Crew Chief Swap ‘Boosts Morale’ for Dillon, No. 3 Team

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer

The only man to call Austin Dillon to Victory Lane in the Cup Series is back.

Justin Alexander, after a year away, was announced by Richard Childress Racing as Dillon’s new crew chief earlier this week. A move that is effective immediately and, by all accounts, a positive.

With five prior seasons together [2017-2018, 2020-2022], the pair of Alexander and Dillon scored four wins together and two of Dillon’s most successful seasons. In fact, their four wins are the only of each of their careers, respectively.

“It’s a big morale boost for our team,” Dillon said Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. “To get Justin back onboard traveling and going to the racetrack — that was the biggest thing. Truthfully, Justin and I would have never changed. This schedule is brutal, he’s got two young kids and he wanted something different.

“When we had to make the change, it wasn’t ideal for the both of us, but it’s something Justin needed to do. We were fortunately able to get him back at the track. I’m really thankful that he and his family, his wife, are allowing him to come back racing with us. We need it and our team is excited about it.”

Indeed, Dillon’s 2024 campaign has started with a thud, as the No. 3 has yet to crack the top 10 through seven races. In fact, Dillon and crew chief Keith Rodden have only managed one top-20 finish.

Since being paired together at the start of the 2023 season, part of the problem has been execution and communication between himself and Rodden, says Dillon.

“We definitely have had places that we could have maximized our finishing position,” he said of himself and Rodden. “That’s the biggest part, maximizing our day. Instead of losing one or two spots, we’re losing 10 spots on just some communication stuff.

“I haven’t really had awful problems with our cars or the lack of speed. But there have been times where we’re running good — Richmond was a good example, we had started going toward the front and I was happy with the car. Man, we go to hit pit road and there is a guy in our pit stall. We get boxed in, lose 21 seconds on pit road and our race is over.”

Rodden and Alexander will essentially “switch roles”, as Alexander now steps into crew chief role.

“It’s just one of those things where execution is what I hope this change brings,” he said. “I thought Keith was able to communicate with me on the car level and make good adjustments. We just weren’t able to execute. Whether it was me or him.”

With proven results together, Dillon already feels the difference.

“[It adds] morale for the team, just where we are with our program on the No. 3 team,” he said. “We were heading in a good trajectory when the Next Gen car came out. We had my best year in the series in the first year with the Next Gen car [2022]. And we lost that momentum, and we could never get it back going.

“Communication is half the battle once the race starts. If you can communicate better than the others about strategy, you just have better races. It’s been good for us in the past. I think Keith did a really good job on certain things, but obviously the communication that Justin and I have been able to have over the years has been able to get us to this point.”

Joel Keller has been added a lead engineer for the No. 3 team, a role he previously held for multiple years pre-2023.

“He is super smart. He has done a little bit of everything for us at RCR,” he said of Keller. “I think I have his one Cup win, which was at Daytona. I’m excited to have him back. He works well with Justin, the three of us seemed to have a really good season together when the Next Gen came out.

“He was head of the development group of engineers. He had six or so engineers underneath him, he was doing a lot of teaching. He’s a teacher in his off time, too. He does a really good job at teaching and working with others.”

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