The good news for Richard Childress Racing is that it has two cars fighting to make the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs with three races left in the regular season. The bad news? One driver is above the cutline on the playoff grid, and the other is the first driver below it.
Tyler Reddick vs. Austin Dillon.
Going into the inaugural Cup Series race on the Indianapolis road course (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, NBC), Reddick holds down the final playoff spot with a 15-point lead on his teammate.
“We can only do what we can control,” Randall Burnett, Reddick’s crew chief, said. “What we try to control is bringing fast race cars and giving Tyler the right things he needs and the tools he needs to run well, grab points, run up front and try to win some races. That’s what we’re focused on. It really hasn’t changed since the beginning of the year, and if you go out and do your job and execute properly and don’t make mistakes, then the rest should take care of itself.
“We work tight with the 3 [Austin Dillon] guys; we’ve got a pretty tight-knit team, and myself and Justin [Alexander, Dillon’s crew chief] work really well together, and our engineers work really close together. Austin and Tyler share a lot of things too. So, none of that’s changed going forward. The big goal is to get both cars in the (playoffs), and obviously, if one of us wins, the other has to win too, so we’ve only got three opportunities left for that. We definitely want at least one RCR car in the (playoffs), if not both. So, we’re really all focused on trying to do that and get that goal accomplished.”
For Indy, Burnett is bringing the No. 8 Chevrolet that Reddick drove at Road America, where they finished eighth. Reddick also outperformed and scored more points than Dillon at Watkins Glen.
But Dillon, who’s made the playoffs in four of his seven full seasons, admitted he is not as stressed as he might be in previous years. Being below the cutline, Dillon and his team have a nothing-to-lose attitude. He’s been working hard on his road course preparation, and the finale is at a track, Daytona, that Dillon also feels good about.
“I’ve been pretty calm about it,” Dillon said. “It’s unfortunate the amount of winners that we’ve had this year; I feel like we’d be in a safe place right now, but we’re not. It’s just the situation we’re in, and we’re racing our teammate, but I’m pretty confident after being on the sim a couple of weeks at Indy. I usually don’t pick up the road courses on the simulator very fast, but for some reason, Indy came to me pretty quick — which is good, I think, for what we’re going into.
“I think qualifying is the biggest thing on my mind right now. It’s so hard to pass on all these road courses that get strung out that starting position matters.”
Reddick is 12th in the overall point standings, three points behind Alex Bowman in 11th place. Dillon is 13th in points. However, wins by drivers like Michael McDowell and Aric Almirola, who are outside the top 16 in points, shuffle the playoff grid. Kurt Busch is also behind the Childress cars in points but in with a win. All of this has put Reddick and Dillon into a head-to-head battle.
Indianapolis, Michigan, and Daytona will finalize the playoff contenders. Burnett did acknowledge it is tricky racing a teammate. While Burnett will continue to focus on his team and strategy, the No. 8 team does need to keep aware of what the No. 3 team is doing.
“A lot of times during the race, we’ll be IM’ing back and forth and talking about pit strategy, and you kind of have to be a little careful with that because they can use that against you, and we can use that against them,” said Burnett. “But like I said, we have a real open line of communication, and we’re trying to do the best we can to get at least one of these RCR cars in (the playoffs).”
Reddick did not make the playoffs last year, and Dillon did. The last time Childress placed two cars in the postseason was with Dillon and Ryan Newman in 2017.
“We have a 15-point gap right now, and if we can maintain or gain a little this weekend, I feel like the next two weeks are good tracks for us, and we’ll be in a pretty decent situation going into Daytona if it is a points game,” Dillon said. “Obviously, I’d like to lock ourselves in with a win and just don’t want any (other) new winners. That would really put us out.
“I’ve been working out and am ready to go race and see what it brings us. I think we have been very consistent this year. We just haven’t had the speed we want at some of these tracks, but the road course stuff has been fun. It’s such an improvement for me that I’d love to go back to some of these road courses a second time with what I’ve learned this year.”