Dillon’s short-term stint in Stewart’s car has long-term implications

TY Dillon and grandfather Richard Childress at Talladega Saturday.
TY Dillon and grandfather Richard Childress at Talladega Saturday.
TY Dillon and grandfather Richard Childress at Talladega Saturday.

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Tony Stewart’s doctors would prefer he races as little as possible in Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET), where the prospect of being swept up in a major multi-car accident is omnipresent.

That’s why Ty Dillon is slated to take over the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet under the race’s first caution period, whenever that may occur.

The interior of the car is set up for Dillon, who likely will spend the bulk of the time behind the wheel on Sunday. Though Stewart raced last Sunday at Richmond in his first competition since suffering a broken back during the offseason, the danger of further injury at Talladega was the tipping point that convinced Stewart that exiting the car was the prudent choice.

Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevy in the 14th spot on Saturday, but Sunday’s race likely will be his last appearance in the car. But Dillon already is looking toward a future of full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and he believes his stint as a relief driver for Stewart will help him realize that goal.

“I think it’s helped a lot,” said Dillon, who has subbed for Stewart in three of the eight races the three-time series champion missed. “I was hoping to maybe be full-time this year in the Sprint Cup series about this time last year.  That’s where I kind of had my goals set, my eyes set, but the opportunity didn’t come along.

“I can’t thank Stewart-Haas and their organization enough for giving me the opportunity to fill in this year with Tony being out. Not only has it helped me with my career and getting better as a race car driver, but it’s helped me show people that I can get the job done in other equipment, too—and that I can prove myself in other ways.

“I’m very thankful for the opportunity they have given me. It’s helped a lot with a lot of things in my career.  Hopefully, it just continues to get better.”