Ahead of Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Austin Dillon called his shot.
In his pre-race interview with NBC Sports, Dillon said he thought he’d have a “rocket ship” underneath him for the race. That was, despite lining up 28th on the starting grid.
Dillon’s statement, though bold, came to fruition in the opening stage, as the No. 3 Chevrolet drove up to as high as second position. Coming to the green-white checkered flag, he was passed by Kyle Larson for second, but still gained eight points by finishing third.
During the second stage, Dillon remained a frontrunner, and at one point his spotter, Brandon Benesch, cleared him for the lead. However, Dillon didn’t jump at the opportunity. Because of that he dropped to fourth in the running order. As the stage went on, the No. 3 car faded to sixth, but was awarded five stage points.
That’s when his race turned for the worse.
While starting to move up the track after crossing the start/finish line, Dillon was clipped in the right rear by Brad Keselowski, who finished the stage side-by-side with the No. 3 car. Dillon was turned head on into the outside wall, and even got airborne.
Immediately, Dillon apologized to his race team on the team’s radio.
A HARD HIT for Austin Dillon at the end of Stage 2!
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 22, 2021
“I was just trying to get as many Stage points as I could get right there and did a good job of side-drafting and came down to the apron,” Dillon said after the incident. “I was starting to come up off the apron because it’s so rough down there. But I figured by that point, [Keselowski] would have given me a little room. I hate it.
“I think we would have had a shot to do something there at the end with our race car. It’s the best race car we’ve brought to the track at [Richard Childress Racing] this year, I feel like. It’s just a bummer but we’ve got Daytona left and I just hate it.
“I don’t know why it happened, really. I thought I had a little room to come up and he just held me down there a little bit too long, I guess.”
On the No. 2 car’s radio, Keselowski said he didn’t intend on wrecking Dillon, rather tried to hold him down on the apron.
After the race, Keselowski backed up those comments.
“I hate that I had that contact with the [No.] 3,” he said. “That really sucks for everybody. It really hurt our day and obviously ruined his. That was crappy. So it goes.”
Richard Childress, team owner of the No. 3 car was none too pleased, either. He came over the No. 3 radio saying, “I’m an old man, but I can kick his ass.”
"I'm an old man but I can kick his ass" Richard Childress says of @keselowski.
The 2 turned the 3, but it looked like Keselowski was holding his line.
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) August 22, 2021
The end result was Dillon finished in 36th, earning just 14 points.
And while Dillon’s playoff chances looked bleak with just the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway remaining, Tyler Reddick had a flat left rear tire with less than 10 laps remaining in the race while running just outside the top 10. The No. 8 Chevrolet ended the race in a disappointing 29th.
Because of that, Dillon managed to gain three points in the overall standings. He enters Daytona 25 markers below Reddick.
Though it’s not an ideal position, the 2018 Daytona 500 champion is confident in his abilities at the famed superspeedway.
“The guys have worked so hard,” Dillon said. “You saw the equipment I had today and man it was so fast. I was having a blast out there racing like that. It’s fun to be able to do that. I’ve just got to thank ECR and RCR. But that one is probably done, and we’ll just bring another one next week to Daytona.”