DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (WGHP) — If all goes well for NASCAR driver Austin Dillon, he could become a two-time Daytona 500 champion on Sunday.
Dillon clinched victory in the Great American Race back in 2018. It’s a win he says is different from the rest.
“Well, it’s special,” he said. “It’s the only race that you’re called ‘champion’ of. Other than that you’ve got to win a championship to do it, so it’s a championship race. There’s nothing like it. You get to do a lot of fun stuff with it, and everybody knows this race. It’s the biggest one of the year for us. It’s the Super Bowl for us.”
You wouldn’t know it by watching his speedometer, but Dillon says the key is patience.
“It’s patience and putting yourself in the right position, staying with it, trying to be there at the end,” he said. “You’ve got to be there to win it obviously. Can’t win on the first lap here at Daytona.”
He came close to getting his second Daytona 500 win in 2021. He took third place after first Michael McDowell and second Chase Elliot.
“’21, I think we were, what, half a car length from that one, so that was close and ran really well in that race the whole time, so hopefully we can just have that type of showing and come back and try to do it again,” he said. “Two times would be really nice. I’ve been fortunate obviously to be in position to not only win but to get another almost, so we’ve got to do it again. Maybe this is the year.”
Yet, while he has two great Daytona runs in recent memory, there’s one year that stands out and not in a good way. In 2015, Dillon was involved in a high-speed wreck during the Coke Zero 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. With two laps left, a collision sent Dillon’s car flying into the catch fence, ripping out the engine, before the car came crashing down onto its roof. To the shock of the fans, he was able to get up and walk away.
“That’s why the intensity’s so high and everybody likes to watch it, because you know there’s going to be a big wreck, and trying to avoid them is huge and get out of those tight situations,” Dillon said. “Avoiding wrecks, it’s an art. It’s an art in itself to try and maneuver through the wrecks. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do, but you try to put yourself in a good position the whole race and come out the other side.”
He doesn’t let the crash keep his foot off the gas and he’s learned a lot over the years.
“They don’t call me the rookie anymore, the ‘young guy.’ ‘Young gun,’ I got ‘young gun’ for a long time. I was 30 still getting ‘young gun,’ so I’m two years past that hopefully, but I’ve learned so much and I feel like your prime as a racecar driver’s from 32 to 35 because experience goes a long way,” he said. “And now I’ve got a family. I’m driving for some other people now. I love having my family at the track and really in a good place mentally and a great place with the Lord and my family.”