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Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick have proven to be extremely competitive to start the 2022 season, particularly last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in California when both drivers had a chance to win the race.
Both had fast cars in the season opener at Daytona but neither was able to complete all the laps, with Dillon finishing 25th and Reddick 35th.
Last weekend, saw far better results for the RCR duo.
Reddick won the race’s first two stages and led a race-high 90 of 200 laps until he was caught up in an accident on Lap 152, which left him with a 24th-place finish. Dillon, however, picked up where Reddick left off and made a late charge, nearly running down race winner Kyle Larson on the final lap before settling for the runner-up finish.
Everyone has pretty much the same stuff, it’s just how you assemble it
Austin Dillon on new car
While Dillon sits 14th in the series standings and Reddick 21st entering this weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it’s clear – at least so far – RCR is reaping benefits from the Next Gen car.
“RCR and ECR – we definitely tried to be the guys to embrace this new car the earliest in the process,” Dillon said. “I think some of the teams probably didn’t embrace it as much as we did. We saw it coming and tried to put a lot of effort into it from the beginning.
“I really love working with Tyler. He’s a great teammate and I think we both do each other some good. We have different thought processes on things and I think that allows us to kind of open our minds and push each other in different ways.
“I was bummed for him last week. I felt like that was his first win coming, for sure. Then all of a sudden, we popped up there and had a great shot at winning it.”
It’s not just the two main RCR teams which are looking good to start the year. Two organizations RCR provides technical support to – Petty GMS Motorsports and Kaulig Racing – have also run strong so far.
Last weekend, Erik Jones led 18 laps and finished third PGM while Hemric rallied from six laps down to finish ninth. Jones is currently sixth in the series standings.
“Some of our other affiliates looked really good last week with Erik Jones and Daniel Hemric getting another top-10. We’re in a good place right now,” Dillon said. “It’s still early in the season, but I like where we’re at and we just have to keep progressing.
“We definitely feel as though RCR should be a force to be reckoned with. We’ve always felt that way and now is an opportunity to take advantage of this early start and keep working hard.”
Leveling the playing field
Dillon, 31, who has three career wins in the Cup Series, is a firm believer that the Next Gen car has helped level the playing field – at least temporarily.
“You’re going to see different guys perform at different tracks I think throughout the year. The guys that have tracks that they’re good at are going to show up,” he said. “I think with the old car, there was so much of an aerodynamic balance that you had to be good on a consistent basis.
“This new car is going to level the playing field. That’s what it was kind of built for. Everyone has pretty much the same stuff, it’s just how you assemble it and the set-up choices you make going into the race.
“There’s a lot being learned at a high rate right now, so we’re trying to take in all that data the best we can – as our company can – and make the best decisions going into the race so that we can adjust and make our car a little bit better than the other guys.”
Aside from the improvement in the on-track product, RCR has also produced some of the best pit crew performances so far this season.
Reddick’s team last Sunday was stunning – in seven consecutive stops his pit crew got him first off pit road, which is what helped him dominate the first two stages of the race.
After some early struggles in the race, Dillon’s crew also gained him numerous positions on pit road which ultimately gave him the opportunity to challenge Larson for the win at the end.
“I bragged in my interview after the race (on Sunday). I couldn’t believe how good our pit crews were,” Dillon said. “It was a pleasure to come down pit road when a caution came out. The guys in the off season put in a lot of work.
“Adjustments and where you park in the pit stall really matter. So, getting stopped correctly (in the pit stall) helps those guys tremendously. They have a really hard job of hitting perfect hangs and getting those lugs off and not leaving a wheel loose.
“A lot goes into that to be fast and trying to be perfect at the same time.”