Austin Dillon is looking for a strong finish this weekend to keep his Chase for the Sprint Cup series berth alive. (Special Photo: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
HAMPTON — The Oral-B USA 500 figures to be a win at all costs event for drivers with Chase for the Sprint Cup championship berth aspirations.
Some veteran drivers are on the outside looking in as only two races remain before the 10-race championship grid is set.
Two-time Atlanta winner Kasey Kahne is on the list of drivers likely to be heavily motivated to contend for a race victory this weekend.
He had a strong run last week at Bristol before mechanical problems spoiled his chances.
Rookies Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon are close to qualifying. No rookie has ever made the Chase field.
With that being said, Dillon says he feels no pressure about Sunday’s nighttime race. Coming into Atlanta Motor Speedway, Dillon is in the 14th spot, 40 points out of a spot in the Chase.
He finished 19th in his Sprint Cup debut a year ago. He is coming off a finish of 28th as early-race damage started his night off on the wrong foot, and early adversity proved to be too much to overcome at Bristol last week.
But Dillon did a test drive at AMS earlier this month, and is confident that he learned from that session.
“Our teams did learn a lot during the test,” Dillon said. “It was definitely helpful. Atlanta is one of those places that can be very frustrating and very fun at the same time. I really enjoy it at night, and I’m ready to get there.”
Dillon will be driving the No. 3 car made famous by legendary driver Dale Earnhardt. It will be the first time that No. 3 has been at AMS since Earnhardt’s tragic death in 2001 in Daytona.
Dillon races for his grandfather’s Richard Childress Racing team. Childress used the No. 3 during his racing days, but it was made famous by Earnhardt.
“Austin is doing a good job,” AMS president and general manager Ed Clark said. “He is the natural choice to bring it back. He understands all the history and the importance of the No. 3 car to NASCAR.”
It will be a special night for the Dillon family as Austin’s younger brother, Ty, will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut this weekend.
“It’s going to be a pretty special moment when I make those first few laps this weekend, ones that I won’t forget,” Ty said. “I’ve been fortunate enough in my racing career to have great opportunities like this one. I’m looking forward to racing the No. 33 Realtree/Rheem Chevrolet under the lights on Labor Day weekend.”
The 22-year-old competes full time on the Nationwide Series and won a race at Indianapolis earlier this year.
Jamie McMurray comes to the track with some momentum and motivation. He finished eighth at Bristol and needs a win to get into the Chase. He is 60 points out of the Chase, but has four top 10 finishes at AMS in 20 starts.
“I feel like our cars have been really good at the mile and a half, all of them this year,” McMurray said. “That’s a little bit of a unique track because we only go there once a year. It certainly is — has the most fall-off of any track we go to as far as the tires go. So it’s just like anywhere else. It will be like being in the right position after the last pit stop and hoping everything falls your way.”