NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Zach’s Turn: Points Battle Between Tyler Reddick & Austin Dillon Heating Up

With three races remaining in the regular season, Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon know who they have to fight for the final playoff spot on points.

In fact, they probably know their competition too well.

That’s because the Richard Childress Racing teammates currently sit on opposite sides of the NASCAR Cup Series playoff cutline, with sophomore Reddick holding a 15-point advantage over the more experienced Dillon.

Such was the case entering the weekend at Watkins Glen International, as Reddick held a five-point gap over Dillon. The 2018-19 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion expanded that cushion Sunday (Aug. 8) in two ways – first by outrunning Dillon in stage one and again at the checkered flag.

In stage one, Reddick scored seven points for placing fourth at the conclusion of lap 20 while Dillon picked up two points for finishing ninth. At the end of the race, Reddick again got the better of Dillon by finishing 10th, as opposed to Dillon’s 15th-place effort.

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The chase for the postseason is unquestionably ratcheting up. And although there were two weekends off between New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen, some folks at RCR hardly took time to unwind.

“Either way, the two weeks that we had were going to get spent the same way, getting ready for Watkins Glen and the Indy [Indianapolis Motor Speedway] road course,” Reddick said in Sunday’s media bullpen. “But now there’s a lot more at stake, to be honest, so I think we worked even harder.

“I definitely think I could have spent more time away from the shop and more time at home relaxing, and I really wasn’t interested in that. I was very motivated to get as much done with these two weeks that we had off and just try and be ready coming into this.”

There’s a tale of two mindsets between the teammates, though.

“I gave myself one really long week there during the middle of [the break] to go to Florida, enjoy my time and family,” Dillon said Sunday. “And then when we came back, we started getting back on the simulator and trying to figure out how to make our cars go faster.”

Reddick’s approach, of course, seems more productive; but Dillon’s taken time to work on his road-course abilities, which have historically been lacking.

Heading into 2021, Dillon’s combined average finish on road courses (Sonoma Raceway, Watkins Glen and the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL) was 24.1. Through five such races this year, that road-course average is 17.0 with four top-15 runs, his best being an 11th-place effort at Road America in July.

That, in part, is aided by Dillon’s decision to run the Our Motorsports No. 23 Chevrolet in Xfinity this year at both Circuit of the Americas and Watkins Glen. That extra track time, particularly with no practice at The Glen, seems to have paid dividends.

“We kind of just put together a deal there a couple months back because I wanted to run more road course races and they wanted me to get in the car,” Dillon said. “And it all paid off with sponsorship. And I think I’m running next week as well at Indy, so I’m really excited that we’re gonna take that car, fix the track bar (which broke Saturday) and go run it again.”

The current success of RCR should be noted too. While I wrote about the team’s uptick in performance two months ago, the sample size is much larger now and continues to emphasize what Dillon believes is his steadiest season to date.

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The problem, he rightly pointed to, is that so many others have found victory lane this year.

“We’ve had a consistent year, probably my most consistent year I’ve ever had in the Cup Series, and it hasn’t been enough due to the wins,” Dillon said. “If you look back over time, though, we would be really pumped for where we were at points-wise [sitting 13th after The Glen]. And that’s just not the case. So we’ve got to refocus and really just bite down hard to show our mental fortitude the rest of the year.”

In the No. 8 camp, Reddick is all eyes forward, which is the same game plan he and crew chief Randall Burnett have employed all year.

“There was no need to really get together and have a big discussion about what we’re gonna do because nothing’s really changed,” Reddick said. “We both have the goals in front of us that are four races away and we’re gonna do everything we can to get there.

“This week was pretty much the same as other weeks, working on the simulator. When we find gains that the [No.] 3 has, that the [No.] 8 has, we re-evaluate and that’s how we figure out what to bring to the racetrack.”

Competition meetings at RCR have become a bit more tense, though, Dillon admitted. While setup notes have been communicated well, he said, with so few advantages to be found, no one on either team wants their teammate to come out ahead.

“I think the guys were in a strategy meeting this week, and they started talking about strategy and the race in there,” Dillon recalled. “And somebody was like, ‘we’re good on the meeting.’ And it was like, ‘well, we’re racing them over there!’ in the meeting.

“So it’s kind of funny when you talk strategy because stage points matter. You’re trying to flip each other [in the standings]. One and two points here go a long way. So strategy talk might be a little difficult as we go.”

Dillon met with media again Tuesday (Aug. 10) ahead of the Cup Series’ inaugural running on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Despite the trouble he’s faced on road courses previously, Dillon is carrying some swagger into the weekend.

“I’m pretty confident after being on the sim a couple of weeks at Indy,” Dillon said. “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 for this coming weekend and getting a good qualifying position, because I know how important – it’s so hard to pass on all these road courses that get strung out, that starting position matters.”

He’ll need that confidence as he tries to erase a 15-point deficit in the next three weeks and hopes no other surprise winners knock him out of contention.

The Verizon 200 at the Brickyard kicks off at 1 p.m. ET on NBC on Sunday, Aug. 15.

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4 Comments
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TiminPayson

NASCAR will put the fix in for the #3 at Daytona

DoninAjax

The Indy cars are at Indy on Saturday at 12:30. The Busch cars are at Indy on Saturday at 3:30. The Cup bumper cars are at Indy on Sunday.

Bill B

Or someone else below them could win and knock them both out, then this discussion will be moot.

Carl D.

That’s what I was thinking, especially at Daytona.

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