The final NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot will come down to Daytona International Speedway.
On one hand, Tyler Reddick enters the Coke Zero Sugar 400 25 points ahead of Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon. On the other hand, it’s a superspeedway race and literally anyone could win, even teams well outside of the top-15 in the championship standings so don’t print out the final brackets just yet.
Independent of the possibility of a surprise new winner on Saturday night, there has been a compelling point battle between Reddick and Dillon since Aric Almirola shocked his way into the playoffs last month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Dillon had maximized his stage point accrual in the first half of the race, gaining 12 points on Reddick by the end of the second stage when everything went terribly wrong, contact with Brad Keselowski sending him hard into the wall and out the race.
Dillon had led laps earlier in the race and appeared to have a car capable of outright winning his way into the Round of 16. He was racing side-by-side with Keselowski coming to the line, Dillon on the apron and Keselowski pinching him below the line, the two coming together right after taking the green-white checkered flag.
Dillon was attempting to merge up off the bumpy apron and Keselowski just hadn’t lifted yet. Both drivers immediately accepted blame on their respective radio channels. Dillon believed he moved up way too soon. Keselowski believed he should have lifted sooner or gave Dillon room to drift up.
“Oh man, I didn’t want to do that,” Keselowski said over the radio. “Oh! I didn’t want to wreck him! Just hold him down. Man, I’m sorry about that.”
Either way, the damage was done, and Dillon did not finish the race.
“I don’t know why it happened really,” Dillon said. “I thought I had a little room to come up, and he just held me down there a little bit too long, I guess.”
Dillon said his car was a ‘rocket ship’ and ‘was the best we brought to the track’ over the course of the season.
“You know, I was just trying to get as many stage points as I could get right there,” Dillon added. “Did a good job side-drafting, came down to the apron and I’ve seen just one quick replay, but it was after the start/finish line. I was starting to come up off the apron because it’s so rough down there, but I figured by that point he would have given me a little room. I’m thankful the good Lord kept me safe today. That was a heck of a wreck, but I feel fine.”
Keselowski also offered an apology after the race.
Watching this makes me sick to my stomach for Austin and his team. He was crazy fast today and deserved better. Definitely not what either of us wanted to see…
With a lap to go we both wanted the stage point and I should have given him more room to avoid this.
Glad he is ok. https://t.co/WPYxdmarWo
“I hate that I had that contact with the [Dillon],” Keselowski said. “That really sucks for everybody. It really hurt our day and obviously ruined his.”
It presented an opportunity for Reddick to gain back the points he had lost, and maybe even gain some additional ground over his teammate, but a cut tire resulting from an earlier crash sent him around and off the lead lap.
Reddick finished 29th and Dillon 36th.
The difference entering the race was 28 points, but Reddick ultimately lost three points when accounting for the difference in stage points, meaning that 25 points will be the difference entering Daytona.
Dillon won the 2018 Daytona 500 and Reddick led a lap late in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 last year before his involvement in a crash.
And of course, this could all become moot if anyone else amongst those not already locked into the playoff field wins on Saturday night.
The following 15 drivers have clinched a spot in the 16-driver postseason field: 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, Michael McDowell, Aric Almirola.
Can Clinch Via Points
If there is a repeat winner or a win by a driver who cannot advance to the Playoffs, the following drivers could clinch by being ahead of the 4th winless driver in the standings. The same point requirements listed below would hold true if a new win comes from among Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick.
Can Clinch Via Win
The following drivers would clinch on their win alone: Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Darrell Wallace Jr., Chase Briscoe, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer, Anthony Alfredo, Corey LaJoie.
Can Clinch Regular Season Championship
Additionally, the Regular Season Championship could be clinched by the following drivers:
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