TALLADEGA, Ala.— Perhaps more than any other driver in Sunday’s Hellman’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, Austin Dillon will have to walk a tightrope.
Tied for eighth with Joey Logano in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings, Dillon needs a strong finish to advance to the Round of 8, but he can’t afford a reckless move that could sacrifice his position in the points.
Dillon got off to a good start on Saturday, advancing to the second round of knockout qualifying and earning the ninth starting position for Sunday’s elimination race in the Round of 12 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
“I think it was a good run,” Dillon said after time trials. “We can do it from there. We had good speed, and hopefully it shows tomorrow in the race.”
Dillon, however, didn’t spend much time in the draft during Friday’s practice sessions. How his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet will perform in race trim remains to be seen.
“I really didn’t draft much,” he said. “It’s kind of going to be one of those things where we get out there and just feel it and see how it goes.”
But starting up front should help, even if qualifying is perhaps less important at superspeedways than it is at open-motor tracks.
“I think it does mean something, because pit selection is big, and also starting up front, so if there’s a wreck early, you’re kind of in front of it. I like being up front.”
That’s an appropriate mind-set, because Dillon needs to be near the front at the end of Sunday’s race as well as at the start. But Dillon has been there before. The grandson of team owner Richard Childress started second and finished third at Talladega in May.