Three spots. Four races. That’s all that remains until the NASCAR Playoffs begin.
Aric Almirola became the 13th different winner of the 2021 season Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He was well below the cutline entering the 22nd points-paying events, sitting all the way down in 27th and 232 points outside the picture. Now he’s essentially guaranteed a postseason chance.
The three drivers currently safe from elimination despite a zero in the win column are Denny Hamlin (+283), Kevin Harvick (+82) and Tyler Reddick (+5). Austin Dillon is then in 17th – the first out – followed by Chris Buescher (-121) and Matt DiBenedetto (-143).
Those straddling the line – Reddick and Dillon – are teammates at Richard Childress Racing, too. Reddick is in his second season behind the wheel of the No. 8 Chevrolet. Dillon has driven the No. 3 Chevy since 2014.
“As we get closer to the playoff, though, we will need to have a clean race and get a win to secure our spot,” Reddick said. “I know our team can do it and we will keep battling.”
Before Sunday, both Reddick and Dillon were a part of the 16-driver field. Reddick had a 96-point buffer in 15th, and Dillon was up by 104 points in 16th. Almirola’s win bumped them, but their finishes didn’t help cushions. Reddick placed 13th, while Dillon was 17th.
“We had to overcome a few different things – overshooting the pit stall and scrubbing the wall – but even though that cost us track position, I steadily worked my way back up inside the top 10,” Reddick said. “There were a few different strategies in play at the end when we were racing against the darkness. I hate we didn’t get to run the full distance, because I think we could have finished better than 13th.”
The race did end eight laps early, completing 293 of the 301 laps, due to darkness. NASCAR threw the red flag nine laps in as rain fell. It lasted one hour, 41 minutes and 22 seconds.
RELATED: Cup Series point standings
The four tracks remaining on the schedule are Watkins Glen International (Aug. 8), Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course (Aug. 15), Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 22) and Daytona International Speedway (Aug. 28). The Cup Series has never raced Indy’s road layout, and Daytona is constantly referred to as a wild-card venue.
Reddick is still seeking his first career win. Meanwhile, Dillon has three career wins — the Coca-Cola 600 in 2017, the Daytona 500 in 2018 and at Texas Motor Speedway last year. Reddick has one top-five (Homestead-Miami Speedway) and 11 top-10 finishes this year. Dillon has one top five (Daytona) and six top 10s. Reddick didn’t qualify for the playoffs in his 2020 rookie season and turned out 19th in the final rankings. Dillon made the playoffs by virtue of a win — his fourth career trip to the postseason — and was eliminated in the Round of 12.
“There’s a lot of fight left in this team so don’t count us out of the NASCAR Playoffs battle yet,” Dillon said. “We’ll take these next few weekends to regroup before Watkins Glen.”