The good news for Richard Childress Racing is that the four-car team reached Victory Lane just five races into the XFINITY Series season. The bad news, at least as far as the XFINITY championship is concerned, is that Sprint Cup regular Austin Dillon was the one who delivered the win to the team. RCR’s three full-time XFINITY drivers, Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan and Brandon Jones, have not locked themselves into the Chase but have all gotten their seasons off to good starts.
In recent years, Childress’ XFINITY team has been more successful than its Cup team. Austin Dillon won the championship in 2013 before moving to Sprint Cup. RCR has claimed ten XFINITY wins since then, but has been shut out of Victory Lane in Sprint Cup since Kevin Harvick’s departure. The future of RCR, however, clearly rests with the Dillon brothers. Austin is showing signs of improvement this year, and Childress himself has been making plans for several years to move Ty up to Sprint Cup as soon as possible. It seems that as soon as Childress can secure sponsorship, preferably for a fourth team, Ty will join his brother in NASCAR’s top division.
So where does that leave Childress’ XFINITY program? Is 2016 Ty Dillon’s last shot to win an XFINITY championship of his own? It may not even matter in the long run if the younger Dillon is destined to be in Cup Series. Yet regardless of where he races next year, Dillon must want to win a championship for his own sake, if for no other reason to keep up with his brother.
Austin Dillon spent two years each in the Camping World Truck and XFINITY series. He won one championship in each series, both of them coming in his second year. Ty, meanwhile, followed in Austin’s footsteps, moving into the rides that his brother vacated. However, he never won a Truck Series championship, and he is still seeking his first XFINITY title in his third year.
If Ty is ever going to be an XFINITY champion, now is the time. Hoisting the championship trophy in November would serve as proof that Ty is ready for the big time and that he is not moving through the ranks merely because he has the favor of Childress, his grandfather. The more success Ty has this year, the more justification there will be for his eventual move to the Cup Series, justification that will be crucial for fans and sponsors.
Ty Dillon, however, is not the only RCR driver who could really use a championship in 2016. When NASCAR visited Las Vegas several weeks ago, rumors began swirling that this year could be Brendan Gaughan’s last season of driving. Gaughan is a veteran racer who has been active in NASCAR for many years. He won a pair of championships in the Winston West Series in 2000 and 2001, but he has never won a championship in the three national touring series. If Gaughan decides to race part time or stop all together beyond 2016, this season would obviously be his final chance at winning a title.
Back in 2003, Gaughan’s star looked to really be on the rise. He was a championship favorite in the Truck Series for most of the year, but his title run fell apart in the final race of the year. Unfortunately for Gaughan, he has never come close to a championship since then. He was not able to entrench himself in Sprint Cup, and RCR has been the closest thing he has had to a long-term home in recent years. While Gaughan has managed to squeak out the occasional win, he has not been able to display the week-to-week consistency necessary to win a championship.
If Gaughan were to finally win the XFINITY championship, it would fill the void of his lost Truck title in 2003. While he is at best a sleeper thus far, the elimination-style Chase could play right into his hands. Points resets will keep the Chasers in close proximity, and Gaughan could take advantage of his less-experienced competitors. If he does finish the year at the top of the standings, he will fulfill the promise he showed at the beginning of his career.
The stakes are high for RCR in 2016. Dillon needs a championship to build his career; Gaughan needs one to complete his career. Moreover, a championship would also ensure that RCR’s XFINITY program remains a strong one. Childress has a long-standing presence in the XFINITY Series, and that should continue as Brandon Jones develops as a driver. Yet with the possibility of Dillon and Gaughan departing at the end of the year, there is a sense that RCR, and those drivers, are approaching a crossroads. Perhaps Austin Dillon’s victory on Saturday will be a springboard for more success.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
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