NASCAR Cup Series
Austin Dillon Wins Way into Playoffs at Daytona
Aug 28, 2022
It’s no secret that Richard Childress wishes the Tyler Reddick free agency had played out a different way.
He wishes he could have prevented Reddick from leaving for 23XI Racing after next season or wishes the announcement had been done in synergy with Richard Childress Racing similar to how Kevin Harvick left almost a decade ago. There has even been some chatter that maybe Childress wishes he could go a different direction with the No. 8 in 2023.
Despite all those narratives, the one leaving Daytona International Speedway on Sunday afternoon is how Reddick did everything in his power to help his teammate cross the finish line first and advance into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
It’s figuratively similar to a Major League Baseball walk off home run.
Dillon entered the final race of the regular season facing a must win scenario, survived multiple obstacles and was pushed across the line by Reddick to win the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona, accomplishing that goal.
"The No. 8’s had some struggles this year, and the No. 3’s been there to help us and vice versa," Reddick said. " It’s really good that a lot of Chevrolets — whether it’s Trackhouse, Hendrick, ourselves — all of our cars are in the playoffs, so we’re able to really work together in a lot of key races coming up."
It’s the second time Dillon has won at Daytona and fourth overall at the highest level, this time resulting in his fifth playoff appearance in nine seasons.
But the case could be made that it’s the second time he won the race as the apparent sole survivor of the crash in the rain with 23 laps to go. And then it didn’t stop raining for almost two hours. During that time, Dillon was sequestered in a makeshift victory lane just in case they called the race. They didn’t and it quickly became apparent that NASCAR was fully committed to reaching 400 miles.
"You go in that room where they make you sit and put the camera on you forever, and it's like you're thinking in the back of your head that somebody is going to walk around the corner and say, 'Hey, congratulations, you've won,' but you don't let your mind drift to that.," Dillon said. "You still have laps to go.
"And I knew after that second storm that I had to get my mind right. If they didn't call it then, we were going back green."
Dillon would need to win the race again, and he did, with a de facto bump and run on Austin Cindric but at a superspeedway. From there, Reddick found his way to the back bumper of the iconic No. 3 and was fully committed to playing defender for his teammate.
Dillon never had a doubt.
"When I saw Tyler got there and they were all splitting up, I was, like, 'Man, I can't let them go too big of a run,' and I knew Tyler would have my back," DIllon said. "He has been a good teammate to me, and I enjoyed working with him. Hit the brake pedal. He got on my back bumper and from then on it was managing the gap to him in my mirror. We were able to bring it home."
When Reddick first revealed his departure, Dillon said he called Reddick to make sure none of the reasons were interpersonal in nature. It wasn’t.
"He said, 'no, you have been an amazing teammate. Me and Alexa really enjoyed being around you guys.' I said, 'Look, man, congratulations on your deal. Let's go try and win some races for RCR over the next year and a half.'
Childress wouldn't offer much when asked if this earned Reddick any additional goodwill but was adamant he was prepared to supply both drivers every resource required to compete for the championship over the next 10 weeks.
"I think I talked to all of those guys after his announcement, and I said we're going to give him 100 percent chance to win races and 100 percent chance at winning the championship," Childress said. "Now, we've got two in there, so we've got to give both of them the same advantage to try to win the championship."
Reddick was adamant that he wasn’t trying to curry good favor with his teammates over the next year. It’s just what any teammate in that situation would be wont to do.
"That’s not why I did it," Reddick said. "I did it for Austin. It wasn’t even on my mind, honestly. It was trying to get my friend, my teammate, fellow driver at RCR in the playoffs because it’s not just my group of guys that deserve it. It’s everybody at RCR that works really hard on these cars and now both of [them] are in the playoffs."
Next comes performing in the playoffs.
Historically, every time Dillon makes the playoffs, typically as one of the lower seeds, he has found a way to advance to the second round at the expense of a expected contender. With the Southern 500 kicking things off next week, Dillon sees no reason he can’t do it again.
"We've done a good job of upsetting some teams in that first round," Dillon said. "Darlington is a good place for me. So, it's a great starting point. I think we finished second the last time I was in the Playoffs in that race. I feel good at Darlington."
And with two cars in the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Childress is excited too.
"It's a million-dollar day," Childress said. "Just getting in the (playoffs), our drivers have bonuses by getting into the (playoffs) and crew chiefs. Justin (Alexander, crew chief) you made a little bit today too.
"I don't know how much I'll end up with after I get done paying all the bonuses, but it was worth it. It was worth it."