HAMPTON, Ga. — Austin Dillon won the Daytona 500, and he has heard the talk that he will be a one-race wonder this season.
Dillon, who won on a fuel-mileage gamble last year at Charlotte, said he heard driver Brad Keselowski and crew chief Chad Knaus asked on an FS1 show whether Dillon would win again this year. Both of them indicated he wouldn’t.
He knows where they’re coming from because the nature of restrictor-plate racing on the high-banked speedways at Daytona and Talladega, but that doesn’t mean he won’t use it for motivation.
“[Them] saying that we weren’t going to win again, that was good to hear,” Dillon said prior to practice Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “That was something to get me fired up a little bit more. … [I need to] just go out and prove them wrong, stay focused and do my job and work hard.
“The one thing they don’t have that we do have is a win.”
The Richard Childress Racing driver finished 11th in the standings last year but with just four top-10 finishes.
“We’ve got to step up, though, at RCR,” Dillon said. “We still have got a lot to prove. This [was] a speedway race [at Daytona], even though it’s the biggest race in our deal. … I’m not going to lie — I’m tired right now.
“But we’re going to kick butt this weekend and then get back and regroup.”
Dillon hopes the team’s tight-knit group will build off the Daytona 500 win. He already has committed to buying all RCR employees — he said there are about 425 of them — rings for winning the Daytona 500.
“It’s going to hurt [my wallet] a little bit, but it’s worth it,” he said. “I’m a believer in you give back — I’ve been given a lot, and the blessing keeps on returning itself. It’s a big morale booster for all those guys.
“It will be a pretty big check I’ll have to dish out. Jostens, if you’re listening, we can do some sort of social media deal or something to get a good deal on those rings.”
He also was reunited this week with 11-year-old Jordan Wade, who gave him a lucky penny Feb. 10, the day before the exhibition Clash at Daytona after Dillon offered him a hat if he would root for him. When Dale Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500, he got a penny from a young girl and he glued it to his dash, so Dillon glued that penny from the boy to the dash for good luck in the Clash.
After wrecking his primary car in the qualifying race three days before the Daytona 500, Dillon wanted the car from the Clash, which he drove to a fifth-place finish. That Clash car, with the penny still on the dash, ended up winning the Daytona 500.
Wade visited the RCR shop Wednesday to surprise Dillon.
“He comes up beside me and says, ‘You’re welcome,'” Dillon said. “I’m like, ‘That’s cool.’ I had no clue he was going to be there. … That probably was one of the most special things of the whole week, taking him through the shop and putting him into the race car.
“He was so gracious and thankful for that moment. It made me realize how blessed I am.”