Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon missed the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in 2021, but he made some positive strides during his final season with the Gen 6 car. He posted the best average finish of his career while regularly contending for top-10 finishes.
Dillon’s 2021 campaign featured eight top-10 finishes, one top-five, and three DNFs. His best run was a third-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. What these numbers don’t show is that Dillon had an average finish of 14.4, showing that he was regularly racing near the front of the pack. This number was the best of his career.
Dillon has three wins in his Cup Series career, as well as four playoff appearances. Prior to the 2021 season, his best statistical year overall was 2016. Dillon did not win, but he had 13 top-10 finishes, four top-fives, and two pole awards.
Interestingly, Dillon’s three seasons with wins (2017, 2018, 2020) resulted in less consistency overall. His average finish in 2017 was 18.6, and it was 17.5 in 2018. 2020 was his third-best average finish at 16.2. Though a one-race absence due to COVID-19 skewed the numbers.
Dillon’s 3 DNFs Derailed His Playoff Pursuit
While Dillon turned in the most consistent season of his career, he missed the playoffs. The primary reason is a three-week run of DNFs at the worst possible time. He crashed at the three final tracks on the regular-season schedule — Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Michigan International Speedway, and Daytona International Speedway.
The wreck at Michigan, in particular, derailed Dillon’s best opportunity to secure a win. He drove what analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. referred to as “a rocketship” and finished Stage 1 only behind Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. However, he crashed after contact with Brad Keselowski.
The incident occurred at the end of Stage 2. both drivers crossed the start-finish line after taking the green and white checkered flag. Dillon moved up the track as Keselowski moved down, resulting in contact that sent the No. 3 hard into the outside wall.
The wreck ended Dillon’s day for the second consecutive week and dropped him 25 points below his teammate, Tyler Reddick, in the battle for the final playoff spot. He headed to Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero Sugar 400 and raced his way into position to fight for the win during the final stage, but a wreck started by Kurt Busch ended his day before he crossed the finish line. Meanwhile, Reddick finished sixth and punched his ticket to the playoffs.
2 Factors Will Play a Role in His 2022 Campaign
With Dillon making positive strides in terms of consistency, there are questions about how he will perform during the 2022 season. Will he surpass his 2021 campaign and return to Victory Lane and the playoffs? There is no clear answer, but two key factors will play a role.
The first factor is the move to the Next Gen stock car. The new generation will theoretically “level the playing field” with a standard list of vendor-provided parts, which should benefit smaller teams like RCR, Front Row Motorsports, Trackhouse Racing, and others. If so, Dillon and Reddick should both contend for wins more frequently.
The other factor is the number of road courses. Dillon has had varying levels of success at road courses, including during the 2021 season. For example, he finished 12th at Circuit of the Americas and 11th at Road America but finished 34th at the Daytona Road Course.
Dillon put in offseason work ahead of the 2021 season in order to become more comfortable on road courses. He competed in the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway and put in extra time on the simulator.
Dillon has continued this trend heading toward 2022. For example, he joined forces with Kaz Grala and Reddick to compete in the World Racing League weekend at Circuit of the Americas. The trio drove the No. 3 Chevrolet Camaro and swept the weekend with dominant performances in the endurance races.