Ty Dillon made 18 Cup Series starts from 2014-16 as a part-timer, but he still readily admits that his 2017 transition to NASCAR’s top division was the hardest thing he’s done yet in racing. Dillon, 25, drove all 36 races last season in Germain Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet as a Rookie of the Year award contender and returns this season.
“It’s definitely been a learning experience. I felt like when I was a rookie in the Trucks and the XFINITY series, those years I never really went through kind of a rookie learning curve or really had to deal with it,” Dillon says. “It’s a step up to each other. You get to the Cup Series, and it’s about five steps up.”
Dillon says he noticed the difference even in practice.
“Getting your car dialed in is way more intense than the XFINITY Series and the Truck Series,” Dillon says. “You just can’t make mistakes. These guys will eat you alive. They’re definitely the best drivers in the world, and you can tell when you get out there, they’re all talented. There’s not one guy that you can just breeze past.”
That jump in competition meant a season for Dillon last year that left a lot of room for improvement. Dillon never cracked the top 10 at the checkered flag and scored stage points just twice. “There’s been some really high-water marks, some disappointment,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of things that I’ll be able to take with me and improve.”
Dillon cites moments like leading with three laps left in the July Daytona race and leading with 40 laps to go at Dover in June as the strong points that he’ll lean on as he looks for better results.
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The Germain Racing outfit that Dillon drives for enjoys a technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing. It’s a partnership so close that Dillon, grandson of RCR owner Richard Childress, discusses his accomplishments and challenges using the performance level of the RCR cars as a barometer of success, because he sits in the same technical meetings, uses the same engines and drives cars built in the Germain shop to RCR specifications.
Last year, those measures showed that Dillon lagged behind RCR drivers Austin Dillon (Ty’s brother), Paul Menard and Ryan Newman in nearly every category. The results likely played a role in Ty’s getting a new crew chief for this season after veteran Robert “Bootie” Barker was let go in the offseason after eight seasons with Germain. Chris Andrews, the team’s technical director, and Scott Whitehead, team engineer, also departed.
At Homestead-Miami in November, Dillon was hesitant to discuss why Barker didn’t continue with the team, calling it “just business.” Days later, veteran Matt Borland — crew chief for Menard last year — was named Dillon’s 2018 crew chief.
Borland will be tasked with getting Dillon a first career Cup top-10 finish, and, if Dillon can find speed like he hopes, in position to fight for a playoff spot. Dillon was strongest last season on 1-mile tracks (16.8 average finish) and needs the most help on short tracks, where a 25.2 average finish doomed his postseason opportunities.
“We’d like to be fighting for one of those (playoff) spots next year,” Dillon says. “I think we could take a large jump.”