Austin Dillon was on the wrong side of the playoff bubble coming into last week's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, as he was ranked 19th in the standings and vying for a spot in the 16-driver playoff field. Rain delays and a late-race crash would try and stop the driver of the No. 3 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing from accomplishing the improbable, but he got it done. Dillon kept Austin Cindric at bay to win the Cup race at Daytona, and in doing so, nabbed himself a 15th seed to just barely make the playoffs.
Dillon probably had countless thoughts rushing through his head as he celebrated his big win in Victory Lane, but if he could only use one word to describe what it's like to make the playoffs this late in the season, it would be "validation."
"I think every time you make the playoffs it's validation to yourself that you're 'one of the guys.' You know what I mean?" Dillon said. "I think somebody said we've made (the playoffs) five times now."
"I don't know how many years I've been doing this, but every time you're not in it, it doesn't feel good. You're not going to the banquet at the end of the year. You feel like you let your guys down, you let your company down. For me it's everything. It feels good to get a car that I felt like we should have been in earlier than this, but it doesn't matter how you get in, you got in."
If Dillon had been in a similar regular situation a couple years ago coming into Daytona, he probably wouldn't have had a shot at making the playoffs. But, because so many different drivers have won Cup races this year, it gave Dillon a shot to make it with a win of his own. He has the Next Gen car to thank for that.
"Fifteen winners or 16? That's a testament to this car and Next Gen and how competitive the field is," Dillon said. "I don't think there's any other form of motorsport that has this type of competitiveness week-in and week-out."
"You go to qualify at Watkins Glen, and from first to 20th, you look at the time sheet, and you are holding your breath for a hundredth (of a second) to move you up five spots. It's what the Cup Series is supposed to be. It's challenging. You never give up because that's kind of what this year has told me."
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