DAYTONA BEACH — There’s one guy Tyler Reddick doesn’t expect any help from at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday night: His teammate.
Reddick and fellow Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon are essentially battling each other for the 16th and final spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. And that makes teamwork at the 2½-mile superspeedway downright tricky, maybe even unthinkable, for the duo.
“Anything I do to help him, hurts me. Anything he does to help me, hurts him,” Reddick said. “So we really can’t work together at all, unfortunately. It’s kind of a weird spot.”
Fourteen drivers have a shot at the last postseason berth, each of them needing a win at Daytona to clinch. Reddick and Dillon, though, are the only ones who can get in on points without a win. They need a repeat winner – 13 drivers have at least one victory this season – or a win as shocking as Michael McDowell’s stunner in the Daytona 500 to advance that way.
Reddick and Dillon would prefer to take all the guesswork out of the equation by winning themselves. And given their history at NASCAR’s birthplace, no one would be surprised to see them in victory lane amid fireworks Saturday night.
Although Reddick is winless in 63 Cup starts, he has two victories at Daytona in other series. He won the 2015 Truck Series opener at Daytona while driving for Brad Keselowski Racing and won the 2018 Xfinity Series opener at Daytona with JR Motorsports.
He took the lead with nine laps to go at Daytona last August in another win-and-you’re-in scenario, but seconds later crashed trying to block Kyle Busch. Reddick, in fact, has crashed in three of four Cup starts at Daytona and never finished better than 27th.
“We’ve just got one more hurdle and, unfortunately, it’s a big one,” Reddick said. “One with a lot of uncertainty, not just with who’s going to be running at the end but how much different the car is going to drive with the different horsepower and so many drivers below the cut line that are all out of options and desperate going into Daytona to do whatever it takes to win and lock themselves in as well.”
Dillon isn’t ready to panic.
After all, he’s been at his best at the birthplace of NASCAR. The 2018 Daytona 500 winner finished third here in February and won the 2015 Xfinity race at Daytona. He has a 10 top-five finishes and 15 top-10s in 26 races (Cup and Xfinity) at the famed track.
“For me, we’re in a little bit of a nothing-to-lose attitude right now because we’ve got to gain on our teammate, and if not, we’ve got to win somehow,” he said, citing Daytona as a place his No. 3 Chevrolet shines because of the strong horsepower in the engines built in partnership with Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
“We’ve just had the ability to keep that No. 3 at the front when we go to Daytona,” he added. “It’s a magical place and I’ve had some great runs there. I’m pumped that it’s the last race of our regular season.”
Fifteen drivers already clinched postseason spots: Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, McDowell and Aric Almirola.
Given the unpredictability of racing at Daytona, teamwork is as paramount as it is practical on the high-banked oval. But normal alliances are sure to be tested given the stakes, and even friends and teammates like Reddick and Dillon won’t be able to help each other.
“It’s a difficult thing,” Reddick said. “As much as we would love to work together, be upfront and control the race, it’s just not really an option for us. I can’t push him to the win and still make the playoffs. And he can’t push me to the win and still make the playoffs.
“It’s just an unfortunate spot for us to be in right now.”
Regular season title
The regular season title will be decided Saturday night between Kyle Larson and three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin. It’s not a meaningless award, either.
In addition to a trophy, the regular season champion earns 15 additional playoff points to be applied when the field is reseeded. Hamlin held the regular season lead for 22 weeks until Larson claimed it two races ago at Indianapolis.
Hamlin now sits 28 points behind Larson for the title and he’d need Larson to have a bad night not to clinch those critical points. But Hamlin desperately needs additional playoff points — he has just five (compared to Larson’s 37) headed into Daytona.
“We seem to put ourselves in contention each and every year at Daytona, so we always look forward to racing there,” said Hamlin, “and because my playoff spot is clinched, I can go on offense. I’ve got nothing to lose.”
Odds and ends
Hamlin is the 17-2 betting favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, with Larson, Byron, Elliott, Logano, Blaney and Dillon close behind. ... There are 14 drivers who can earn the final playoff spot with a victory, but for 12 of them a win Saturday night it there only shot. They are: Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer and Anthony Alfredo. ... There have been 22 drivers who earned their first career victory at Daytona, including William Byron last August to earn the final playoff berth and Michael McDowell in this year’s season-opening Daytona 500.
By MARK LONG AP Sports Writer