Ty Dillon, driver of the No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), finished 15th in Sunday’s Good Sam 500k NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona.
It was a strong, steady performance for the 24-year-old Dillon who made just his tenth career Sprint Cup start Sunday on one of the sport’s more difficult tracks.
“It was a solid day. It was exactly what I wanted as a driver coming here,” Dillon said. “We stayed on the lead lap and finished in the top 15 and brought back a car these guys can improve. I learned so much today as a driver.”
Dillon started 28th and quickly gained spots despite reporting a tight-handling car. A quick pit stop during a caution saw the No. 14 jump from 20th to 17th for the lap 57 restart. Dillon’s lap times were as quick at the top-five cars, but getting track position would be the key to success in the race.
Quick pit work during a lap 106 caution allowed Dillon to move from 17th to 16th. Throughout the race, the No. 14 crew worked to make Dillon’s car handle better on the flat mile oval. The changes helped as Dillon stayed patient and worked his way to 15th just past the halfway mark.
Dillon took great care of his tires throughout the 500-kilometer race. Several drivers saw their races end prematurely when bead failure led to accidents. For the first two-thirds of the race the 39-car field could not log more than about 60 consecutive green flag laps without a caution. That changed at the end of the race when it looked like the final 80 laps would run caution free. Kasey Kahne’s spin with four laps remaining brought out a yellow flag sending the race into overtime.
Dillon pitted for four new tires and restarted the overtime in 16th. Despite some wild racing over the final two laps, Dillon survived the overtime even gaining a spot in the process and earning the praise of boss Tony Stewart.
“That’s a really good job today,” Stewart told Dillon over the team radio. “I’m very proud of you bud.”
Dillon returned the praise.
“I just can’t thank Stewart-Haas for the opportunity. It was a lot of fun working with these guys. I look forward to doing it again.”
Sunday’s 15th-place finish nearly equaled Dillon’s career best of 14th-place he earned in June 2015 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. It was an all-around successful weekend for Dillon. He finished sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race on Saturday at PIR and remained third in points.
Dillon and Brian Vickers have served as substitute drivers in 2016 for Stewart, who sustained a burst fracture of the L1 vertebra in a Jan. 31 all-terrain vehicle accident. Stewart was recently evaluated by doctors who have implemented a rehabilitation regimen that will hasten his recovery. Future evaluations will be necessary before a timetable is known for Stewart’s return to racing. However, a full recovery is expected for the three-time Sprint Cup champion, as is a return to the No. 14 Chevrolet this season.
Sunday marked Dillon’s second 2016 start in the No. 14. He finished 17th at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Feb. 28. Vickers finished 26th in the Daytona 500 and 36th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last Sunday after a broken rear gear forced him to the garage for several laps.