Sunday's race at Darlington marks the start of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro, is among the competitors using a throwback scheme to honor a legendary figure from NASCAR history. He will head to the track in a scheme honoring the iconic Junior Johnson.
Dillon spoke exclusively to PopCulture.com prior to the Darlington race, which is throwback weekend. He explained that the white and red Johnson scheme was his idea. He had seen some other ideas for potential throwback designs, but none of them were quite right. Once someone mentioned Johnson's car, Dillon knew that this was the right paint scheme for the playoffs.
Really pumped to be honoring an absolute legend in our sport, Junior Johnson! Can’t wait to run this @AmericanEthanol paint scheme at the @TooToughToTame throwback weekend!🔥🔥 #NASCARThrowback #TheTrackTooToughTooTame #HonorThePast pic.twitter.com/p5h6uwy6od— Austin Dillon (@austindillon3) August 18, 2020
"[You] literally just made me smile because this Junior Johnson means so much to me," Dillon said to PopCulture. "I grew up going to school with Junior's kids, and Junior actually came to our school and spoke to us when I was in middle school. He was a hero to me, and when he came and spoke to us, he talked to me because he knew my grandfather. ... My mom and [Johnson's widow] Lisa Johnson are really close friends; they talk all the time."
Dillon enters the first round of the playoffs under the radar, exactly where he says he wants to be. He will head to the Lady in Black looking to sneak up on some of his fellow drivers and steal the victory. The driver did something similar during the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, securing the victory and booking his trip to the playoffs. Dillon hopes that he can repeat the feat during Sunday's Southern 500, which would be extra special due to the throwback paint scheme.
"To do this throwback for Junior is really special," Dillon said. "My grandfather's pumped about it, it's a beautiful car. Darlington would be a great place [to win]. That would be my third Crown Jewel too, so that would be special." The Crown Jewel NASCAR races are the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. Dillon has secured victories in both the Daytona 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 during his Cup Series career.
Dillon wants to win the Southern 500 and add another Crown Jewel to his resume, and he is putting in the time to make this happen. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic means that he won't have any practice laps or a qualifying session, so he is spending extra time looking at his notes from the first two Darlington races in 2020 and getting into the simulator. He can take virtual laps around the iconic raceway without breaking any rules or guidelines.0comments
"This will be the second time this week I'll jump in a simulator," Dillon explained. "We're just back and forth on our setup right now. We have two that we like and we're trying to make the best call on the knickknacks of where things should be put. So that's the biggest thing we're working on right now, just trying to close in and really maximize our set up the best of our ability."
The NASCAR playoffs begin on Sunday at 6 p.m. ET. Dillon and his fellow drivers will fight for crucial points at one of the most difficult tracks in the Cup Series. Dillon doesn't know if he will secure the victory on Sunday, but victory would be extremely special due to the Johnson throwback paint scheme.