Austin Dillon has speed, but no wins
Austin Dillon isn't going to downplay it. Winning four poles consecutively would be a decidedly big deal.
"We're out here trying to break records and create a name for ourselves," said Dillon, who could break a six-way tie for the Nationwide Series record with Sam Ard, Trevor Bayne, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Michael Waltrip at Michigan International Speedway this weekend. "That group of people is an awesome group of people to be held up against, so if we can go out there and break that six-way tie that it is right now in the Nationwide Series for poles, it would be amazing."
And beneficial, as Dillon attempts to garner his first win of the season in a field again dotted with Sprint Cup regulars, including Kyle Busch, who has won six of 12 events this season. The grandson of team owner Richard Childress hasn't converted a pole to a win this season, but was second last week at Iowa after leading 207 of 250 laps. Qualifying, he said, seems natural from his upbringing racing Late Models on dirt.
"[Crew chief] Danny Stockman does a good job with giving me something I'm very comfortable with during qualifying," said Dillon, who won the Nationwide pole at Michigan last year in a record lap of 190.375 mph. "It just comes to me naturally from dirt racing. I've sat on a lot of poles in dirt cars.
"One of my favorite things to look back on, I sat the pole for the World 100, one of the toughest dirt races out there at Eldora, and qualifying has just been something that I feel like getting in the car that I can go out there and hold it wide open for a lap or be in the gas the longest is something that's been pretty simple for me. But right now it's just making sure that we can do that throughout a run and be fast over a long period of time."
Dillon seemingly has a finite amount of time to learn in the Nationwide Series, as Childress said his team needs to decide by August how to replace Sprint Cup veteran Kevin Harvick in the No. 29 Chevrolet. The two-time Nationwide Series champion will leave RCR after 15 seasons for Stewart-Haas Racing.
Childress said the team is considering "internal and external" candidates and has narrowed its wish list to two or three. That list would figure to include Dillon, who is running a limited Cup schedule this season in conjunction with his second Nationwide campaign in the No. 3 Chevrolet. Dillon, the 2011 Truck series champion, is fourth in points after finishing third last season.
[Crew chief] Danny Stockman does a good job with giving me something I'm very comfortable with during qualifying. It just comes to me naturally from dirt racing. I've sat on a lot of poles in dirt cars.” -- Austin Dillon
"I think most of all is these races that we have this year is to run all the laps," Dillon said. "I think it's very important to gain experience throughout a full run. You go through lots of changes in a Cup race where you have many stops, pit stops and changes, so the cars change a lot more throughout a long run, and just trying to keep up with those and making sure we don't get out early in these Cup races where we can't use that experience to help us for next year."
Nationwide Series points leader Regan Smith enters Saturday's race (2:30 p.m. ET, ABC) 23 points ahead of Sam Hornish Jr., having averaged a finish of 6.2 in producing 10 consecutive top-10s, including a win at Talladega.
Hornish, racing at what he considers his home track -- about 70 miles from his home of Defiance, Ohio -- is looking to shave more points off Smith's margin after finishing fourth last week at Iowa. Hornish had made 16 starts in three regimens at the 2-mile Michigan track, his best finish a runner-up in a 2003 IndyCar event. He was fifth there in Cup in 2009.
Hornish thinks -- or at least hopes -- a runner-up finish at Auto Club Speedway earlier this season will correlate with a strong effort at the similar Michigan venue.
"We had a fast Ford Mustang at Fontana earlier this year, and we have been working hard to improve," he said. "The surface at Michigan is much different from California, but we have had fast cars all year and I expect that will continue. As long as we make the right calls during the race and execute in the pits, we should be good."
Hornish's teammate, Joey Logano, won the Michigan race last season with Joe Gibbs Racing and is slated to make a defense for Penske. Logano, who has an average finish of 2.5 in four starts this season, will cede the No. 22 Ford to AJ Allmendinger (Road America) and Brad Keselowski (Kentucky) until the July race at Daytona International Speedway.