This weekend one year ago will forever be etched in the forefront of Ty Dillon’s mind.
Winless in 18 XFINITY Series starts as driver of Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 Chevrolet, Dillon outran all-time XFINITY Series wins leader Kyle Busch to score his first triumph in NASCAR’s No. 2 division.
Doing it on the hallowed ground that is fabled 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway, well, that was just icing on the cake.
Article continues below ...
But since that memorable day in Victory Lane at the world-famous track, Dillon – the youngest grandson of team owner Richard Childress – hasn’t won again. Nor have he and his grandfather been able to nail down a clear plan for 2016, despite Dillon expressing more than once in recent months his desire to join older brother Austin next season in the Sprint Cup Series.
As Dillon spent Friday preparing for Saturday’s XFINITY race at IMS, the 23-year-old third-generation driver from Lewisville, North Carolina seemed just as uncertain as he did six or seven weeks ago about what exactly he’ll be doing next year.
"Nothing’s really changed yet, no announcements yet, but we’re still working and the plan is still to be in Cup full time," Dillon said.
In the meantime, Dillon is focused on more immediate matters — specifically, trying to close his points deficit on XFINITY Series championship leader Chris Buescher and second-place Chase Elliott.
Heading into Saturday’s race at Indy, Dillon trailed Buescher by 38 points, and was seven points in arrears of Elliott — the reigning series champion and future successor to Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
"This year’s been up and down," said Dillon, whose father Mike is a former XFINITY Series driver who is now the vice president of competition at RCR. "We started off on fire and jumped out to an early points lead. The first four races or so were great for us. Then it seemed like the next five or so we really took a big step back. Things weren’t really going the way we wanted them to, and whether we were putting too much pressure on ourselves at that moment in the season, things just weren’t working right for us, and it was kind of time for us to make a change, I think.
"Me and Danny (Stockman, crew chief) were too stressed out every weekend, and we’re both very, very competitive people. We’re great friends, but I just don’t know that our chemistry was working with that amount of pressure on us to maintain that points lead and try to get a win. We needed to change something."
"I think we did the right decision," Dillon said. "Me and Nick really work well together, and I think we have a great relationship like me and Danny had, and our chemistry fits. And Nick’s got a little bit different approach to things than Danny, and I think our personalities in a pressure situation create a little bit better chemistry for us to go forward and win races, and here lately the last couple weeks we’ve turned it on and we’ve had solid weeks, and that’s just what we need to build confidence and be able to get back in Victory Lane."
With the season about to enter its stretch run, Dillon believes it’s go time if he wants to make a serious title bid — even if there seems to be no big rush to nail down plans for 2016.
"We’re going to turn up the wick," Dillon said. "Right now I’d rate (2015) at a ‘C,’ because my expectations were to come in this year and lead the points all the way through and dominate the series and have it locked up by two or three races to go, so I’m a little disappointed in that, but we’re still in it.