NASCAR: Blueprint for Austin Dillon to Prove He's Ready for Sprint Cup in 2014

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistFebruary 2, 2013

NASCAR: Blueprint for Austin Dillon to Prove He's Ready for Sprint Cup in 2014

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    When your grandfather is Richard Childress and you're likely to inherit—and bring back—perhaps the greatest car number in Cup history, that's a pretty heavy lineage to live up to.

    That's what young Austin Dillon potentially faces in 2014, when he's expected to make the jump from the Nationwide Series to a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup circuit.

    Will Dillon be ready for the move? He will be if he continues on the well-planned and well-strategized career development program he's been on the last two seasons.

    There's still more work to do, so let's take a look at the blueprint Dillon will likely have to follow to make that anticipated jump up to the Cup level in 2014.

No. 1: Dillon Must Be Competitive Challenger to Win the 2013 Nationwide Series Championship

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    What better way for Dillon to make the jump to the Sprint Cup than by first winning the Nationwide Series championship in 2013.

    If he does that, he'd be only the second driver in NASCAR history to win both the Trucks series championship (2011) and Nationwide title.

    The first driver to do so was Greg Biffle, who won the then-Craftsman Truck Series in 2000 and the then-Busch Series in 2002.

    Dillon had a strong first full season in the Nationwide Series in 2012, finishing third. He had two wins and 27 top-10 finishes in 33 starts, a very impressive first campaign. 

    He'll need to do better in 2013 to make the jump from the minors to the majors in 2014.

    Anything less than a championship this season could potentially be looked at with disdain by some critics.

No. 2: Dillon Must Do Well in His Limited Sprint Cup Races in 2013

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    While his dance card in the Sprint Cup series for 2013 remains a work in progress, Dillon must do well in his limited appearances and prove he belongs.

    Dillon is scheduled to compete in the season-opening Daytona 500 for Richard Childress racing, and then two weeks later at Las Vegas for Phoenix Racing.

    Depending upon sponsorship, he may run several more races through the course of the season.

    He's competed in just two Cup races to date, finishing 24th and 26th, and two laps off the lead lap in each.

No. 3: He Needs Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Blessing—It Would Be Nice

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    Some people may laugh about this one, but I'm being very serious.

    For several seasons after the death of his father in the 2001 Daytona 500, the younger Earnhardt was mentioned prominently as the only driver who would ever drive the fabled No. 3 Chevrolet again.

    But when Earnhardt went to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, the prospect of driving or inheriting the No. 3 pretty much dried up.

    Still, it would be a classy move by Junior—and one that likely would be important to Dillon—if the younger Earnhardt gives Dillon his blessing to bring the black No. 3 out again.

    There's a good likelihood that Dillon may choose a different color, both out of respect to the late Intimidator, as well as to form his own identity.

No. 4: Don't Rush

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    If there's any chance Dillon will not be ready for 2014, grandfather Richard Childress should not rush him.

    Look what happened when Joey Logano was rushed by Joe Gibbs Racing to replace Tony Stewart four years ago. Being elevated so quickly likely stunted some of Logano's development had he been able to season his talents with another year or two in the Nationwide Series.

    Kevin Harvick will be leaving Richard Childress Racing at the end of the 2013 season to move to Stewart Haas Racing in 2014.

    That automatically opens up one spot, most likely for Dillon. But if he's not ready to make the jump to Sprint Cup on a full-time basis and needs at another year of seasoning in the Nationwide Series, so be it.

    There are a number of scenarios that could potentially happen at RCR in 2014 that don't even include Dillon. Jeff Burton and possibly even Paul Menard could both depart, as well as the possibility of Kurt Busch leaving Furniture Row Racing at the end of the upcoming season and moving to RCR.

    If Dillon isn't ready, Busch would be a good replacement for Harvick, but the question remains what happens with Burton and Menard. Perhaps they may stick around until 2015, but let's take one season at a time and see what happens at the end of 2013.

No. 5: Dillon Has to Want It

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    In somewhat an extension of the previous slide, don't forget, Dillon is only 22 years old (he turns 23 in April).

    While being a Sprint Cup driver has been his lifelong dream, and he likely wants to please both his famous grandfather and his parents, the final choice of moving to the Sprint Cup in 2014 rests with the young Dillon himself.

    Will he feel comfortable making the jump so soon?

    If he doesn't, how does he tell his grandfather and parents that he wants another full season in the Nationwide Series?

    While it's likely Dillon will one day become a big star in the Sprint Cup series, he has to feel ready to go head to head and wheel to wheel with some of the sport's best drivers.

    If he has any doubt or feels he needs a bit more time in the minor leagues, let him do it. Because, after all, who knows himself and his limitations better than Austin DIllonhimself?

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