If there were two competitors who experienced on-track trials and challenges throughout the recent NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, October 4, but persevered and made it to the finish for top-15 results, they were Austin Dillon and Alex Bowman.
Since the closing laps of the first stage through the final lap of the overall race at Talladega, Dillon and Bowman, both of whom are among the remaining 12 Playoff contenders in contention for this year’s championship battle, were surrounded by and even involved in carnages of their own. By refusing to retire and opting to nurse their patched-up cars to the finish, both enter next weekend’s Playoff elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval with a fighting chance of retaining their title hopes of this season and advancing into the Round of 8.
For Austin Dillon, who started in 12th place, his issues started on Lap 58 when he sustained damage in a multi-car wreck that involved a handful of Playoff contenders. Though Dillon sustained little damage to his No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, he was able to settle in third place when the first stage concluded under caution as he collected a bevy of stage points. Moments after, however, he limped back to pit road in a cautious pace due to cutting a left-rear tire.
Despite recovering from his early issues and damage in the first stage, Dillon encountered issues again on Lap 109 when he made contact with Daniel Suarez in a midst of another multi-car pileup that involved Jimmie Johnson, Cole Custer, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch, who went for a wild ride in the air. Following repairs to his car, the Welcome, North Carolina, native went on to finish in 18th place in the second stage.
Prior to the final stage, however, Dillon took his No. 3 Chevrolet to the garage for further repairs needed. When he returned to the track, he was scored two laps behind the leaders. Over the next 60 laps, Dillon kept his car intact from further incidents and benefitted from two late incidents to return on the lead lap. During the second overtime restart, however, Dillon was involved in another multi-car incident involving Bubba Wallace. Though he spun his car in Turn 4, he was able to continue without any serious damage. In the midst of a wild conclusion to the race in a third overtime attempt, Dillon was able to cross the finish line in 14th place. With Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher being penalized and sent further down the final scoreboard due to double yellow line penalties on the final lap, Dillon was credited with a 12th-place result.
Dillon’s 12th-place result marked his 19th top-15 result of this season as he also rebounded from a 32nd-place result in last weekend’s Playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. With his result, Dillon is ranked in 10th place in the Playoff standings and is 21 points below the top-eight cutline to advance to the Playoff’s Round of 8. Being the lone Richard Childress Racing competitor in contention for this year’s Cup title, he will receive a final opportunity to race his way into the Round of 8 next Sunday at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval and keep his title hopes alive.
“Just a never-give-up-attitude,” Dillon said on NBC. “Last week was a real bummer, but these guys kept fighting. We changed an oil cooler behind the wall and only lost two laps. Last week, we lost eight doing the belt, so this guys are special. They are true professionals. I gotta thank Bass Pro Shops, Dow, everybody that helps out with our program, Chevrolet. That was a lot of fun. We got our stage points in the first stage even with a little bit of damage. In the second stage, we just couldn’t keep up with the damage we had gotten, but to come back to 12th, this car is killed. I had a huge run down the backstretch at the end of the race. I pushed [Brennan] Poole way up there. Once I shoved him, I got to the bottom and then I don’t know what happened. [Keselowski] came across my nose and we lost a couple more spots at the end. It was fun. It was probably a wild race for the fans to watch. I hope that we can make something happen at the Roval. We’re a little too far back in points, but we’ll see what we can do.”
For Bowman, who started in fourth place, his issues also started on Lap 58. Unlike Dillon, Bowman sustained more damage to his No. 88 Truck Hero/Patriot Foundation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE due to a multi-car accident occurring in front of him when he made contact with race leader and Playoff contender Aric Almirola while receiving a run and a push from Joey Logano. The wreck occurred as the Hendrick Motorsports driver from Tucson, Arizona, was having a strong run towards the front prior to the incident. While Almirola retired, Bowman was able to continue, though he was mired at the back of the pack and with a damaged race car. Through the first two stages, he was unable to work his way back into the top 10 and he failed to collect valuable stage points.
Throughout the race, nonetheless, Bowman was able to avoid sustaining more damage to his car through more incidents occurring towards the front of the pack as he slowly made his way back towards the front. With 45 laps remaining, he had worked his way back into second place behind Bubba Wallace. By then, he had pitted a total of 11 times and was still in contention for a potential win with a patched up front nose to his car. He eventually got shuffled back into the top 15 and despite making runs into the top 10, he never worked his way back towards the front.
Following a late pit stop due to a flat tire, Bowman dodged a number of late incidents and worked his way from being outside the top 20 on the track to restart and nurse his No. 88 Chevrolet across the finish line in 16th place following three overtime attempts. With Matt DiBenedetto and Chris Buescher being penalized and shuffled back due to double yellow line penalties on the final lap, Bowman was able to gain two spots on the track to settle in 14th place on the final scoreboard.
Bowman’s 14th-place run marked his 17th top-15 result of this season and coming off a fifth-place result last Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Overall, Bowman made 16 trips to pit road, most due to repairs needed. With his result, Bowman is 22 points above the top-eight cutline entering next Sunday’s Playoff elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval, an event where he has finished in the top five twice the previous two seasons.
“This group of guys worked their butts off on pit road – very thankful for their hard work,” Bowman said on NBC. “Our Truck Hero Camaro, with Patriot Foundation on the side of it, was not really where we wanted it be to start the race. We made some changes, got it better and then I became a Ford sandwich there getting off turn two. I got pushed into [Almirola] there – that was a bummer. If that was my fault, apologies to the 10. I felt like I got shoved into him, but it’s one of those deals you never want to be in that situation and crash somebody or cause a crash like that. So, bummed out about that. It was a really long day, lots of trips down pit road. We crashed like three times after that…Just glad we finished. We have a little bit of a buffer. We’re going into a wild card race, but should have a good week ahead of us.”
Dillon and Bowman, along with their fellow Cup Series competitors, will return for the next series race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Sunday, October 11, at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBC.