The inaugural race weekend at the newly designed Charlotte Motor Speedway infield road course, otherwise known as the Roval, was full of hype and excitement, and for Richard Childress Racing it had an added emphasis as the NASCAR Playoffs continued for Austin Dillon and Xfinity Series drivers Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft.
For Dillon and the Cup Series team, Sunday’s race on the Roval marked the final race of Round 1 of the Playoffs. At the end of the race, four drivers would be eliminated from championship contention. For much of the afternoon, Dillon and his No. 3 Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 were above the cut line and having a solid outing.
Dillon’s Solid Playoffs Run Falters
However, with 60 laps complete, Dillon was catching Chris Buescher on the oval Turns 3 and 4 when his No. 37 Chevrolet bobbled under the No. 3 Chevrolet. Dillon did his best to avoid contact with Buescher but instead hit the outside wall.
The team was able to make repairs and send the No. 3 Dow Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 back on the track, but his rough day was not over yet. Less than 10 laps later, Dillon cut a tire and hit the outside wall again.
The damage from the second contact was much worse than the initial contact and Dillon took the car behind the wall. Despite staying ahead of the cutline for much of the afternoon, Dillon’s 39th-place finish officially eliminated him from playoff contention.
“First of all, I’ve got to thank everybody at Dow, American Ethanol, and Chevrolet for this year,” said Dillon. “I was having a good run and the No. 37 (Buescher), I went through (Turns) 3 and 4 and I knew I didn’t even make a mistake and I didn’t think that was how I was going to make a mistake. He flicked the wheel right in the middle of the corner, and when he did, I checked and smacked the outside wall and just couldn’t save it, there. And, we fixed it.
“I came back up through there and jumped the curb and I think that’s what cut my tire down going into (Turns) 3 and 4. I should have just been more patient and waited for more attrition to go out. But I actually felt pretty comfortable and running good.
“It’s just hard to hold back in a treacherous race; and I guess I didn’t do what we needed to do,” said Dillon.
It’s never fun to be knocked out of anything. I’m proud of my team for the effort they put in to the playoffs. We pushed hard every lap and put ourselves in a great position to move on to round 2. It didn’t work out but @RCRracing is ready to finish the year strong. #GiiC
— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) October 1, 2018
Dillon qualified for the NASCAR Playoffs by winning the 60th running of the Daytona 500 in February. The dramatic victory was the second Cup Series win of Dillon’s career and saw the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet return to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 20 years after Dale Earnhardt accomplished the feat in 1998.
Xfinity Series Teams Shine
While Dillon was eliminated from playoff contention at Charlotte, the Xfinity Series teams had another strong outing. Charlotte was the second race of the opening round for Hemric and Tifft, and both drivers emerged from the Roval event with strong runs and a solid points situation heading into the cutoff race this weekend at Dover International Speedway.
Hemric’s No. 21 South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet was one of the fastest cars throughout the entire weekend at the Roval. He was quick in practice, qualified second, led laps and earned the Stage 1 win. While racing for the lead with Chase Briscoe late in the race, Hemric’s car slid through the frontstretch chicane, which resulted in a stop-and-go penalty on the track. Hemric slipped to 17th but fought his way back to 10th by the end of the day.
“I didn’t make a mistake all weekend and, unfortunately, when I didn’t need to make one, I did,” said Hemric. “I just wheel-hopped it going into the last chicane chasing the No. 98 (Briscoe) for the lead and ran through the grass. That led to a stop-and-go penalty on the track and dropped us well outside the top 10 with only a handful of laps to go. I’m frustrated with myself and no one else.
“I had a car that should have won this race today. I’m proud of everyone on this South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet team for putting forth the effort and for giving me a race car that I could contend with. This thing was unbelievable longer into a run,” said Hemric.
Coming on strong at the right time, Hemric has led in five of the last six races and has worked his way to second in the Xfinity Series Playoffs. Heading into Dover, Hemric is 30 points ahead of the cutline.
“What I am not frustrated with is how hard these RCR guys are working to bring fast race cars week-in and week-out,” he said. “If we can limit our mistakes, we will keep contending for wins and we hope to do that to close out this first round of the playoffs next weekend at Dover.”
For Tifft, Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at the Roval was quiet, consistent and just what was needed. Starting seventh, Tifft was able to avoid any issues throughout the course of the day and was a factor at the front of the field for the entirety of the race. By finishing the day in the sixth position, Tifft moved up one spot in the playoff standings and is now fifth, 13 points ahead of the cutline.
“That was exactly what we needed out of today with our No. 2 Nexteer Chevrolet Camaro – a quiet day. No one really knew how this race was going to go, so I’m proud to come out of there pretty much unscathed with how on edge every single lap was here,” said Tifft.
“My crew chief Randall (Burnett) and the team really did a great job getting the balance of our Camaro better and better throughout the weekend,” he said. “The car felt the best it had all weekend at the end of the race. I was just a tad too loose to really push for more spots in the closing laps, but we will take sixth and move on to next weekend.”
Headed into what he considers his favorite track on the schedule, Tifft is optimistic he has what it takes to advance to the Round of 8 after Saturday’s 200-lap event at Dover International Speedway.
P6 today! Solid run and recovery by our group, it certainly was a challenge getting the handle of the Roval. Looking forward 2 Dover seeded 5th in the standings right now. Hopefully our speed is as quick as it was in the spring- just like @XfinityRacing internet! #Rally2gether pic.twitter.com/230W78HHwl
— Matt Tifft (@matt_tifft) September 29, 2018