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Fiery Austin Dillon leads RCR to strong day at Martinsville

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500

MARTINSVILLE, VA - APRIL 03: Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Dow Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on April 3, 2016 in Martinsville, Virginia. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Austin Dillon is learning about all that goes with running near the leaders more often.

“You guys listen to me a lot more now that we’re up front,’’ Dillon told media members after his fourth-place finish — tying a career best — Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

What many heard was Dillon’s brief expletive-laced rant on the radio after a bump from teammate Paul Menard moved Dillon out of the way and allowed five cars by. Dillon fell to 14th with 160 laps left.

“I’ll have to explain myself on that one,’’ Dillon admitted about his radio rage. “I probably should keep my mouth shut.’’

Menard chatted briefly with Dillon after the race and they shook hands.

“We worked it out on the track,’’ Dillon said, noting each gave the other more room afterward and passed without incident.

Dillon’s fourth-place finish led Richard Childress Racing, which placed all three of its cars in the top 10 for the first time since Oct. 2014 at Kansas Speedway — 47 races ago. Menard placed eighth Sunday with Ryan Newman 10th.

Dillon’s top five gives him multiple top-five finishes in a season for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

Despite the strong language during the race, Dillon had kind words for Menard afterward. Dillon’s team used Menard’s setup after struggling in qualifying.

“I was pretty much distraught Friday, qualifying 29th,’’ Dillon said. “We hadn’t been that bad all year. We put a lot of focus into qualifying here and talked about where I had messed up previous races. I backed it up and messed it up again. I came back Saturday and regrouped and we did that as a team and decided to work on our car and work on me.’’

A key also was Dillon not pitting on the final caution. He was eighth on the caution but moved to fifth on the restart when three drivers ahead of him pitted. He scored his fourth top-10 finish of the season.

“Good job guys,’’ Childress said on the radio to Dillon’s team. “Heullva job. Great call.’’

Menard, who led 10 laps to equal his total from 2015, did not pit on the final restart and maintained his eighth-place spot.

“We had a really fast car all weekend,’’ said Menard, who had not finished better than 15th this season before Sunday. “We just gave up too much. Kind of got backwards and then had a set of tires that had a loose wheel, it was back in the middle part of the race and just battled back.’’

Newman, whose best finish this season was 11th in the Daytona 500 before Sunday, gained seven spots after the final restart after pitting for four tires.

“Coming into this race, I told the team that they had given me the best car I’ve ever had at Martinsville Speedway,’’ he said. “The opening laps we were a top-five car despite a tight-handling condition. Our lap times especially held up during the longer green flag runs.

“With about 50 to go, we got the break we needed and raced our way back onto the lead lap. We worked hard this off-season and to see all three cars end up in the top 10 says a lot about our organization.’’

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