It’s become increasingly difficult to discount Austin Dillon as a NASCAR driver.
When Dillon arrived on the Cup Series scene in the No. 3 Chevrolet, the resentment was palpable. Some fans felt he had only been gifted a seat in one of the sport’s most iconic rides due to him being the grandson of team owner Richard Childress.
Now, though, there should be no doubt. Dillon can drive.
If that wasn’t already obvious, he bolstered the case that he belongs Thursday night, when he outpaced Kyle Busch, Martin Truex and Bubba Wallace on the final lap of the second Duel at Daytona race.
Dillon’s pass of Wallace was a master class in restrictor-plate racing. After Wallace got too far in front of Busch and lost the draft, Dillon used a push from Kevin Harvick and a nifty left-turn move to the inside the slip past Wallace.
While racing stock cars on the Daytona International Speedway oval can be kind of a crapshoot, making good use of the air on the wild final lap is unquestionably a skill. And Dillon — who also claimed victory in the Daytona 500, the race that matters, in 2018 — has proven he possesses that skill.
If anything, the 30-year-old might just be hitting his prime in his 11th Cup season. He posted arguably his most consistent season in 2020, with one win, four top-fives and nine top-10s, with an average finish of 16th. He also led a career-best 135 laps.
It remains to be seen how things pan out for Dillon and Wallace when the season officially kicks off Sunday. Wallace — who once also drove one of NASCAR’s most famed cars in Richard Petty’s No. 43 machine — moves over to the freshly launched 23XI Racing, and all the high expectations that come with it.