When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series returns to the historic Darlington Raceway every Labor Day weekend, each team participates in a throwback event to pay homage to the sport's past. This season, Ty Dillon and Germain Racing chose to highlight the No. 13 Chevrolet from 1963, driven by Johnny Rutherford and owned by Smokey Yunick.
With Rutherford in attendance and Dillon participating in his first Bojangles' Southern 500, the 25-year-old asked for insight prior to the start of Sunday evening's race. Rutherford's words of advice were simple: "Just finish." Dillon did just that, without putting a scratch on the GEICO Chevrolet throughout the entire 500-mile event at the track dubbed 'Too Tough to Tame', and crossed the finish line in the 13th position. The result matches Dillon's career best MENCS finish, which came earlier this season at Talladega Superspeedway in the GEICO 500.
"It was a good night. For my first Southern 500, I enjoyed it," said Dillon, after the race. "I love this racetrack. I just love when you come to a track and the tires get worn out and you must be patient. You have to treat that throttle pedal like an egg, so you can really make a lot of difference on a long run. That was what we were able to do tonight with our GEICO Chevrolet. I'm just proud of these guys. We had a good piece in practice and it was nice to have a really solid weekend through and through. When you add in the honor of representing a racecar from years past that was driven by Johnny Rutherford and fielded by Smokey Yunick - it really adds to the great night for our GEICO team here at Darlington. We have good momentum going back to Richmond, which is another track we ran really well at earlier this season. I'm excited for the end of the year."
Rolling from the 25th starting position, Dillon knew the keys to the first two stages were to avoid contact with the outside wall and take care of his tires. By lap 50, the GEICO Chevrolet held the 16th position and was knocking on the door for a spot inside the top-15. While running "lap times as fast as the leader", Dillon continued his forward march and when the opening stage concluded on lap 100, the young gun ran in the 15th position.
Over the next 100 laps, Dillon consistently ran inside the top-18, while managing the racetrack and his tire wear. Crew chief Bootie Barker, called for wedge adjustments, which helped the overall handling condition and allowed the GEICO Chevrolet to gain speed as green flag runs ensued. When the sixth caution slowed the pace at the end of stage two, a fast pit stop by the Germain Racing over-the-wall crew allowed Dillon to take off from the 14th position on lap 205. In just one lap, the Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender gained two positions to move into 12th-place.
As the laps clicked away and varying tire strategies developed, Dillon remained poised for a solid finish. Barker called the No. 13 machine to pit road for the final time on lap 300, for a scheduled green flag stop. Once the field cycled through, Dillon remained in the 15th position with 50 laps to go. Over the final circuits, the black-and-gold throwback Chevrolet continued to post solid lap times, while Dillon managed older tires compared to those who had fresher rubber. When the checkered flag flew at the Lady in Black, Dillon brought home a 13th-place finish.
"I'm really proud of what we accomplished this weekend," said crew chief Bootie Barker, after the race. "In Bristol, we made some mistakes, small mistakes, that really stacked up. This whole week, the execution was great. We weren't perfect, but we executed very well and got a great result with the GEICO Chevrolet."
Dillon and the No. 13 GEICO team will now head to the commonwealth of Virginia for the final regular season event on the 2017 schedule. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will take to Richmond Raceway on Friday, September 8th for opening practice at 10:00 am ET, with qualifying scheduled to take place later that evening at 5:45 pm ET.
The green flag will fly for the Federated Auto Parts 400 on Saturday, September 9th at 7:30 pm ET. NBC Sports Network will carry the live television broadcast, with the Motor Racing Network and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio, Channel 90, carrying the live radio broadcast.