Bittersweet Night for RCR as Playoffs Split Team

NASCAR NASCAR Cup Series

By: Zach Catanzareti, Staff Writer

One of the few points battles on tap for Saturday night’s regular-season finale from Daytona International Speedway was between teammates at Richard Childress Racing.

With their two drivers of Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon vying for the one open playoff position, the odds were likely that the team would be split come Sunday morning: One driver in the 16-driver title hunt, and another one out.

Following the wild 165-lap overtime duel in Daytona Beach, it was Reddick who advances to the playoffs for the first time. The No. 8 sophomore driver overcame a wreck on lap 146 to come home sixth, beating Dillon by 30 points.

You can say he was excited.

“Comparing this to how emotionally spent I was by the time my girlfriend gave birth to [my child]… I was excited but I wasn’t jumping up and down screaming. I was just emotionally spent,” Reddick said. “It was kinda like that. I just believed and was glad that it was over and glad we got the good news.”

Earning fewer stage points than Dillon, the late wreck and a stream of smoke afterwards made things quite stressful for the No. 8 team.

“Running into the back of Truex and having more issues, you don’t know if our day is over or not,” he said. “But we were able to get it fixed and get back out there and get through that last crash somehow. Barely.

“Thankfully, Ryan Blaney was able to win the race and keep my season’s hopes alive. It would have been a tough pill to swallow leaving this place out of the playoffs after the turnaround we had. A lot happened in a matter of 30 minutes.”

Failing to make the postseason in his first Cup season in 2020, Reddick believes the lessons learned benefited the team for 2021.

“It felt like it was going to be a long season about six or seven races in, we got off to a rough start,” he said of 2021. “Then, we climbed from like 32nd to 11th in points and you’re like, ‘Wow!’ Last year, we wouldn’t have been worried about anything, but the competition brought their A game this year.

“Thankfully, the things we improved upon from 2020 to this year have made us better this entire season.”

Though Reddick has shown improvement year-over-year [more top-10 finishes and better average finish], it’s not as straightforward for teammate Dillon. The No. 3 has less wins, top fives and top 10s with 10 races to go in 2021, however, is currently holding a career-best average finish of 15.2.

Placing sixth and second in the stages, Dillon was placing pressure on Reddick for the final playoff spot. However, final-lap calamity crushed Dillon’s chances and placed his car stuck on the Turn 3 banking. A DNF and 18th-place finish ended his shot at a fifth playoff appearance.

“I felt like I did everything I could,” Dillon said. “It’s hard to tell yourself to be patient. Coming to the white flag, the No. 12 [Ryan Blaney] and whoever was pushing him got loose into Turn 3. I felt I had an opportunity. I got split at the line and got stuck in the middle. I was hoping someone would drop down and pick us up. We just did get what we needed.

“I definitely put myself into as many positions as I could to lead laps and win the race. I hate we didn’t get a victory throughout the year because this year was a one-off year where a ton of people got to Victory Lane. We beat a lot of those guys on points but it doesn’t matter.

“Wins really are the only things that matter.”

Going winless in the regular season for only the second time in the last five years, Dillon knew Saturday at Daytona would be pressure-filled. But the challenges were far more than stressful number crunching.

With a battery problem late in the going, the last-lap wreck only symbolized what was a difficult last couple weeks.

“[The battery] started dying, I could look down and see the voltage dropping,” he said. “We needed to change it so it wouldn’t burn out.

“[After the wreck] I was wanting to come around and finish [the race]. I was wedged on top of the banking. It’s like, ‘… oh well.’

“It’s unfortunate. We raced our tails off and came up a little short. Hats off to the guys on my No. 3 team. They built two rocket ships to get in with and we came up short. We’ll build on this and try to finish off the year strong.”

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