Austin Dillon climbed behind the wheel of the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet Impala this weekend at Iowa Speedway where he and the Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) team collected their ninth top-10 finish in the first 12 races of the season at the Newton, Iowa track.
Rain, for the third consecutive week, caused NASCAR to cancel qualifying, setting the 43-car field on the starting grid per the rule book. Teams lined up according to the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Points, placing the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet in the third position.
The green flag brought the field to life in front of a sold-out crowd, and Dillon fought to hold on to his starting position as he engaged in close side-by-side racing in the opening laps. The young driver was shuffled to the fifth position, and as he settled into a rhythm, he radioed to crew chief David Hyder that his KHI Chevrolet was loose through the corners around the 0.875-mile oval.
The 250-lap event was slowed for the first time on lap 50 for a competition caution. Running in the fourth position when the yellow flag waved, Hyder used the opportunity to the team’s advantage and called the driver to pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to help alleviate the loose-handling conditions of the Rheem Chevrolet.
A solid stop on pit road kept Dillon in the fourth position for the lap 57 restart. In the midst of a long green-flag run, the driver reported to Hyder on lap 80 that the No. 33 Chevrolet was still loose, especially on entry and exit of the turns. Running in the third position, the crew chief encouraged Dillon to keep fighting while the team prepared to make further adjustments on the next round of pit stops.
Dillon slipped from third to sixth as the event approached the 100-lap mark. As the field slowed to a cautious pace for the second yellow flag of the day on lap 110, the young driver radioed to his crew that the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet was better at the beginning of the previous long green-flag run, but became loose in the center of the turns as the run went on. Hyder made the call for Dillon to bring the vehicle to pit road for a right-rear shock adjustment, four tires and fuel. During the pit stop, an issue with the right-rear tire change resulted in a slow stop for the KHI team. Hyder and spotter Rick Carelli guided Dillon back out on track following the stop, but the No. 33 Chevrolet’s engine water temperature was running hot, so the team opted to make a second trip down pit road to remove tape and clean the grille as well as top off with fuel. The sequence of stops forced Dillon to restart at the tail of the field.
Just as the field roared back to full speed, the yellow flag waved for the third time for an accident on the backstretch on lap 117. Dillon remained on track in order to keep gaining track position, taking the lap 123 restart in the 19th position.
The race was slowed again for a caution on lap 130 with Dillon in the 17th position. Over the caution laps, the driver relayed that the handling of the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet was much better after the last round of adjustments. Once again opting not to pit in order to improve track position, Dillon took the lap 134 restart from the 16th position.
Back under green-flag racing conditions, Dillon communicated that the KHI Chevrolet was handling better on entry to the turns but was loose once again as he raced around the Iowa oval. On lap 206, Hyder made the call for Dillon to come to pit road for a green-flag pit stop. On pit road the Rheem crew bolted on four fresh tires and added fuel and made no adjustments to the vehicle.
Shortly after Dillon returned to the track, an accident occurred in turn one, bringing out the fifth caution flag of the day. Because the field had not completely cycled through green-flag pit stops at the time of caution, the No. 33 team was scored one lap down. However, the team was in position to take advantage of the wave around rule by opting not to pit with the leaders while under yellow and Dillon regained lead lap status before returning to green with 23 laps remaining in the Sunday afternoon contest.
Dillon took the final restart from the 15th position and charged hard through the field, using the final laps to steadily climb towards the top 10. He reached the 10th position with six laps to go and maintained the position as the checkered flag waved.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series comes home to Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C next weekend. KHI co-owner Kevin Harvick will pilot the No. 33 Rheem Tankless Water Heater Chevrolet for the May 28 event. Watch the action live on ABC at 2:30 p.m. ET for the Top Gear 300 and listen to the radio broadcast on the Performance Racing Network (PRN) at 2:00 p.m. ET.