Dillon’s run validates progress at RCR

MARTINSVILLE, Va. –Ryan Newman’s victory at Phoenix Raceway, made possible by staying out on old tires, seemingly came out of nowhere. After all, no Richard Childress Racing driver had won an event in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 2013 before Newman took the checkered flag at Phoenix.

But the speed in the RCR cars has improved, as both Austin Dillon and Newman proved in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Dillon came home fifth, his first top five since running fourth at Bristol last August.

Newman contributed an eighth-place finish.

“We didn’t have the speed the first couple practices, which for some reason I never do here,” Dillon said. “It’s just a trend. I can’t go fast enough to start, and then we consistently get better throughout practice and the race. It’s nice to do that, but I wish I could not give the field half a race before we get up through there.

“Starting 20th was big for us because our last practice was good. Our car had takeoff speed the whole day. It’s the first race car we’ve had that can actually restart and go for the first five laps, and that’s a lot of fun, and we’ve got to focus on that. I think the way the new racing is with the stages and stuff, short-run speed is key, and if you have long run speed, falloff, it really doesn’t matter because you’re going to get a caution at some point.”

Dillon was strong during the final 64-lap green-flag run but couldn’t catch the cars of race winner Brad Keselowski or runner-up Kyle Busch.

“I thought we were going to have a little something for the two leaders, but in middle of the run, our car just lacked a little bit more turn and forward drive,” Dillon said. “Then at the end we could come back to them again. I think I was running the 22 (fourth-place finisher Joey Logano) back down there at the end.

“Just proud of my guys and thankful for this run – we needed it.”