By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Though Austin Dillon is likely to secure a career-first spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the list of variables that could make his life more difficult is no small matter.
Certainly, it would ease Dillon’s path to the Chase if Saturday’s race produces a repeat winner. Under that scenario, Dillon would simply have to maintain any part of the 31-point edge he currently holds over Richard Childress Racing teammate Ryan Newman.
Even with a first-time 2016 winner, other than Chase Elliott (who is one spot ahead of Dillon on the Chase grid), Dillon can make the 10-race playoff by keeping Jamie McMurray at bay. Dillon currently leads McMurray by nine points.
And if Chris Buescher, who won at Pocono in August, happens to drop out of the top 30 in points, Dillon is in the Chase 1) if there’s a repeat winner or 2) if he keeps Newman behind him in the standings in the event of a new winner.
Obviously, Dillon also would clinch if he wins the race.
Given the permutations, Dillon has to balance offense and defense in his approach to the race. But the driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet knows there’s a danger inherent in trying to modify his strategy based on the external framework of competition for Chase spots.
Dillon thinks the experience he gained in winning a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title in 2011 and an XFINITY Series championship in 2013 will help him negotiate the labyrinth of possibilities.
“I’ve had to do it before in my career with championship runs and stuff,” Dillon said. “It’s just you’ve got to stay focused and race like you would normally race. When you start really changing the vibe of things, it really gets hard that way.
“Things are going to happen that you don’t plan for. How you react to them is kind of how it is going to end up. Just reacting the right way to everything that goes on (Saturday) night and knowing what we have to do to make it in the Chase—having that in our head and just being smart about the choices we make.”