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The Inside Line: Dillon proving he's ready for Sprint Cup

1:19 PM, Aug 13, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Austin Dillon has a chance to shine in the Sprint Cup Series this weekend, serving as the replacement driver for the injured Tony Stewart in the No. 14 car at Michigan International Speedway.

Dillon likely will run a full-time schedule in Sprint Cup next season, driving for his grandfather's team, Richard Childress Racing. He is the 2011 Camping World Truck Series champion and the current points leader in the Nationwide Series.

The 23-year-old driver has a busy weekend ahead of him, as he is scheduled to compete in Saturday's inaugural Nationwide event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and Sunday's 400-mile Sprint Cup race at Michigan.

Stewart-Haas Racing revealed on Monday that Dillon will substitute for Stewart at Michigan. Stewart is recovering from a broken right leg that he sustained in an accident during a sprint car race last week in Iowa. The three-time Cup champion is out indefinitely. Max Papis, a road course specialist, drove the No. 14 this past Sunday at Watkins Glen International, finishing 15th.

"I'm really looking forward to the opportunity that's presented itself here at Stewart-Haas," Dillon said. "I just want to thank all the parties at RCR and Stewart-Haas for giving me this opportunity to let me go out there in a premier ride in the Cup series.

"It's a great opportunity for me. We're really focused on the Nationwide championship as well, and we're going to give both parties a great opportunity at a win this weekend. We're going to go out there and try to run strong."

Dillon has nine Sprint Cup starts to his credit, including two at Michigan. He finished a career-best 11th there in June. Seven of Dillon's starts have come this year. He started eighth and finished 31st in the season-opening Daytona 500, driving the No. 33 car for RCR.

"If there was a better place to do it in the Cup race, Michigan is the place for me because I have a lot of laps there and confidence there," he said. "We're going to do our best to come up with a good strategy for both races. I think we'll be just fine."

When SHR evaluated its driver options for Michigan, the team selected Dillon based on his previous experience at Michigan. In the Nationwide race there earlier this season, he started on the pole and led a race-high 61 laps before suffering a flat tire, which led to a 20th-place finish. SHR also took into consideration Dillon's previous relationship with sponsor Bass Pro Shops. The outdoor recreation retailer has sponsored his efforts in Nationwide and trucks. Bass Pro Shops and Mobil 1 are the primary sponsors for Stewart's No. 14 team.

"We went down through the list and saw who is available and who had track time, who was doing double duty and was willing to try to work out a schedule that would work for both sides," SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli said. "He has a strong relationship with Bass Pro Shop, and a big part of how we go through this is making sure that our partners are happy with what we're doing as far as who we're putting in the car and who will represent their brands in the way they want it represented.

"Austin's done a great job in the past at Michigan. We kind of felt like it was a good fit for us this week."

SHR has yet to determine who will drive the No. 14 in the Aug. 24 race at Bristol Motor Speedway. It's possible that Stewart could return to completion at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is scheduled for Sept. 1. Nationwide also will be at Bristol and Atlanta.

No matter how many Sprint Cup starts Dillon makes this year, he will be eligible for the rookie-of-the-year title whenever he does graduate to the series. He has Nationwide as his designated series for a championship this season.

Dillon will have his hands full in attempting the Michigan/Mid-Ohio combo, but he will be ready for the challenge.

"The scheduling is pretty tough this weekend, so we'll be on doing our best to give equal amount of practice time," he said. "The good thing about Mid-Ohio, we have a full test day there Thursday, so we'll have plenty of time on the track. We have lots of sets of tires, and we'll be using them up on Thursday.

"Qualifying seems to be the issue for the Nationwide race. That is the only part that will be tough. We might have to start in the rear. But I think we've done a good job of trying to work out where each party gets a good amount of practice on both cars."

Dillon's primary focus now is winning the Nationwide championship. He holds just a three-point lead over Sam Hornish Jr. and a five-point advantage over Regan Smith.

The Sports Network

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