Austin Dillon has tested positive for COVID-19 and will not race in the NASCAR Cup Series‘ Go Bowling 235 on the Daytona International Speedway road course. On Saturday morning, Richard Childress Racing announced he had experienced mild symptoms that will keep him out of the #3 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE for Sunday’s race. In his place, Kaz Grala will make his premier series début.
“This morning Richard Childress Racing’s NASCAR Cup Series driver Austin Dillon tested positive for COVID-19,” read a team statement. “In accordance with NASCAR’s safety protocol, Dillon is self-quarantining away from RCR’s facilities and will not be competing in this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course. Austin’s wife and son Ace remain healthy and symptom-free. Kaz Grala will drive the No. 3 Chevrolet for RCR this weekend.
“RCR takes the safety of our employees, fellow competitors, fans, partners and outside vendors seriously. Based upon recommendations outlined by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NASCAR and our health partners at Wake-Forest Baptist Health, RCR has enacted procedures and safety protocols designed to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure and spread. These guidelines were developed in close consultation with a panel of medical experts with broad experience in infectious diseases, many of whom have been on the front line treating COVID-19. patients across the country. We will continue to adhere to these guidelines in order to protect the health and safety of our employees and their families, and our business partners.”
Currently in his seventh full-time Cup season, Dillon sits seventeenth in points and locked into the playoffs with a win at Texas Motor Speedway in July. He will receive a waiver that allows him to retain his playoff spot despite missing an undetermined amount of races. The positive test snaps a 238-race consecutive start streak for the North Carolina native.
Dillon is the fourth known national series driver to test positive for the coronavirus. In June, fellow Cup driver Jimmie Johnson missed the Indianapolis Motor Speedway race after a positive test. Part-time Cup racer Brendan Gaughan has been cleared to race in Sunday’s event after the same case in July. Spencer Davis was unable to race in last weekend’s Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series round at Michigan International Speedway for the same reason.
Under NASCAR rules, Dillon must test negative twice over a period longer than twenty-four hours or exhibit no symptoms ten days after the initial positive test.
Grala currently races part-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, sharing RCR’s #21 with Anthony Alfredo and Myatt Snider. Alfredo has made up the bulk of the #21’s starts, with Grala having only run two races so far, scoring a fourth-place finish in the previous week’s Road America race.
The Boston native has enjoyed success on road courses, with his two latest Xfinity starts on such courses resulting in top fives (he finished fifth in the 2018 Road America event with RCR) and a third-place run at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park during his lone full Truck campaign in 2017. The strong finishes also tie into Daytona, where he became the youngest race winner in track history when he triumphed in the 2017 Truck season opener on the oval at the age of 18. The previous year, he was the youngest driver in the Rolex 24 Hours field when he finished eighteenth in the GTD class on the Daytona road course.
To make Grala’s début more special, he will be the first driver not named Austin Dillon or Dale Earnhardt to pilot the famed #3 in a Cup race since Ricky Rudd in 1983. Mike Skinner replaced an injured Earnhardt in the car during the 1996 Brickyard 400, but he is not officially credited with the start or finish.
Incidentally, the Dillon/Grala move is not the first driver change of the weekend, nor is Grala the first substitute driver that Dillon has had. Friday night’s ARCA Menards Series race saw sports car veteran and ex-NASCAR driver Colin Braun take over for Sam Mayer at the halfway point while the latter was dealing with a broken wrist. Two months prior, Dillon had a standby in A.J. Allmendinger for June’s Martinsville Speedway race in case his wife entered labour; Allmendinger is running Saturday’s Xfinity race.
Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 will be the Cup Series’ first foray onto the Daytona road course. Although Dillon was scheduled to start tenth under NASCAR’s new starting grid format, Grala will have to begin the race at the back of the field due to the driver switch.