By David Morgan, Associate Editor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Tyler Reddick came into Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona as the 16th driver in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings with his Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon on the outside looking in.
After a wild night at the World Center of Racing, Reddick will leave right where he came in, with the final spot in the Cup Series Playoffs after finishing sixth, while Dillon fell just short of unseating him after being involved in the final crash of overtime that ended the race.
Though the two drivers remained 16th and 17th in points, respectively, after the race, the night was not quite as cut and dry as that, but instead was a rollercoaster ride that nearly saw both drivers missing out on the chance to compete for a championship.
At certain points of the race, Dillon was on top, and at other times, it was Reddick that was leading the way for RCR, but starting at lap 142, things started to take a turn.
Following a trip down pit road under caution, Dillon would be busted for speeding on entry, but that would be the least of his worries as a voltage problem with his No. 3 Chevrolet reared its head at the worst possible time.
Dillon would be able to continue on, with his team telling him to shut off all non-essential items in the car to preserve power.
Just four laps later, it was Reddick’s turn to run into trouble when he found himself caught up in a multi-car crash on the backstretch. In the midst of the chaos, Reddick ran into the back of Martin Truex, Jr’s car, damaging the nose on his Chevrolet and causing possible damage to his engine.
Reddick limped his smoking car to pit road, where the team worked to bypass the fluid leak, but when he returned to the track smoke continued to trail from his battered machine.
After a red flag period for track cleanup, Reddick returned to pit road for his team to try and clean up the engine bay in an effort to keep his car from continuing to smoke.
Reddick noted that he wasn’t worried about the engine issues, trusting that his crew had gotten him back in the game.
“Once the vitals on the dash showed everything was fine, me personally, I wasn’t worried,” he said. “It was a matter of getting the oil that was trapped or stuck…..just a matter of time for it to just work its way out of the car and to stop looking like we were having all kinds of leaks. That is when NASCAR thought we still had a leak. Technically our engine was good, and we didn’t have any leaks. We just had some fluid lying around from the accident.”
During that same period, Dillon made his way to pit road for a battery change to try and resolve the continuing voltage issues with his car.
Despite all of the hurdles, both were still in the running for the final spot in the Playoffs, but a new nemesis emerged with the possibility of a first-time winner coming in to spoil the RCR party, along with having to dodge a massive 11-car wreck in Turn 4 that took the race into overtime.
Both drivers would emerge relatively unscathed from that crash, but overtime would be a different story.
It was simple math for the RCR duo, Reddick just had to finish ahead of Dillon in order to take home the final Playoff spot, barring a new winner, which was still a very real possibility, while Dillon would have to drive to the front and win in order to unseat Reddick.
A number of possible first-time winners challenged for the lead over the final two laps, but when another multi-car crash was triggered in Turn 3 on the final lap, the yellow flag was displayed with Ryan Blaney out in front of Chris Buescher, delivering him the victory.
Reddick was somehow able to avoid the carnage of the last-lap crash to come out in sixth-place to make his Playoff berth official.
“There was definitely so much happening there during the race and I didn’t get nervous till Stage 3 there on a restart that I thought was coming, but he did a really good job of matching the move with Chase Elliott going three-wide on the bottom and we lost all the track position that we gained there in Stage 2,” Reddick explained of his nerves during the race.
“From that point on we had the cycles and the cautions that came when we got collected in that accident with 15 to go. Yeah, that is when the nerves kind of shot up because the car is crashed, we were out of the draft, and not really sure what was going to happen. We caught a caution and fortunately got through that last crash. Even more fortunate than that was that Ryan Blaney was able to win and if you look at the guys from third to myself, if any of those guys win but Blaney, we are having a different conversation.”
Dillon wasn’t as lucky in overtime as he was swept up in the multi-car melee, ultimately finding himself high-sided on the banking. On the final rundown, Dillon would be scored in 18th place.
“It was a little bit of a roller coaster ride,” Dillon said. “We fought our butts off in the stages. We made some good moves to get points and found ourselves in fourth-place for a green-white-checkered here at Daytona. That’s where we were when we won the Daytona 500, so I was feeling pretty good about it.
“I don’t know – looking back, I wish I would have been a little more patient and probably stay in the top line. But I had a run and they all kind of boggled getting into (turn) three, so I went with the 17 (Chris Buescher) just to see if we could get all the way to the front. The 42 (Ross Chastain) kind of left us at the line and our night was over there. We were kind of in the middle, had a big run and then the crash happened. “We fought hard. The Bass Pro Shop Chevy was very fast. Two weeks in a row we’ve had great cars out of the 3 Team. Just haven’t gotten the finishes we’d like to have, but very thankful that the good Lord took care of us tonight and we get to race at Darlington next week. Unfortunate that we’re not in the Playoffs, but we gave it all we could and fought until the very end.”