Perhaps now, Austin Dillon will finally get the respect he’s due.
The Welcome, NC native, grandson of legendary NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, has spent most of his adult life dodging allegations of nepotism leveled by those who believe his place in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series owes more to genetics than talent.
“Born with a silver spoon in his mouth,” they say. “Born on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”
Those critics willfully ignore the dozens of formative wins Dillon claimed on dirt tracks across the south.
They discount his seven Camping World Truck Series victories and his 2011 Truck Series championship.
They overlook his eight NASCAR Xfinity Series wins and the 2013 title.
None of that matters, they say. It’s nothing more than a handout from a deep-pockets team owner to his spoiled, rich-kid grandson.
In the aftermath of Sunday night’s career-defining victory in the 60th annual Daytona 500, it may finally be time for the Dillon bashers to pipe down.
Dillon’s Daytona win was his second as a MENCS driver. The first -- in last year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway – was a fuel-mileage win, allowing the critics to persist in their view that Dillon had not earned his place at the NASCAR table. But with wins in two of the sport’s most prestigious events now on his resume, the outgoing Dillon has all the ammunition he needs to tune-out the Negative Nellies, once and for all.
"I did what I had to do there at the end," said Dillon of a chaotic final lap that saw leader Aric Almirola spin after attempting to block Dillon’s fast-closing Dow Chevrolet in Turn Three. "I hate it for (Almirola's) guys. We had a run, and I stayed in the gas. It is what it is here at Daytona.”
While some viewed Dillon’s last-lap tactics as underhanded, Almirola was not among them.
"It was the last lap and we're all trying to win the Daytona 500," he said, after limping his damaged racer home in a disappointing 11th-place. "It's the biggest race of the year and it's a career-changing race, so we were racing really aggressively. I used every move I knew to try and stay in the lead. Unfortunately, I just wasn't able to hold on.
"But I'm willing to take that and go with it. I'm just thankful for all the people that support us along the way; Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family for letting us bring this number back. It comes full circle. I just can't thank the Lord enough for this opportunity."
Sunday’s Daytona 500 triumph – authored 20 years to the day after the legendary Dale Earnhardt, Sr. drove Childress’ iconic No. 3 to Victory Lane in the Great American Race – should be enough to finally extinguish the bonfire of second-guessing that has plagued Dillon from Day One.
Sure, “Pop Pop” has provided the best possible equipment to both of his racing grandsons over the years. But what grandparent would do anything less? Don’t we all devote every resource at our disposal to help our children and grandchildren succeed in their lives and careers? Devotion to family should be applauded, not condemned.
A driver who has now won major races in all three NASCAR National Series – and championships in two of them – deserves better treatment than Dillon has received to date from the sport’s often-overcritical railbirds.
Austin Dillon has earned his place. At a level of the sport where every top contender enjoys world-class equipment and technological support, Dillon has won races.
The records do not lie.
And as Dillon posed for a series of celebratory photos with his jubilant team and the Harley J. Earl Trophy Sunday night, he had the satisfied look of a man who had finally answered his critics.
Silver Spoons no longer required.