This week SPEED.com looks at some of the rising stars who made the most of their opportunities in 2010.
Austin Dillon started his first full Camping World Truck Series season in Daytona Beach in February with a high profile.
He was only 19 years old, true, but he was riding along with a powerful legacy. Dillon is the son of former Nationwide Series driver Mike Dillon and the grandson of NASCAR championship team owner Richard Childress, and he drove this season in the iconic No. 3, formerly raced in the Sprint Cup Series by the late Dale Earnhardt at RCR.
So Dillon began the year as something more than the average series rookie.
Then, on the very first lap of the brand new season on one of the series’ fastest tracks, Dillon found himself in trouble. He had qualified third and thus was racing with some of the fastest trucks, and a traffic jam resulted in Dillon spinning.
Ultimately, he finished 26th. Not the best of days for a hotshot rookie carrying the number and colors of one of the sport’s giants.
Such a very public mistake could have derailed Dillon’s season. But he responded well, scoring a top 10 in Race Two and notching the first win of his career in the 10th race of the season, at Iowa.
Dillon finished the season as the Raybestos Rookie of the Year. He won twice (Iowa and Las Vegas), becoming the first Truck rookie to win multiple races since Carl Edwards in the 2003 season.
He showed up at virtually every track with a fast truck, showing that strength by winning seven poles, leading the series in that category. He started on the pole at Texas, Michigan, Iowa, Kentucky, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Homestead and became the first series rookie to win three straight poles.
He finished fifth in the series point standings and outpointed Justin Lofton 285-233 for the rookie title. In 25 races, he had 16 top 10s.
Dillon is scheduled to run the full Truck series for RCR again in 2011 and also is likely to run several Nationwide Series races. His rookie Truck season marked him as an up-and-coming driver to watch.
It was a magical season for “Pop” Childress, who watched his grandson exceed expectations.
“We knew we’d be pretty good, but we had no idea that we’d have the year we had,” Childress said. “He’s had a great year. He had a rookie year. He had a few mistakes, but, all in all, he had a great year. Nothing to complain about.”
Dillon, now 20, met his goals for the rookie season, although he said he left some things on the table.
“It was a great year,” he said. “Raybestos Rookie of the Year is something that we went into the season wanting to win. That was our main goal – and to finish top 10 in points. We were able to get top five, somehow.
“We came out with two wins, a bunch of poles. I wish we could have had a few more wins with all those poles that we got, but I’m really excited about going into next year.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.