year, will have to choose another number when he graduates to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, likely two years from now. Ty has a clear preference.
“I love the number 41,” Ty Dillon said after accepting his truck series runner-up trophy Monday night. “It’s very sentimental to me. So if nobody snags it by the time I get there, I might have the opportunity to run it…
“That number just means a lot to me, because my grandfather started this whole thing at Bowman Gray Stadium, and that was the number he ran there. If I could choose, that’s what I’d want.”
Kurt Busch will drive the No. 41 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, but two years down the road, who knows? He may be open to negotiations.