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Rookie of the Year Dillon looks to defy sophomore slump

He races for his grandfather's ultra successful team. After eschewing racing for a budding amateur baseball career, he was presented with quality equipment after changing his mind.

Then there's the matter of that No. 3 on his door. For Austin Dillon, 20, it's the number that has adorned most every vehicle he's ever raced since he first felt the thrill of going fast and running up front. But he knows it means much more. And after validating his opportunity by finishing fifth in the NASCAR Truck series last year as rookie of the year, Dillon will be expected to do it all over again. There's pressure, certainly. But if he's feeling it, he's not letting on.

SI.com: What kind of blur was that for a rookie year?

Austin Dillon: It was a heck of a ride for a rookie year. Looking back, it's going to be tough to beat this year. Sophomore slump is something everyone talks about. You want to go out and do at least what you did last year and we think we can do better. I'm bringing back the same group of guys, going to the tracks for the second time and you've got a notebook now, you can go gain from what you had last year.

SI.com: How did you manage to put together that run of three-straight poles beginning in the eighth race, the win at Iowa and Las Vegas and all those top-10s to finish the season?

AD: It takes every component to be at the top of the game. We had some mechanical failures at the start of the year. We had some mistakes on calls that we made that were the wrong calls. I think we were better prepared once we got into the season. We had to build every truck this year. RCR did not have any trucks, so we had to put together a team. We started from scratch, so everyone was really a rookie. It just shows how fast we came together. To get in the top-5 our first year back in the Truck series is really cool.

SI.com: So it was a learning experience all around, not just for you?

AD: It was. We hired a great guy in [crew chief] Danny Stockman so we were able to cut our learning curve a little bit. He worked at [Kevin Harvick Inc.] with Ron Hornaday as the car chief there. He was a rookie crew chief, but he actually had a good notebook, so that helped. Using KHI's information helped, too. Our guys, some were very experienced, some were rookies, but we kind of just came together and we're all like a band of brothers now.

SI.com: What were your expectations before the 2010 season?

AD: When the season started I knew we had the equipment. Expectations are you want to go out and finish really well. I think I went in with those expectations, and when you get in it, you kind of back down and want to start finishing races. And when you start finishing races, you want the next goal.

[RCR Sprint Cup driver] Jeff Burton talked to me about setting goals and accomplishing them. After I got my first top-10, I wanted a top-5, then another, then to win a race after winning a pole.

SI.com: Speaking of Burton, you certainly have a wealth of resources to tap into considering your family history and the quality of drivers at RCR, don't you?

AD: I can't beat it, especially with a grandfather like Richard Childress and a dad like Mike Dillon, who has done a little bit of all of it in the business. Family is everything and it's great to have a racing family that really helps and then having guys that are built around RCR, like a family company, you can go to for information.

SI.com: When did you know you'd be able to handle the job?

AD: After the first top-5 [Texas, in the eighth race] and hanging around with those guys. When you get that first win, there's no other feeling. It feels like you've accomplished one goal, that you can run with these guys.

SI.com: How much harder will it be to make the next step in the Truck series, or in those four-plus Nationwide races for Kevin Harvick Inc., taking into account the expectations you've created?

AD: I think you just have to go out and prove it again. You're never going to stop people that doubt you can drive. When you come from the situation I'm in, it's just like when you work in a family business, you have to prove to people that you want to learn the business, you want to be a part of it, and you want to do it. People, fans, want to know you want to do it for the right reasons.

SI.com: Any plans for a Sprint Cup debut this season?

AD: As of right now, it's Trucks and Nationwide. I feel fortunate to be able to do that, the way times are. I think the Truck series is the right series to be in. This year it will be tougher. I think it'll get me the experience to get me to the next level.

SI.com: How fortunate are you to be in a situation where you figure to get plenty of development time at each level?

AD: I feel like I'm in a good position. I'm fortunate to be able to take my time. I feel like other people have moved up [to Sprint Cup] and moved up too quick and not had the opportunity to learn. I have the leniency where we can stay in a series a little longer. I think this is the right path for me. My grandfather has the experience and seen people come and go and he's choosing the right path for my brother [aspiring NASCAR driver Ty] and I.

SI.com: Do you want to bring the '3' to Cup with you?

AD: Right now it's not an issue. I love running the 3. I really do. I hope I can bring it with me wherever I run. It's kind of up to the fans and my grandfather and I'm totally fine with that. Dale [Earnhardt] made the number famous and I enjoy running it. You never know what's to come. One day, I think it would be cool to see it in the sport, even if it's not me. We'll have to wait and see.

SI.com: Do you embrace the challenge and legacy of that number?

AD: Yeah, it's just not the same without it. You don't get the hype as much. I feel like it's not as fun. You want to go out and, not show off in that car, but you want to do well. It gives you an extra incentive to want to go out there and want to do better. It's a challenge to me.