Unlike most sports where you have a bench and backups, in motorsports, if you are injured and need a replacement, there are no immediate backups that can just jump in and understand everything that’s required to do a good respectable job. That’s not how it works in racing.
In the case of Tony Stewart, who broke his leg in a sprint car crash a week ago and will miss the Chase, a business decision regarding who would replace the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion was made … and it was an easy one.
Austin Dillon, who holds an ever-so-slight lead in the Nationwide series, will drive at Michigan International Speedway this Sunday in the #14 Bass Pro Shop Chevrolet for Stewart Haas Racing (SHR). Dillon is a relatively young but accomplished driver, who not only leads the Nationwide series but is a past NASCAR champion in the Truck series from 2011. Also, Dillon has experience at Michigan where he already has two races under his belt driving in Sprint Cup. However, these aren’t likely the biggest reasons Dillon will be in Stewart’s car this coming weekend.
The #14s major sponsor is Bass Pro Shop which just happens to be Dillon’s main sponsor, as well, in the Nationwide series. Who says sponsors don’t have a say in racing. Greg Zipadelli, Competition Director at SHR, said, “If you look at the record and how he’s done, he runs good at Michigan, and he’s young. He’s ready to rock and roll and we’re ready to see what we can accomplish this weekend.”
Good at Michigan
Indeed, the 23 year old Dillon who drives for his grandfather Richard Childress has done a commendable job at the two-mile D-shaped oval at Michigan. He finished seventh earlier this year in a Cup race and last year had a top five in the Nationwide event. In addition, Dillon has had the last two Nationwide poles at Michigan, plus he had the pole in the Truck race back in 2010. Another connection to keep in mind is that Childress is a friend of Bass Pro Shop owner Johnny Morris.
This will be a busy weekend for Dillon because he will also be competing Saturday at Mid-Ohio in the Nationwide race. The two tracks aren’t that far apart – at about 150 miles as the crow flies or just under an hour’s flight time. Whether he fills in any more this year for SHR is questionable. Max Papis filled in this past Sunday at Watkins Glen and finished 15th.
Stewart was released from the hospital Sunday evening but the team will know more after Wednesday when Stewart has his next doctor’s appointment. The upcoming race following Michigan is Bristol; and although there’s been no driver announced for that race with the #14 car, it’s possible that Dillon may be a substitute at the fast half-mile track as well.
Additional sources: NASCAR
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