charles krupa/associated press
LOUDON, N.H. — Austin Dillon expected to be in better position after one playoff race.
The driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet had a good car at Chicagoland Speedway last week. Dillon finished ninth-fastest in qualifying. But Dillon was caught for speeding on pit road early in the race, and his car was not good enough to get him back on the lead lap.
So a top-five car instead finished a lap down in 16th place. The playoff opener left Dillon 12th in the standings, 76 points behind leader Martin Truex Jr. entering Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
“Couldn’t make up for the lack of cautions,” Dillon said of last week’s Tale of the Turtles 400. “It was a mistake. I had talked about minimizing mistakes, and I made one the first stop. Just overlooked something on pit road that ended up really hurting our chances of a really good spot to be in. We’re still in it as far as the points situation. But we could have been well inside of the points we’re in right now. Disappointing. But we did have a lot of speed and a fast car.”
The result left Dillon teetering at the point between advancing to the second round and stalling after the first. Only 12 of the 16 playoff drivers will remain alive for the championship after next week’s race at Dover International Speedway.
Two days at NHMS have not given the No. 3 team clear indications of settling business before Dover. Dillon will start Sunday’s race in 17th position after turning a 133.133-m.p.h. lap in qualifying on Friday. During Saturday’s morning practice, Dillon’s fastest lap of 44 circuits was 130.927 m.p.h., 22d-fastest.
In final practice, Dillon’s best lap was 130.456 m.p.h., 18th-fastest. It was the third-slowest time among playoff drivers, quicker than only Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (129.936 m.p.h.) and Ryan Newman (129.812).
“Haven’t had a car probably capable of winning a race there yet,” Dillon said. “But we’ve had some solid top-10 finishes and runs. I’m looking forward to New Hampshire. It’s not a bad place for us.”
Christopher Bell opened the Camping World Truck Series playoffs on Saturday with a dominant win in the UNOH 175. Bell also claimed both of the first two stages. Bell now has a 40-point lead over Johnny Sauter in the standings.
“It’s really, really big to be able to win the first race,” Bell said of the playoffs. “Now we can be more aggressive at Las Vegas and Talladega and try to win the race.”
Bell’s only anxious laps took place in the final segment, when Ryan Truex grabbed the lead. But Bell shadowed Truex, saw his opening on Turn 3 of Lap 160, and steered his No. 4 Toyota around his competitor.
“I knew he’d be on me,” Truex said of the winner. “He did the smart thing. He rode behind me and saved his equipment.”
Truex had been in front for 28 laps. Bell practiced patience, sniffed low on several passes, and waited for his opening. When Truex drifted too low, Bell went high, generated speed, dived down in Turn 3, and made his pass.
Joey Logano sat in his No. 22 Ford on pit road for Saturday’s entire 50-minute final practice. NASCAR forced Logano to sit in his car because the No. 22 failed prequalifying inspection on Friday. “I had time for a lot of thoughts in there. Mainly that it’s a total joke,” Logano said of the punishment. “I guess that’s mainly what I totally thought in there. I don’t know why it was to be out on pit road. A penalty is a penalty. That’s fine, but there’s no reason to sit out there. I think it’s dumb. But that’s coming from a guy that just sat in a car for an hour sweating.” . . . Kyle Larson took 70 spins around the track in final practice, most of any driver. Larson will start on the front row. Martin Truex Jr. took only 27 laps. But one of his twirls was the fastest of the field (131.647 m.p.h.). Truex will start on the third row . . . Bobby Santos won Saturday’s Whelen Modified Tour’s F.W. Webb 100. Santos also won July’s Modified race at NHMS.
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