Austin Dillon drove Michael Annett’s No. 1 Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet to an 11th-place finish on Saturday in the NASCAR Xfinity Series event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, despite finding out 20 minutes before the green flag that he would be racing. Annett sustained a leg injury and could not start the race, and Dillon agreed to fill in for him, getting fitted into the seat on pit road in the run-up to the start. Stage One Finish: 10th While the No. 1 car with Annett aboard was slotted to start from the sixth position, the driver change meant that Dillon would start his first NXS race since 2019 from the tail of the 40-car field. It took the NASCAR Cup Series driver some time to get used to the cockpit controls, and prior to dropping back to the tail of the field, he pitted to make sure the cool-suit controls were operating correctly on a very hot afternoon. Once the green flag waved, Dillon started to move forward, gaining 11 positions on the first lap of green-flag racing. By lap 10, he had risen to 25th and was 24th when the competition caution waved at lap 20. Dillon told crew chief Mike Bumgarner that the Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet was a touch free on entry to the corners, but otherwise good. Firing off from 20th, Dillon started to move up the order right away, making his way into the top 15 just five circuits later. With five laps remaining in the 40-lap Stage One, Dillon was 12th, and he took 10th place on the final lap when JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier suffered damage to his right front tire. Since Dillon does not run for NXS points, however, the single bonus point was not awarded. Under the caution, Dillon told Bumgarner that the car was a little loose on the bottom, and the crew chief responded with four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help the handling. The Pilot Flying J pit crew performed a quick stop and got their driver back out in ninth position for Stage Two. Stage Two Finish: 10th As Stage Two got under way at lap 47, Dillon maintained his position in the top 10 over the first five laps before a caution flag waved for an accident on the front straightaway. Firing off from ninth position when the green flag replaced the yellow at lap 56, Dillon gained two positions on the first lap of full-speed racing. He was running eighth when another caution flag waved for a spin off Turn 4. Dillon would stay in the top 10 for the remainder of the stage and wound up 10th again at the green-and-white checkered flag on lap 80, losing ninth on the final circuit when Justin Haley managed to get past. Under caution, Dillon told Bumgarner that the Pilot Flying J Spicy Chicken Sandwich Chevrolet was tighter than it needed to be, especially if he wanted to run the top line later in the race. Bumgarner went back on the adjustment he’d made on the first pit stop and gave his driver four fresh tires, fuel and a cold water. The pit crew again stepped up with a fast stop, sending Dillon out in eighth position for the final segment. Final Stage: After taking the green flag to start the final stage in eighth, Dillon dropped to 11th on the first lap before catching the rhythm and driving back up to eighth at lap 92. The caution flag waved again five laps later, which put the team inside its fuel window to the end of the race. Bumgarner elected to bring Dillon to pit road for one of his two remaining sets of Goodyear tires, a splash of fuel and one more adjustment, returning the 2018 Daytona 500 Champion to the track in 12th position. As had been the case all day, Dillon moved up quickly to eighth position on the first lap of green and cracked the top five for the first time on the day two laps later. He would stay in fifth until lap 120, when the caution flag waved again for a crash in Turn 3. With a set of tires to use, Bumgarner called Dillon down pit road with the leaders once again to put them on. Dillon had asked for some help on entry and Bumgarner made a chassis adjustment to do that and to cure a slight loose condition, sending him back on track in eighth position. Dillon was able to pick off two positions in the first handful of laps under green and was running fifth at lap 148 when the yellow waved again for a single-car crash on the backstretch. With no sticker tires remaining to put on, Bumgarner glued up a set of scuffed tires with 10 laps on them for Dillon to help make up the difference and get the team to the end of the race. Dillon chose the top line for the restart at lap 153, 10 laps from the scheduled end of the race, directly behind leader Kyle Weatherman. Needing to get past the slower car as quickly as possible, Dillon managed to get to the bottom line but lost momentum as the bottom line got rolling sooner. Weatherman fell back through the field on the top line and was struck by two cars, causing another caution. Firing off from the top line for the ensuing restart, Dillon was in good position to advance, but leader Daniel Hemric veered up the track from a push by teammate Kyle Busch and hit the wall, bringing out the final caution of the day. On the restart, Dillon chose the top line and fired off well, but got taken four wide into Turn 2 and lost several positions. He recovered and finished 11th. Busch won the race over Jeb Burton, JR Motorsports’ Noah Gragson, Haley and Ty Dillon. Brett Moffitt was sixth, with JRM’s Justin Allgaier, Jeremy Clements, JRM’s Sam Mayer and Austin Cindric the rest of the top 10.
“At the end of the race, that was kind of the situation we found ourselves in. I should have followed the 11 (Justin Haley). As soon as I went to the top the momentum just died. It’s been a while since I’ve driven in the Xfinity Series, but it was fun and I learned a lot for tomorrow. I hate that Michael (Annett) was injured, but I was happy to sit in for him today.” - Austin Dillon