Tyler Reddick has been one of the top 10 drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series this season, and yet, will be fighting for his playoff life over the next two weeks at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway.
Okay, technically he is 11th in the standings, but you get the gist.
Reddick has enjoyed a really competitive second season at Richard Childress Racing and with crew chief Randy Burnett. Approaching the summer break for the Olympics, Reddick appeared likely to coast his way into the playoffs with nothing to worry about.
Aric Almirola, outside the top-25 in points, won at New Hampshire and the landscape shifted accordingly.
What was almost a 100-point lead over the provisional cutline became a single digit advantage over teammate Austin Dillon.
So, here’s the set-up: Kevin Harvick has 67 points over Reddick, who has 28 points over Dillon. If there is a surprise winner outside of the top-15 over the next two races, Reddick would need to overtake Harvick in the standings.
If there are two surprise winners, Reddick and Harvick would both be eliminated, unless they’re the surprise winner.
Reddick and Burnett have taken the strategy of maximizing stage points over the past several weeks. At Watkins Glen, they chose not to pit approaching the stage break and won both stages, netting them two playoff points and 20 championship points.
If they make the playoffs, that could prove valuable as playoff points carry over from round-to-round.
“If someone new wins at Michigan, yeah, then it’s all back to all of this stuff that we’ve been working for kind of goes out the window and then we need to come up with a new plan that we will bring and then have at Daytona for that race,” Reddick said.
That plan would probably have to be win at whatever realistic cost, depending on what happens to the gap from Reddick to Harvick this weekend.
“At the moment, we’re just not really changing anything,” Reddick added. “At the moment, we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve done all year long. Once we get to Daytona after Michigan is in the rear-view mirror and seeing where we stack up in points, okay maybe we change our strategy if somebody new wins. Maybe not. We’ll just have to see after this weekend.”
Dillon was right in lockstep with Reddick until he was taken out by an airborne Michael McDowell running inside the top-15 during the chaotic finish on Sunday at the Indianapolis Road Course.
The 2018 Daytona 500 winner may need to win the regular season finale at Daytona to make the Round of 16.
This is coming from the driver 13th in points but not locked in:
“We have 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,” Dillon said. “So, Daytona is that place and it gives us an opportunity with our ECR horsepower.
“I don’t know. We’ve just had the ability to keep that No. 3 at the front when we go to Daytona. I like it. 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.”
Last year was the first time the regular season finale took place at Daytona, and it was an as advertised spectacle, with several winless must-windrivers taking turns leading and shoving their way to the front. Reddick was amongst that group, making a bold move to the lead before getting crashed out of the championship mix.
That group also included William Byron, who won his way in, and Jimmie Johnson, who failed to qualify for the elimination showdown in his final season.
Reddick would like to avoid a repeat of that scenario if possible.
“Well, the situation is a little bit different for us at the moment,” Reddick said. “I think we were 60 points behind the cutline at Daytona last year for that race. As of right now, going to Michigan, I think we’re up 23 points. So, the situation is a little bit different.
“We’re 11th in points. We’re looking at potentially, if we have a good two-race span, we might be able to get to tenth and get a Playoff point there, too. But in doing that, we could also maybe not even make the Playoffs all at the same time. Again, we’re just trying to control the things that we can.”
And yes, lastly, if Harvick has a pair of terrible races and there’s one surprise winner AND he gets overtaken in the standings, that would result in an elimination.
Talk about adding injury to injury after he won nine races last season but failed to make the final four due to a series of misfortunes in the final three-race round of the playoffs.
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