HAMPTON, Ga. – As an heir to one of stock car racing's royal families, Ty Dillon longs to have a Sprint Cup ride of his own.
For now, he'll have to settle for being a NASCAR sub.
Dillon is filling in for injured Tony Stewart in Sunday's race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a chance to bolster his fledgling career behind the wheel of one of the sport's most recognized machines.
"It gives me a chance to showcase what I can do in these cars," the 24-year-old Dillon said. "Any time I can get more laps and more experience, it's always going to help."
Dillon celebrated his 24th birthday on Saturday by racing in the Xfinity race at Atlanta, a precursor to his ninth Cup race — and first in Stewart's No. 14 Chevrolet.
Smoke is recovering from back surgery after wrecking on an all-terrain vehicle last month, keeping him on the sideline at the start of his farewell season. Brian Vickers filled in at the season-opening Daytona 500, and now it's Dillon stepping into the seat.
The youngster had hoped to at least a part-time deal in the Cup series this season, after finishing third in the Xfinity series a year ago. Being the grandson of longtime car owner Richard Childress and younger brother of Cup regular Austin Dillon would certainly seem to give one the inside track to a sponsorship deal.
But, showing just how tight dollars are these days, Ty Dillon was forced to settle for five races in the low-budget Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing No. 95 car, with Michael McDowell handling the bulk of the races.
"It was a little bit of a sting," Dillon conceded.
He drove the No. 95 in the Daytona 500, where he started 12th and finished 25th. Now, he's taking over Stewart's machine.
"It does take away a little bit of the sting from not running more of a schedule than I was hoping for this year in the Sprint Cup series," he said. "Now that I have the opportunity, I can go out there and do what I want to do."
Stewart made a surprise appearance in Atlanta, talking with Dillon after he took the 18th spot in qualifying.
For Dillon, this is a chance to spread his wings after spending his entire career racing for his grandfather or, in the case of the No. 95 car, a team allied with Richard Childress Racing.
"Everything is different for me," Dillon said. "It's helped me grow not just as a driver but as a person, and learning how to go about things different. I'm excited for what this brings."
Here's some other things to watch for in Sunday's race:
JIMMIE'S JAM: Keep an eye on six-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who always seems to run up front in Atlanta. He won this race a year ago, his fourth career victory at the 1.54-mile trioval to go along with 11 top-10 finishes.
"Expectations are high," said Johnson, who finished fifth at the Daytona 500. "This track, with the high tire wear and the bumpy conditions and the fact that you have to search around for (racing) lines, really suits my style."
ELLIOTT HOMECOMING: Rookie Chase Elliott will be looking for redemption at the track where he grew up.
After claiming the pole at Daytona in his first event since taking over the No. 24 car from Jeff Gordon, the son of Bill Elliott wrecked early in the race and settled for a 37th-place showing.
"Not wrecking on lap 20 would be a good start," the 20-year-old said, joking. "But we're already here at Atlanta, so getting drowned in last week isn't going to do any good."
BUSCH AT THE BACK: Kyle Busch will have to start from the back of the field, even though he put up the fastest speed in qualifying. His car failed inspection afterward, handing the pole to his brother Kurt.
Kyle put a bit of salve on that wound by taking the pole for Saturday's Xfinity race.
HAMLIN'S ENCORE: Denny Hamlin will start from the 12th spot after winning the Daytona 500, leading a dominant Toyota performance.
The manufacturer swept the top three and four of the first five spots in the season opener.
In Atlanta, Chevrolet and Ford locked up the top three rows in qualifying after Kyle Busch's failed inspection. Carl Edwards will start seventh, the highest spot for a Toyota.
NEW RULES: This is the first race with a new aerodynamic package that is designed to create more passing and competitive racing, a response to rising complaints from a bored fan base.
Just don't expect there be any big shake-up at the front.
"The same groups of guys and the same teams who have run well the past couple of years will continue to run well," Elliott said. "I do hope it opens doors for better racing and being around cars a little easier."
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .