Tyler Reddick edges Dillon in emotional run to final playoff berth at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Tyler Reddick drew some dramatic comparisons after making the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as the 16th and final qualifier, likening it to the anxiety of a roller-coaster ride and even the overwhelming emotions of becoming a father. By the end of 400-plus miles, the 25-year-old driver was spent. Nerves, shot.

“I was just relieved, glad it was over and that we’d gotten the good news,” Reddick said.

Reddick nursed a battered No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a gutsy fifth-place finish in Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400, sealing his first playoff appearance in his second Cup Series season at Daytona International Speedway. He let out a triumphant yell on the team radio after getting the word that he had clinched — all in spite of a final-stage crash, his car’s smoking fit afterward and a frantic scramble to patch things up for the final run.

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“The fight we had tonight, it’s going to carry us a long way,” Reddick said on the team radio after the checkered flag. “… Whatever the case, we don’t quit. Just the beginning. The fun’s about to start.”

Fun? For all parties invested in the outcome’s playoff implications, the uncertainty in one of the more competitive superspeedway races in recent memory was plenty. Reddick earned that congratulatory hug on pit road from team owner Richard Childress, who faced his own race-long bundle of nerves on two fronts. Reddick’s clincher proved to be the ouster of teammate Austin Dillon, who battled his own issues with a pit-road speeding penalty, a voltage problem on his No. 3 Chevrolet that prompted a late battery change and later, his involvement in an overtime crash that left him 17th in the finishing order and 29 points behind Reddick in the tally for the final berth.

Reddick went from 15th to fifth in the two-lap overtime dash, padding his points edge. Dillon went from contending for the race win — sitting in fourth place before overtime — to having his damaged car wedged where the high banks and the apron meet.

“We went to fourth, and that’s where we won the race from when we won the (Daytona) 500,” said Dillon, who threaded his way through the preceding multicar crash that sent the race to extra laps. “I was really confident at that point, and it’s really hard to tell yourself to be patient. … Just didn’t get what we need because of the melee and we were in the middle of it. Unfortunate. We raced our tails off and came up a little short. Hat’s off to all my guys on the 3 team. They built two rocket ships for me to try and get in with, and we just came up short. We’ll build on this and try and finish off the year strong, build for next year.”

Childress’ nerves were doubly jangled. Besides the points battle between Reddick and Dillon, the threat of a first-time winner knocking both RCR cars out of the playoff picture loomed as a possibility that grew more real as the laps ticked down and more and more contenders rumpled sheet metal.

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Ryan Blaney closed the door on the would-be first-timers by escaping with his third victory of the season, edging Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace, Ryan Newman and Ryan Preece across the line — all four of whom stood to steal the 16th playoff spot had Blaney faded. (Buescher’s bid would later be a moot point; his No. 17 Roush Fenway Ford was disqualified in post-race inspection.)

“I just wanted to see the 12 (Blaney) win instead of a new winner,” Childress said. “I knew we’d get one of them in if we could.”

Randall Burnett, Reddick’s crew chief, had his own pressure cooker atop the pit box. A Lap 147 crash gave the No. 8 Chevrolet significant wounds and time nearly ran out on the damaged-vehicle policy crash clock. Near the end, Burnett came over the radio and told his driver that the team had done all it could, adding simply, “go like hell.”

“It was definitely a roller coaster on the pit box, for sure. You feel so helpless, a race like this,” Burnett said later in the garage. “It’s not like a normal race where you build your car and you go and you have good speed. Everybody’s running on top of one another here. It’s just nerve-wracking. At any given second, any lap, you could be wrecked and out — and it could be not of your own doing. That’s how we got the damage we got … minding our own business. That set off a whole other chain of events we had to go through. That’s part of it.”

It all put Reddick in, providing postseason hope for the 10 races ahead.

“To finish was an accomplishment,” Burnett said. “But to still finish where we needed to was an even bigger accomplishment.”