Tuesday, August 13, 2013

From the 3 to the 14: Austin Dillon to fill in for Tony Stewart at Michigan

Credit: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs
Stewart-Haas Racing announced Monday that Austin Dillon will drive the No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shop/Rush Truck Center Chevy Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

Dillon races Saturday in the Nationwide Series at Mid-Ohio, where he hopes to pad his points lead over Sam Hornish Jr. and Regan Smith. The latter was also mentioned as a candidate for the prime real estate behind the wheel of Smoke's Chevy SS.

Tony Stewart barely made it to the hospital before speculation began as to who would drive the No. 14 should Smoke be forced to the sidelines. When the news broke that his broken leg required another surgery and he would be out of the car indefinitely, everyone from Kyle Larson to Smith to even Mike Skinner came up in conversations.

In Monday's press conference, SHR Director of Competition Greg Zippadelli was asked if he'd been contacted by as many as 30 or 40 people for the seat.

"I would say it was more in the 50 range," Zippy said. "There's been people that I didn't even know raced called. And we appreciate everybody reaching out and willing to help. But it's been interesting, let's leave it at that."

While allowing a driver from a competitor's stable in the SHR garage may at first seem odd, consider first that Max Papis, who managed a 15th-place finish at Watkins Glen in his first Gen-6 outing, coaches the Dillon boys at Richard Childress Racing and he's run two Nationwide races for RCR this season.

So just how did Smoke and Zippy decide on Dillon?

 "Well, 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," explained Zippadelli. "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 naturally appreciative of the opportunity.

"I just want to thank all the parties at RCR and Stewart-Haas for giving me this opportunity to let me go out there in a premier ride in the Cup series. Like I said, we've had a great relationship with Bass Pro Shops and looking forward to representing them and Mobil 1 this weekend," he said. "It's a great opportunity for me.  We're really focused on the Nationwide Championship as well, and we're going to give both parties a great opportunity at a win this weekend. We're going to go out there and try to run strong."

With seven Cup starts under his belt this season, Dillon's best finish was 11th at Michigan in June.

"I'm very confident at Michigan," Dillon aid. "It's one of my favorite tracks. We led all the laps in the Nationwide race there this year until we had the left rear flat and ran well in the Cup race. So I'm looking forward to it. I think it's a place that we can really go out and have a good run at this weekend."

He won't be the first driver to do double-duty in two different states, but Dillon's confident that he'll be able handle the schedule.

"The scheduling is pretty tough this weekend, so we'll be on doing our best to give equal amount of practice time.  The good thing about Mid-Ohio, we have a full test day there Thursday, so we'll have plenty of time on the track ...Qualifying seems to be the issue for the Nationwide race. That is the only part that will be tough. We might have to start in the rear. But I think we've done a good job of trying to work out where each party gets a good amount of practice on both cars."

Zippadelli agreed. "With the way we're doing it, he's going to get a full test day with a ton of tires and a lot of time on the racetrack Thursday. 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."

Whether this is a one-race deal with Dillon is still to be decided.

"We'll evaluate each race as it comes and do the best job we can with putting someone in it we feel will do a good job for Stewart-Haas and all of our partners," Zippadelli said. "We will probably know more next week. Tony has a doctor's appointment Wednesday here to just kind of go over things, and at that point we'll have a lot better idea of what we're doing. But for right now it will probably be a week-by-week decision as far as who is in the car."


Janine, aka Lisa or LJ, Cloud, a fifth-generation Texan, lives in Houston and considers Texas Motor Speedway her home track.

She's been a part of the Skirts and Scuffs team since May 2011, going from contributor to media rep, photographer, and associate editor covering both NASCAR and IZOD IndyCar. Janine considers it a privilege to represent the site at the track and to share with readers the excitement of the world of motorsports.


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