The race, which was postponed from Saturday due to rain and then had its own 3.5-hour rain delay, was the last opportunity of the season for a driver to fight his way into the playoff field. of 16 pilots.
It would be the only way for Dillon, 32, and his No. 3 Richard Childress Racing team to participate this season, as there were already 14 winning drivers and Dillon was mired in 19th place in the series standings.
Yet he did just that.
He escaped massive wreckage on lap 138 of 160 to take the lead, then after the rain delay he pushed Austin Cindric out of the way to take the lead with three laps to go and hung on for the win. .
In the span of three rounds, Dillon went from missing the playoffs for the second straight season to becoming the 15th seed.
“I think every time you make the playoffs, it’s validation for yourself that you’re ‘one of the guys’. You know what I mean?” said Dillon. “I think someone said we’ve made (the playoffs) five times now.
“I don’t know how many years I’ve been doing this, but every time you’re not there, it doesn’t feel good. You’re not going to the end-of-year banquet. You feel like you’ve let your guys down, you’ve let your business down.
“For me, that’s it. It’s nice to have a car that I thought we should have been in sooner than that, but no matter how you get in, you got in.
Although Dillon hasn’t led many laps this season, he has been competitive and earned two second-place finishes last weekend – at Auto Club Speedway and Talladega.
And he’s generally been good at superspeedway racing, having won the 2018 Daytona 500.
The debut of the Next Gen car this year brought more parity, producing the most different regular season winners since the playoff format was adapted in 2004.
“Fifteen winners or 16? It’s a testament to this car and the next generation and the competitiveness of the peloton,” said Dillon. “I don’t think there’s any other form of motorsport that has that kind of competitiveness week in and week out.
“You’re going to qualify at Watkins Glen, and from first to 20th, you look at the time sheet, and you hold your breath for a hundredth (of a second) to move you up five places.
“That’s what the Cup Series is supposed to be. It’s tough. You never give up because that’s kind of what this year has told me.
Dillon, the grandson of RCR owner Richard Childress, says his family has helped him stay grounded through the ups and downs of this Cup season.
“If you lose the love for your sport, you’re not going to perform at the highest level,” he said. “You have to find out why you come here every weekend and do it.
“For me, it’s family.”
When asked which of his four career wins he thinks has been the most important, Dillon said: “I think the next one is. You know, it’s next time. It’s a big win. It’s obviously great, and I’m going to enjoy it, celebrate it and enjoy the fact that we’re going to be able to compete with the top 16 drivers.
“But that’s the next moment, isn’t it?” You have to look forward to the next one to really see where the business is at because in this sport you are constantly judged against the guy next to you.
“So right now it feels really good. We emerged victorious. But we still have 10 weeks of that.