By: Ashley McCubbin
After being able to take a team and help build their program up stronger the past four years, it was a shock when Ty Dillon revealed he would not return to Germain Racing in 2021.
He will get the chance to be on-track, though, announcing on Tuesday he would compete in the Daytona 500 for Gaunt Brothers Racing.
“I’m very excited and extremely thankful for the opportunity, not only from Marty (Gaunt)’s side, but from Toyota’s side, to let me hop into their equipment,” he said. “I’m really excited. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me to get into equipment that has been at the top of the sport for the last four or five years. This is a good chance for me to get my feet back under me and prove what I can do with a team with solid leadership. To have a sponsor that has a lot for me in my career, with Bass Pro Shops and Johnny Morris, and then to bring a new company with Black Riffle Coffee – they have such an awesome company led by veterans which is a cool company to be partnered with.
“I’m so grateful for this opportunity, I’m extremely hungry for great success and continue the opportunities down the road.”
A focus on opportunity is something Dillon repeated throughout the day, believing it could “grow and start a new direction in my career path.” He has been on the phone a lot trying to work out deals, and will “hopefully soon” be able to announce more dates for his schedule, not wanting to “put the cart before the horse here so to speak.”
Being able to run well in the Daytona 500 would be a good start, and past statistics prove the third-generation racer is very capable. Prior to wrecking out in both superspeedway events at Daytona International Speedway in 2020, he had scored finishes of sixth, sixth and fourth. The strengths on the superspeedways, combined with an ability to adapt in new situations, brings a lot of confidence.
“I’ve done really well when we go to a new race track, whether the ROVAL or something like that, or anywhere there’s a new element to it,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I feel I’m a quick adaptor in any situation, and I can get there quicker than most. If you go to the Charlotte rain race – I have one other rain experience race in my career, but I was able to drive from 30th all the way into the top-five and win a stage after that. I’m quick to adapt, and I’m a very good natural feel driver.”
It was the performance at Charlotte which actually caught the attention of team owner Marty Gaunt, along with Dillon’s progression through the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series till now.
“I stood on the outside of the track with my son and watched this guy in the 13 car lead most of the race,” Gaunt told POPULAR SPEED of the ROVAL event. “We watched Ty do that at the road course, and obviously we led some laps at the superspeedway race and Ty was tucked in right behind us. Sometimes, things happen for a reason. It was right in front of our face the whole time and when the opportunity came for the time to talk to Ty, it was a no brainer for both of us.”
Gaunt is also looking to expand his schedule beyond a simple event this season, with a focus on running all the superspeedway and road course events. There is also a possibility for Dillon to factor into more events for 2021, as well.
“Right now, our plan is to run the speedways and road courses. We don’t have anything really set in stone,” Gaunt shared. “Being a part-time schedule, it will allow us to turn on a dime if necessary if we see an opportunity to run a different event. The plan right now is the speedways and road courses, but we are open to running other events if they make sense with drivers and partners.”
No matter the opportunity that may come for Dillon, though, there will also be a focus on continuing to grow as a driver, with a focus on his “study for the sport and communication.” Reflecting upon the last four years, he feels he went from a rookie to a veteran in that department, in learning how to communicate with his crew chief and build relationships on a person-to-person basis.
“I think that’s something I’ll continue to work on because that’s so important in this sport,” he added. “When you get to the top level, it’s no longer just talent. It’s the whole emotional part that has to be right there. That’s something that I’ve grown massively in the past four years.
“I think I also want to get the opportunity in the best equipment possible. Germain Racing did a great job for me over the years, but we took a team from 28th in points to 24th in points. I want to get up there in the top-10. I want to be battling for championships as I believe I’m that level of driver, but I can’t take that level until is start to run in the top-10 again. I need to get that level and I feel another level of maturity will grow then and I can’t wait for this opportunity in what I believe is great equipment and start with Toyota. They’re the best of the best right now, and anything I can do to drive their great equipment will be my goal.”