Monte Dutton column: Turns Out The Thief Was Dillon

Esteemed racing writer and author Monte Dutton is covering the Coca-Cola 600 for this website. Here’s his final post from the weekend.

By Monte Dutton

When the wrong guy wins, it’s interesting. It’s not exciting. Wrong guy, interesting, beats right guy, boring. It’s similar to the way a flush beats a straight.

What if it’s the wrong guy, once removed? All the more fun for the wee hours.

Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday night and Monday morning. He drove No. 3. It’s been a while for No. 3. Talladega in 2000. Cat named Earnhardt.

“It hasn’t sunk in, by no means,” Dillon said.

Later, he added, “To be quite honest with you, we had an argument, full-on, face-to-face, with my grandfather, this week, about the performance of the car.”

Cat named Childress. Richard Childress. Won six championships (out of seven) with the cat named Earnhardt. He’s got a pair of grandsons who like to go fast. One never went faster.

“We’re not down,” Childress said. “We’ve got everything we need to win.”

“We did our job,” Dillon said. “We had a chance to win, and we did what it took to do so. The 600 is a lengthy race, and you can’t afford mistakes. We didn’t make them.”

Martin Truex Jr. dominated the race. He finished third.

“Two out of the past three (600s), we lost it on (fuel) mileage,” said Truex, who was gracious.

Jimmie Johnson was the chief suspect in the impending theft. What he wound up stealing was 17th place, citing first gas and then lack thereof.

Dillon? Dillon? Where’d he come from? The far side of Johnson, that’s where.

It appeared as if the thief in the night with enough gas in the getaway car was Johnson. Johnson’s crew chief is Chad Knaus, Super Genius. For once, Knaus was Wile E. Coyote, not James Bond. Johnson’s Chevy crashed into a canyon floor because his Acme parachute was an anvil.

Okay, Johnson’s Chevy ran out of fuel. Dillon’s didn’t. Who knew Dillon, the Roadrunner, was lurking in the shadows, waiting to go beep-beep?

Truex was supposed to be the Roadrunner. He wasn’t supposed to lose. The Roadrunner is a cartoon. It’s not supposed to be complex. The Coca-Cola 600 wasn’t a whodunit. It was a who-won-it. Truex led 233 of the 400 laps. Last year he led 392 laps. He won that one.

If watching the wrong guy win strikes your fancy, the Coca-Cola 600 was the race for you.

Kyle Busch was so overjoyed to finish second that he threw a tantrum in the media center. After basically daring anyone there to give him an opportunity to bite off their head, he slinked away to a nearby swamp to feed on lizards.

Six words he spat out. “I’m not surprised about anything. Congratulations.”

Then there was a crashing sound.

This was the most valuable race in the regular season. The race drivers were like truckers. They got mileage (especially Dillon). The race had four segments, not three, which, in turn, meant it awarded three sets of bonus points, not two. It’s a step in evolution. Before 2004, all races were created equal. Then playoff races became gold. Now the Coca-Cola 600 is silver, but only by a little.

The night’s first and almost only excitement occurred on the 20th lap, when apparently something approximating a manhole cover, or, more likely, a gong, clanged out from under Jeffrey Earnhardt’s Chevrolet and very nearly brought another, driven by Chase Elliott, to a stop. Brad Keselowski’s Ford struck Elliott’s Chevy, and it wasn’t a tap. One day Elliott may drive a tank, but a stock car can’t withstand such fierce impact.

Later the track went wet for one hour, 39 minutes, 56 seconds.

All those Air Titans were scarcely needed. Truex mopped the track with the rest of the field.

Into all lives, some rain must fall. For the Coke 600, though, it wasn’t in the budget. The thunder rolled, and the lightning struck. Ladies and gentlemen, there is lightning in the area! Just being the longest stock car race in the world wasn’t enough. God was in a whimsical mood.

2017 NASCAR Playoff Picks

Here are my picks for the 2017 NASCAR Cup playoffs (alphabetical order):

  • Clint Bowyer
  • Kurt Busch
  • Kyle Busch
  • Austin Dillon
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  • Chase Elliott
  • Denny Hamlin
  • Kevin Harvick
  • Jimmie Johnson
  • Kasey Kahne
  • Matt Kenseth
  • Brad Keselowski
  • Kyle Larson
  • Joey Logano
  • Jamie McMurray
  • Martin Truex Jr.

A few expanded predictions:

— Clint Bowyer will get back to his old competitive self after joining Stewart-Haas Racing. By September, any hiccups SHR has in the transition to Ford will be forgotten.

— Four Toyotas will make it, but rookies Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez will barely miss out because of a few late-race mistakes.

— All four Hendrick drivers will be in the playoff, including Kasey Kahne after his best season in several years. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finish the regular season within the top 10 in points.

— Both Chip Ganassi Racing drivers will be in and Kyle Larson will win two times in the regular season.

— Austin Dillon will win his first Cup race by late August.

— Overall, Hendrick Motorsports will be the best team in the regular season (with Jimmie Johnson having the most wins), followed by Team Penske. Joe Gibbs Racing will experience a slight drop-off after two great years, just part of the usual cycle in racing.

— I hate leaving Ryan Blaney out, but I’m not a Blaney detractor. I picked him to make it last year, and it’s certainly possible he could have a great year.

Joey Logano will win his first championship in 2017.

Do NASCAR tracks really have four turns?

It’s been 13 years since I covered my first NASCAR race, but there’s something I’ve never understood about the sport.

Why does everyone say there are four turns at most tracks when there really seem to be two?

I get it at Indianapolis — there are four distinct turns separated by straightaways. But at Daytona? It seems like there are two giant turns (maybe three if you count the trioval).

And if that seems like a stretch, can you really say Martinsville has four turns? It’s two drag strips connected by a pair of turns.

Anyway, Daytona 500 Media Day seemed like a good time to try and get to the bottom of this. I’m not sure I did, but I hope you enjoy the video below:

Social Spotlight: Austin Dillon

This is the first edition of a new feature called the “Social Spotlight,” where I’ll spend some time asking people in the NASCAR industry about their social media usage.

First up: Austin Dillon. You can hear the full interview in the podcast at the bottom of this page, but below is a transcript for those who would rather read it (the transcript has been condensed and edited for clarity).

JG: Do you have any private social media accounts?

AD: I’m all public on everything. No private stuff. I used to have a Facebook, but don’t have one anymore (except) for the one RCR runs and I do Facebook Live videos from. But as far as Instagram and Twitter, it’s all me.

JG: Are you on Snapchat?

AD: No. I deleted Snapchat when I got engaged — even before that, when I got a girlfriend. I just didn’t think Snapchat was really for me. Didn’t need it. (Chuckles)

JG: So you associate Snapchat with the old days when it wasn’t as corporate.

AD: Yeah, and it’s kind of repetitive because Instagram has all the same stuff with the stories now. I just like the format of Instagram better than Snapchat. I do think Snapchat is a little less business-ey.

JG: If you could only keep one (form of social media), which would you go with?

AD: Instagram. I think people can really take cool pictures and do cool videos and you’ll see a lot of that out of my Instagram this year. I’ve got a guy I’m working with where we’re pretty much just posting videos of different things we do at the shop, away from the shop and kind of my personal life.

I’m into the video stuff a lot. We posted a pretty cool one the other day with Slugger (Labbe) and the guys coming out and drinking some Coca-Cola by a Grizzly cooler. So the partners we have…they like those videos and it gives them something they can put on their Instagrams.

JG: How much of the posts we see are from you and how many are PR-type posts?

AD: On Instagram and Twitter, they’re pretty much all me. Jackie (Franzil, his PR rep) does a really good job updating people on what’s going on with our Facebook. … I would say 75 percent of my social media is me.

I think the worst part of my Instagram and Twitter is my grammar errors, so I definitely check with my fiancee (Whitney Ward) and Jackie. I think the biggest thing for me is punctuation. I struggle with that.

JG: Do you show them before you tweet? Like, “Hey, honey…”

AD: It’s right on my phone. I just hand it over to (Whitney) and she’ll go over everything. Sometimes I’ll copy and paste and send it to Jackie (and say), “How’s this look?” Now my brother (Ty), he doesn’t spell check anything. So it’s pretty funny to watch him sometimes.

JG: Do you ever say, “Should I tweet this?” if something could be controversial?

AD: I have in the past. I haven’t had to do that much lately, because I pretty much know where I’m at and what I can say. I’m pretty honest if you ask me a question if I want to say something.

If you say something on TV, I think it hurts more than if you do it through your social media account. I’m not gonna say the word I want to say, but it’s a cop-out to do it on social media.

JG: So it’s more brave if you’re not hiding behind the keyboard, so to speak.

AD: Exactly. If you’re going to say something about somebody or to them, you go say it to them or do it (in an) interview. At least they know it a little differently than through a keyboard.

JG: How many times a day are you looking through Instagram?

AD: Quite a bit. I’m on Instagram a lot. I like looking through people’s stories. I’ve got some good buddies who are always doing stuff that I follow. And then Twitter, I like following Trump. He’s pretty entertaining. And (Conor) McGregor on Instagram, he’s not afraid to show the lavish (lifestyle) and I’m sure people think he’s cocky and out there, but I think he’s done a good job with his marketing stuff.

JG: Do you think the Trump Twitter style will make people less afraid to be…

AD: Honest? Yeah, I think so. I like his honesty. There’s human error in everything. What he’s trying to show everybody is you can be yourself and it’s OK. I think that’s why a lot of the people voted for him — they can kind of relate to him a little bit — the screw-ups he has and then the stuff he does right. He’s really morally a good person, I think. But it’s funny to see all the different tweets he lets go. Sometimes they’re not needed, but it’s a different way of doing politics.

JG: Everybody has haters on Twitter. How do you deal with that? I assume you see them, so you do you ignore them? Do you block them?

AD: I personally just block ‘em. If they say something I don’t like, I just block ‘em. I don’t give them a second chance, usually.

I did respond to one kid. He was going off, and I had a lot of people go off on him underneath (the tweet), so I saw the guys who were just roasting this guy. I actually commented back to him and said, “You don’t even know me. Why don’t you come to the (RCR) Museum and I’ll take you around the museum?”

That kind of turned the whole situation around, but I’ve learned if you try to do that with every one of them, it’s too much time. Some people want to take the time to get to know you, but some people just want to screw with you. They might not hate you, but they just want something to do and make fun of. So I kind of laugh at it or just block it, because I don’t want to see it.

I like the new Instagram, too, because you can actually put words that key off that don’t let it come up in your comments.

JG: Oh, I didn’t even know that.

AD: Yeah, it’s a little edit list. My fiancee showed me that. It’s pretty cool. So like if somebody calls me a “short midget rich kid,” I can type “short midget rich kid” in there and it won’t pop up.

JG: No kidding? So I can type, “Jeff Gluck is a loser” and no more comments like that will come up?

AD: No more comments of “Jeff Gluck is a loser.”

JG: That’s awesome! I learned something here.

AD: It’s under Edit somewhere. (Note: To find this feature, go to Settings on Instagram, then look for Comments and type in the keywords you don’t want under “Custom keywords.”)

JG: Do you think your skin has been getting thicker over the years, the more you do this?

AD: It’s been pretty good lately. If they’ve said something bad once, I’ve already (blocked them), so I don’t even know who the haters are anymore. I have people who are close friends of mine and they’re like, “Man, this guy is hating on you!” I’m like, “I don’t even know who you’re talking about.” So it doesn’t bother me at all and I haven’t seen a hate message in a long time. I think I kind of got the group who were after it.

And if a new one comes up, I delete it so quickly that I don’t even look at their name. I just block ‘em. I have Hater Vision on at all times.

JG: What do you think the future is in the garage for social media? I hear a lot of younger people are going away from Twitter. Do you get that sense at all?

AD: I do, but I feel like I get more news off Twitter than anything. I get updated on things quickly, especially with sports and politics. I can be updated really quick. Instagram is more of a personal thing. … I think Instagram is the future for your personal use, but for news, I think Twitter is going to kill it. You just can’t get anything faster than Twitter on news.

JG: Twitter has a mute function. I’ve muted people I follow in the past, because I don’t want to unfollow them and be a jerk, but I also don’t want to see their updates all the time. Have you ever muted anybody you follow?

AD: I just unfollow them. If you’re saying stuff I don’t really agree with, I just unfollow them. I’ve done it multiple times. Even my friends, if it’s someone I know but they’re talking about something I don’t agree with, I’ll just unfollow them.

JG: Have you ever had anyone say, “Hey dude! You unfollowed me?” after you did that?

AD: I might have had like one or two who said that, but I’m just like, “I don’t like what you’re saying.” I’m pretty open and honest with them. It doesn’t bother me, really. If they come back around and they really ask me, “Hey, will you follow me again?” I’d follow them back, probably.

JG: Sometimes drivers tend to get into social media feuds. Is it hard after a race to not vent your anger that way?

AD: (After) probably four or five races last year, I’d get out and want to tweet something or say something — and then type it out and not say it. Maybe I should be more open about it on those things, but I try and keep it to myself.

JG: How quickly after a race is your phone in your hand?

AD: Really quickly. And then mostly I’m checking fantasy football. If I had a bad day on the track and my fantasy football team lost, it’s usually a long ride home.

JG: Anything else you want fans to know about your social media use or your accounts?

AD: If you want to see real, personal stuff, Instagram will tie you closest to me right now at this time in my life. So follow me on Instagram if you want to see stuff behind the scenes at my house, hanging with my friends and that kind of personal stuff.

Dillon’s social accounts can be found at @AustinDillon3 for both Twitter and Instagram.