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NASCAR‘s All-Star weekend basically splits the Cup Series‘ 2022 regular-season schedule in half. Thirteen points-paying races have been completed, and another 13 remain. Before the title competition can continue, the field heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for its annual exhibition event.
The outcome of Sunday‘s main show will not affect a driver‘s standing.
“Well, no break really,” Austin Dillon told NASCAR.com. “Because we’ve been working all week on the setup for this car. We still are grinding away, trying to make the car drive better. And it’s kind of a weekend (with) no points, which is nice, but you still want to go out there and perform well and use it as a tool, as a practice session.”
Texas is a 1.5-mile track, the third of its type so far this season. Dillon believes his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet has struggled most on that track length, but the results really aren‘t all that bad. At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, he finished 11th. At Atlanta Motor Speedway, he was 35th — granted, the superspeedway package was used there rather than intermediate; he also crashed out. And at Kansas Speedway just last weekend, he came in 13th.
The next points race is on another 1.5-miler: Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Coca-Cola 600, May 29.
Dillon‘s best finishes came at Talladega Superspeedway (second; 2.66-miler), Auto Club Speedway (second; 2-miler) and Martinsville Speedway (third; 0.526-miler), so longer or shorter than what‘s to come in the immediate future.
“We’ve struggled as of late, trying to get the balance right on our race car,” Dillon said. “But we’ve still been, you know, making some good finishes. We just got to keep working hard and take in what the races give us and staying confident and pumped about what we got going on here at RCR.”
Those three top fives already beat the one in 2021. His six top 10s are on pace to top last year‘s eight, too.
A quick look at the standings shows Dillon in 13th. The projected playoff grid, though, puts him 17th — aka one spot outside the 16-driver postseason picture. That‘s due to the 11 different drivers earning a provisional berth via victory. The ability to qualify on points alone is becoming more and more unrealistic as the Next Gen car levels out the competition.
“With 13 (races) to go, I think there’s gonna be 16 winners,” Dillon said. “So the position we’re in, we got to go out there and try to get a win and lock ourselves in that way.”
Of the venues left in the regular season, Dillon has won at two — Charlotte (next up) and Daytona International Speedway (the finale; Aug. 27). His wins came in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Dillon actually last won at Texas, in 2020. He led 20 laps, including the final 10 to the checkered flag ahead of teammate Tyler Reddick. He‘s aware a win Sunday won‘t advance him in the season, but it would hand him $1 million.
It would also prove to the No. 3 crew it has figured out 1.5-milers, which can only be seen as a benefit as Dillon and Co. work toward a playoff return after last year‘s miss.
“You gotta risk it for the biscuit sometimes,” Dillon said. “And we’ll definitely, when the opportunity arises and we have that chance, go after it.”