Austin Dillon May Have Driven Himself Out of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs With a Bold Move at the Coca-Cola 600
Austin Dillon made his biggest attempt yet to potentially secure a spot in the NASCAR Playoffs during the first overtime Sunday in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The high-risk and high-stakes move didn’t work out, and it could be the difference in whether or not he is a part of the playoff field when the Cup Series takes the green flag to begin its 10-race postseason in early September at Darlington Raceway.
Austin Dillon made a late charge at Charlotte in a desperate attempt to win
Dillon spent most of the 600 miles Sunday in the middle of the pack, which is approximately where he has run for the majority of the season to date. He had an average running position of 14th Sunday and currently is 15th in the points standings. However, he is 18th in the playoff picture because he does not yet have a win that automatically vaults drivers into playoff position.
Still, the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team gave Dillon four new tires on a pit stop at the end of regulation as the race entered its first overtime restart. Dillon immediately jumped to the high side on the restart and charged past four cars in the first two turns to reach leader Kyle Larson as they entered Turn 3.
Dillon dove low on Larson but got loose midway through the turn. That allowed Ross Chastain to catch them on the high side and eventual winner Denny Hamlin to do the same on the bottom. That created a thrilling four-wide battle for the lead but also led to a seven-car wreck that took out both Dillon and Larson before the field took the white flag.
Dillon could have been in a playoff spot after Charlotte even without a win
Dillon would have been in a playoff position had his charge to the front worked. And he would not have to worry about the playoffs for the rest of the regular season so long as more than 16 of the top 30 drivers in points don’t have at least one win by the time the series arrives at Darlington in September.
However, the crash relegated him to a 22nd-place finish at Charlotte, and he now sits 22 points behind teammate Tyler Reddick for the final playoff spot. Dillon managed only two stage points during the 600-mile marathon, so the 20-or-so spots he lost because of the crash could have considerable implications in his attempt to reach the playoffs for the fifth time in his career.
His team was proud of its driver’s big moves, but it is far from a sure bet to think Dillon will still win a race to secure a playoff berth later in the season. He has three career victories and has yet to win multiple times in the same season. He also hasn’t visited Victory Lane since 2020 at Texas Motor Speedway, a stretch of 67 races.
Making the playoffs consistently has been a challenge
Dillon made the playoffs on his point total alone in 2016, but he missed out on a chance to compete for his first career championship in both 2019 and 2021 because he did not win a race, while victories locked him into the playoff field in 2017, 2018 and 2020.
The remaining 12 races on the regular-season schedule also don’t line up particularly well for Dillon based on his performance history. He finished 12th in the inaugural race at Nashville Superspeedway a year ago and has the Daytona 500 win from 2018 at the track that hosts the regular-season finale in late August. Still, he otherwise does not have a career average finish better than 16th at any of the tracks left before the playoffs.
He finished in the top five once at Richmond Raceway in 2020 and has a pair of top-fives at Michigan International Speedway, but that is the extent of his success on tracks the series will visit for the three months.
Does that justify his attempt to go for broke Sunday at Charlotte? Time will tell, but the points he lost because the move didn’t work out could be the barrier that once again keeps him out of the playoff field.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.
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