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‘A roller coaster of nerves': How Tyler Reddick improbably captured the last Cup playoff spot

A relieved Tyler Reddick describes what it's like to race at Daytona on the bubble for the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

DAYTONA BEACH, Florida – Some sponsor VIPs wandered over to see the mangled mess of a race car that Tyler Reddick wrangled into the final NASCAR playoff spot Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.

Asked by a Richard Childress Racing executive if they wanted a photo with the No. 8 Chevrolet, a woman in a Cheddar’s polo could muster only a one-word reply: “Wow.”

The bewilderment summed up the postrace sentiment for Reddick, who finished fifth in a Camaro with a caved-in nose, a heap of crumpled sheet metal on all sides and a nonfunctioning oil cooler after a collision with Martin Truex Jr. left the Richard Childress Racing minutes away from being eliminated from the race and his first playoff berth.

But after some emergency repair work kept him in the race, Reddick rallied from 29th with 12 laps remaining to 17th on an overtime restart to sixth when he dodged several cars during a last-lap wreck in overtime.

“It feels incredible, but my emotions were shot as soon as we took the green on the last green-white-checkered,” an emotionally spent Reddick told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “I couldn’t believe we finished seventh. Getting through that last crash coming to the line. It was a lot. … Going to Homestead and racing for an Xfinity championship was really exciting and nerve wracking, but what a roller coaster it is to be on the bubble, go to Daytona, run into the back of somebody and have all the issues we did at the end.

“It almost felt helpless, but we didn’t give up. We fought through it.”

Said crew chief Randall Burnett with a smile: “Just a three- to four-hour roller coaster of nerves, emotion and fun. Just really excited to get this race over with, certainly the most stressful race I’ve been a part of in a long, long time.’

The tension reached a fever pitch on Lap 146 when white smoke began billowing from Reddick’s car after the contact knocked a hole in the oil cooler. Reddick made three pit stops over the next three laps of yellow as the team feverishly worked under the hood to bypass the lines around the oil cooler (a short-term fix that wouldn’t have held up for a full race).

“That was a moment of panic for sure,” Burnett said. “Our guys do a really good job and are more calm, cool, collected than I am in a situation like that. They were on it, got the hood up, diagnosed the problem and got it fixed.

Reddick hood

“When that happens, oil goes everywhere under the hood. It’s on the headers, it’s on all the frame, everything. The smoke’s still billowing and it’s hard to tell until it all burns off if you’ve still got a leak or not. That was a little nerve wracking, but we were able to get it cleared up, those guys did a good job fixing it. We had to get it all cleaned up to show NASCAR we’re not leaking oil. Definitely nerve wracking for sure.”

After his team took more than half of its allotted six minutes for repairs, Reddick returned to the track and felt relieved because “vitals on the dash showed that everything was fine” even though his car still was smoking.

“It was just going to be a matter of getting the oil that was trapped or was stuck that needed to leak out of the lines that we (bypassed),” he said. “It was just a matter of time for that to work its way out of the car. Because that’s when NASCAR thought we still had a leak, but technically our engine, everything was good. We just had some fluid lying around from the accident.”

Though Reddick, who entered Daytona 25 points ahead of RCR teammate Austin Dillon in the standings, was clinging to the final provisional playoff spot, he wasn’t out of the woods yet.

Several winless drivers threatened for a victory on the final two restarts that would have bumped Reddick from the playoff field, but Ryan Blaney’s second consecutive victory punched the final ticket.

“Ryan Newman, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher, anyone but Blaney finishes first there, and we’re having a different conversation,” Reddick said. “We got lucky. There were so many cars at the front that could have won this race and changed our entire season.”

NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - AUGUST 28: Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Mobil 1 Ford, Ross Chastain, driver of the #42 Clover Chevrolet, Tyler Reddick, driver of the #8 Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet, Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 Valvoline Instant Oil Change Chevrolet, Justin Haley, driver of the #77 FOE Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Unibet Ford, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Off Road Chevrolet, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 CommScope Chevrolet, are involved in an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway on August 28, 2021 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Instead, Reddick will begin his first bid for a Cup championship next week at Darlington Raceway after avoiding the last-lap calamity to notch only his second top five this season.

And he did it with a car that was so wounded, it drew postrace gawkers from other teams. After inspecting the rear-end damage to the No. 8 Camaro, James Small, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., pointed up at the infield scoring pylon and began to laugh.

“I’d never have suspected that,” Burnett said of the team’s first top five in nearly six months. “But I’ve seen wilder things here. It’s Daytona. We’re just fortunate it worked out.”