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June 26, 2013

Kentucky Speedway has been Kind to Austin Dillon

The season recaps from the mouths of rising racing stars James Buescher and Austin Dillon sound like replicas of each other.

Flat tires, surprising breaks in the weather and unfortunate positioning laced a season in which both drivers missed out on an elusive victory.

Great cars, pole sitters, bad luck.

That’s why these drivers and their crews can’t wait to arrive in Sparta, where both completed sweeps of their series’ two events at Kentucky Speedway last year.

“Everybody gets really excited because we’ve had good luck there in the past,” said the 23-year-old Dillon, whose only two Nationwide Series victories came at last year’s Feed the Children 300 in June and Kentucky 300 in September. “Any time you win at a place, you love it. I have other tracks I love, but that one’s very close to me because I got the two biggest wins of my career here.”

Buescher, 22, won the Camping World Trucks races, the UNOH 225 and Kentucky 201, for two of his four victories en route to the series title last year. He had 10 top-fives and 14 top-10s in 2012, but this season he has yet to crack the top five in seven starts.

Having also won an ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway in 2009, he has found a track that fits his strengths.

“It’s a place I feel like suits me,” said Buescher, who drives the No. 31 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevy. “It’s pretty flat; it’s a tough racetrack. There’s a lot of character to it, a lot of bumps and things you have to negotiate well. Just a place I guess I have figured out.”

He’ll line up in Thursday’s race hoping to ascend from the fifth spot in the standings. Dillon, running the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series for a second season after capturing his own truck series title in 2011, doesn’t need to dig as far from his fourth-place standing. He merely needs qualifying times to transfer into race day.

Dillon set a Nationwide Series record by sitting on the pole four consecutive weeks, capped by Michigan. He leads the series in average race start (3.9) by nearly three spots in his 13 races. He not only owns the highest rate of laps led (13 percent), but Sam Hornish Jr. (11.6 percent) is the only driver at more than 2.6 percent.
Yet despite all those sparkling stats to complement consistently fast cars, Dillon arrives without a victory.

“Everybody is working hard together; we just are struggling to have things go our way,” Dillon said. “When it turns, it’s going to be bad news for the rest of the teams out there.”

And very good news for his hopes of earning a full-time Sprint Cup gig. The grandson of team owner Richard Childress proved he belonged by beating Cup drivers Kurt Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski at last year’s Feed the Children 300. And he didn’t just beat them. He led 192 laps, a Nationwide record for Kentucky Speedway.

Dillon hopes to find his way to racing with the big boys on a regular basis by next year, but he knows he still needs to prove he can handle the elite level. He finished a career-best 11th at Michigan in his seventh Sprint Cup start.

“It’s getting better each time we go,” Dillon said. “Just learning. Every little bit counts in that Cup race; you have to make no mistakes. The little things still we are rough at, but we are getting better.”

Buescher and Dillon will pull in to Sparta hoping to replay the magic that jump-started last season. The 2012 double sweep could be classified as coincidence, but considering the negative mojo surrounding their 2013 campaigns, they’ll happily plug into whatever positive vibes exist.

“Maybe we’ll be able to continue our streak at Kentucky and make it three in a row,” Buescher said.

Click here to read this article as it appeared in the Louisville Courier-Journal

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