NC State graduate guides Dillon, Richard Childress Racing to Coca-Cola 600 triumph

In his first race with Austin Dillon, crew chief Justin Alexander delivers with historic win for the No. 3 car

Eamon Queeney—North State Journal
Crew Chief Justin Alexander

CHARLOTTE — In a week that started with an argument with his grandfather, Austin Dillon finished it with a monumental moment for his career.His grandfather, of course, is legendary NASCAR owner Richard Childress, who had been waiting patiently for nearly 17 years for his No. 3 car to get back into Victory Lane. On Sunday night — technically Monday morning — he was popping champagne after capturing a checkered flag in his own backyard.So what was the argument about? It was simple: results.”Just wanting more, man,” Dillon said. “I want to put the 3 car in Victory Lane. That’s what it was about.”Who won the argument? After the Coca-Cola 600 victory, Childress said there was no question who won.”He’s won twice this week. I think he won that argument,” Childress said. “… This sport is demanding. It’s demanding on your emotions. It’s demanding on what you want to do. When you get down, everybody wants to kick you. It’s tough.”We wasn’t down. I told someone the other day, I said, ‘We’re not down, we’re just trying to figure out a way to get back to know where I know we’re capable of running.’ I know we’ve got the people. I know we’ve got the equipment.”Unfortunately, the results simply weren’t there. Prior to the Coca-cola 600, Dillon’s best result was a single top five — and top 10 — on the year at Martinsville. Austin was actually trailing younger brother Ty Dillon, a rookie with single-car team Germain Racing, in the standings.That resulted in a change at the top. Slugger Labbe, who took over for the team at the end of the 2015 season and led Dillon to the Chase in 2016, was out. Justin Alexander, who was removed from a Monster Energy Cup Series crew chief position with RCR last season, was in.In just his first race with Dillon, both showed a tremendous amount of trust in each other. Sitting about three laps short on fuel — 2.7, if you ask Alexander — the duo decided to make a gamble to try to get that coveted first win.Alexander made the call — and no one doubted him.”My pit crew has been awesome all year long, so great,” Dillon said. “My team has given us everything they can get. We add a piece with Justin. His demeanor, he had ice in his veins tonight. Make the call, let the guys go to work.”Childress said the decision to move Labbe from the top of the pit box wasn’t a personal one, but rather one that seemed to suit the team. Results were deteriorating this season after making the playoffs last year and Childress made the call like he did to bring Labbe on two years ago.Making the switch paid immediate dividends, with Alexander’s engineering expertise leading to making the winning call. After years of working with different crew chiefs, Dillon said the demeanor Alexander showed in the final laps was just a clutch as his ability to preserve fuel.”The only thing about Justin is I never worked with an engineer, a calm guy,” Dillon said. “He has a totally different background than what I’m used to, working with. He fits. It’s cool. This week was relatively just smooth. We didn’t argue. We talked about the race car. That’s what I needed. “I needed someone that wanted to teach me, talk about it, not tell me what was wrong with it. Felt good to actually work together and get to the point we are now.”Alexander’s engineering acumen comes from his engineering degree at NC State that has helped him quickly climb up the RCR ladder. After spending the better part of two years with the No. 27 of Paul Menard and taking the team to the Chase in 2015, Alexander was pushed down to the Xfinity Series.When the opportunity to take over for Dillon came about, Childress knew the perfect fit. Alexander is a young crew chief from Charlotte looking to make a name for himself. Dillon is a young driver trying to emerge from a massive shadow in the No. 3 car and prove he’s worthy of the position he’s in.It’s a match made in Heaven, and one that wouldn’t have happened without RCR director of competition Eric Warren.”Off subject, I want to thank Eric Warren, too,” Dillon said. “He’s helped me a lot. Doing a lot of different things in our shop, then with the decision to take Justin to this position. He’s always had his eye on Justin, really believed in him.”He helped me ‑‑ helped me make this decision. I’m sure it feels really good to him.”