Dillon gets chance in Stewart’s car
Greg Zipadelli, the competition director for Stewar-Haas Racing, had a change of heart.
As a result of the switch, Austin Dillon will get the highest profile start in his fledgling career this weekend. And, that’s saying something considering the he has spent his career driving vehicles owned by his grandfather, Richard Childress.
Dillon, the leader in Nationwide Series standings, was named on Monday to substitute for the injured Stewart in Sunday’s 400-mile race at Brooklyn, Mich. Stewart is out indefinitely as a result of breaking his right leg in a sprint car crash.
Zipadelli indicated last week that it was unlikely that he would use a Nationwide driver because that series is racing at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this week and that practice and qualifying schedules pose conflicts.
But, Dillon took that out of play when he decided to use a Thursday test session as all of his pre-race practice at Mid-Ohio and would staying at Michigan for Cup practice on Friday by skipping activity at Mid-Ohio on Friday.
“We sat down with Austin,” Zipadelli said. “He’s able to give us all day Friday. So he’s given a lot because they’ve got the test day and things. . . . We’re going to get all day Friday where we’ve got no interruptions on our side. I didn’t think that was an option last week. So it is this week, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”
Zipadelli said Dillon was considered because of strong record at Michigan, which includes his best Cup finish of 11th, and a relationship with Stewart sponsor Bass Pro Shops.
“We went down through the list and saw who is available and who had track time, who was doing double duty and was willing to try to work out a schedule that would work for both sides,” Zipadelli said. “He has a strong relationship with Bass Pro Shop, and a big part of how we go through this is making sure that our partners are happy with what we’re doing as far as who we’re putting in the car and who will represent their brands in the way they want it represented.
“Like I said, there is a strong relationship there. Austin’s done a great job in the past at Michigan. We kind of felt like it was a good fit for us this week.”
Dillon is attempting the time-consuming double while having just a 3-point lead in a tight Nationwide standings race in which 18 points separate first and fifth. Dillon indicated that one conflict that hasn’t been resolved is if he will miss qualifying at Mid-Ohio, which starts while practice is going on at Michigan. If he misses qualifying, he would start at the rear of the field.
“We’re out to win the Nationwide Series,” Dillon said. “That is our main goal. We’ve been fighting for it all year long. This week at Mid-Ohio we’ve had a lot of practice time. The good thing about a road course is the strategies that you’ll be using could actually help us out with the start. It obviously helps to start up front any race you’re at. But we’ll have a plan.”
Zipadelli isn’t setting any lofty goals for Dillon.
“I think we’re going to go there and run all the laps and try to stay 15th or 20th, and just see from there where we go,” Zipadelli said. “We’re going to be setting our goals very obtainable and stay out of trouble. Most important thing is running as many laps as we can. We need to finish the race. By his track record there in the past, we should do better than those.”
For now, the deal is just for one race but a good performance could possibly earn Dillon more starts. But, the team could also a different substitute in each race. Zipadelli indicated he might have a better idea after Stewart consults with doctors on Wednesday.
About 50 drivers have put their names in the hat, Zipadelli said.
“I think we’d rather have one or two drivers if we can work it out,” Zipadelli said. “I think that will give us some consistency, build some communication between the crew and the driver and that will give us our best chance. We’re working on some of that stuff now and hopefully we’ll see it. It may be more than two, maybe three or four. If that’s the case, we’ll look at each individual racetrack and see who is available that runs good at that racetrack and make the best choice we can.”