Sports

4 questions with Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon finished 12th at Phoenix last week and is eighth in the Sprint Cup standings.
Austin Dillon finished 12th at Phoenix last week and is eighth in the Sprint Cup standings. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Sprint Cup driver Austin Dillon is in his third full season driving for his grandfather Richard Childress in the No. 3 Chevy at Richard Childress Racing.

Dillon is coming off a ninth-place finish last week at Phoenix International Raceway and is in eighth place in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup driver’s standings.

Dillon took time this week to talk to the Charlotte Observer’s David Scott about the season so far:

To what do you credit your team’s fast start? Hard work in the off-season is one thing. I think if you look back to last year, we have kind of had this streak going. I really enjoy working with [crew chief] Slugger [Labbe] and my group of engineers that are with me. We have just tried to eliminate mistakes and make me a better driver and our team better race cars. The work is paying off. We just have to keep plugging along and never stop working.

What’s your opinion of the new low-downforce aero package? I haven’t accounted for the lack of downforce. I’m trying to get to the same braking points that I got to last year, and it’s been difficult to get to those same braking points. I find myself struggling a little on entry. I’ve got to take into account that the spoiler is a lot smaller and just kind of getting used to that. Our best finish last year came on the high-downforce package at Michigan. I wouldn’t account it to just the downforce switches or whatnot. I think it’s just better race cars overall and then also working better as a team.

Can you describe how tire wear differs from track to track? The tire on both sides seems to be freer and our overall balance. So, just working around it and as far as the differences I can help you a little bit. Last week we were at Charlotte doing a tire test all week. Every compound you chose, if it was a softer one you went faster. If it was a harder one you went slower. Some tracks that is different, but most of the time you want the softest you can get and usually if you have a soft tire it falls off into a run. Soft means a lot of grip for a shorter period of time. Hard means not as much grip, but [the tire will] hold on for a long period of time.

What is your relationship like with crew chief Slugger Labbe, especially after your testy exchange with him on the radio at Las Vegas recently? When it comes to communication with Slugger, we are like two brothers. We are both very aggressive personalities. He is not afraid to tell me when he thinks I’ve messed up, and I’m not afraid to tell him when I think he has messed up. It’s a part of being intense. Slugger is really good at being blunt with things and I’ve learned to be able to take it and he can take it too. That is what I love about him. I can tell him right to his face, ‘Hey this is no good.’ He will go to work on it. Same with me; if he thinks I’m not driving right I will go to work, too.

On the grid

Sprint Cup

Auto Club 400

2:30 p.m. Sunday, Auto Club Speedway, Fontana, Calif.

TV: KDFW/4, Race. (Today: Qualifying, 6:45 p.m., FS1; Saturday: final practice, 1:30 p.m., FS1)

Track: 2-mile asphalt oval with 14-degree banking.

Distance: 200 laps, or 400 miles.

Last year’s winner: Brad Keselowski.

Other races

Treatmyclot.com 200: Xfinity Series, Auto Club Speedway, 3 p.m, Saturday, FS1.

Australian Grand Prix: Formula One, Melbourne, 11:30 a.m., Sunday, NBC Sports Network.

Amalie Motor Oil Gatornationals: NHRA, Gainesville Raceway, Gainesville, Fla., though Sunday (8 p.m. today, 2:30 Saturday, midnight Sunday, FS1).

Worth mentioning

NASCAR’s West Coast swing finishes after three races in Las Vegas, Phoenix and Fontana … Daniel Suarez continues to lead the Xfinity standings ahead of Elliott Sadler.

Power 16

1. Kevin Harvick (3rd last week): Continues his mastery at Phoenix.

2. Kyle Busch (2): Has done everything but win, and that includes for top-5s.

3. Jimmie Johnson (1): Learned hard steering-wheel lesson at Phoenix.

4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7): Led 34 laps at Phoenix.

5. Kurt Busch (8): Top-10s in all four races.

6. Carl Edwards (12): Was one bump away from winning Phoenix.

7. Denny Hamlin (9): Part of impressive Joe Gibbs Racing day at Phoenix.

8. Joey Logano (5): First finish out of top 10 of the season for him at Phoenix.

9. Austin Dillon (10): The No. 3 Chevy has been fast all season.

10. Brad Keselowski (4): Tire problems doomed him at Phoenix, where he finished 29th.

Also: 11. Martin Truex Jr. (6); 12. Ryan Blaney (13); 13. Aric Almirola (15); 14. Matt Kenseth (16); 15. Chase Elliott (NR); 16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (11).

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