DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There's one guy Tyler Reddick doesn't expect any help from Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway: his teammate.
Reddick and fellow Richard Childress Racing driver Austin Dillon are essentially battling each other for the 16th and final spot in the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. And that makes teamwork at the 2.5-mile superspeedway downright tricky — maybe even unthinkable — for the duo.
"Anything I do to help him, hurts me. Anything he does to help me, hurts him," Reddick said. "So we really can't work together at all, unfortunately. It's kind of a weird spot."
Fourteen drivers have a shot at the last postseason berth. Dillon and Reddick are the only ones in that group who can get in on points without a win, but to advance that way, they need a repeat winner — 13 drivers have at least one trip to victory lane this season — or a triumph as shocking as Michael McDowell's stunner in the season-opening Daytona 500.
Dillon and Reddick would prefer to take all the guesswork out of the equation by winning themselves. And given their history at NASCAR's birthplace, no one would be surprised to see them celebrating a win underneath the fireworks Saturday night.
Although Reddick, 25, is winless in 63 Cup Series starts, he has two victories at Daytona in other series: the 2015 Truck Series opener while driving for Brad Keselowski Racing and the 2018 Xfinity Series opener with JR Motorsports.
He took the lead with nine laps to go at Daytona last August in another scenario in which a win would have put him in the playoffs, but seconds later he crashed trying to block Kyle Busch. Reddick, in fact, has crashed in three of four Cup Series starts at Daytona and never finished better than 27th.
"We've just got one more hurdle and, unfortunately, it's a big one," Reddick said. "One with a lot of uncertainty, not just with who's going to be running at the end but how much different the car is going to drive with the different horsepower and so many drivers below the (postseason) cut line that are all out of options and desperate going into Daytona to do whatever it takes to win and lock themselves in as well."
Dillon isn't ready to panic.
The 31-year-old with three Cup Series career victories has been at his best at Daytona. The 2018 Daytona 500 winner finished third in February's edition of "The Great American Race" and won the 2015 Xfinity race. He has 10 top-five finishes and 15 top-10 results in 26 combined Cup and Xfinity starts at the famed track.
"For me, we're in a little bit of a nothing to lose attitude right now because we've got to gain on our teammate, and if not, we've got to win somehow," he said, citing Daytona as a place his No. 3 Chevrolet shines because of the strong horsepower in the engines built via RCR's partnership with Hendrick Motorsports.
"We've just had the ability to keep that No. 3 at the front when we go to Daytona. It's a magical place, and I've had some great runs there. I'm pumped that it's the last race of our regular season."
Given the unpredictability of superspeedway racing, teamwork is as paramount as it is practical on the high-banked oval. But normal alliances are sure to be tested given the stakes, and even friends and teammates like Dillon and Reddick won't be able to help each other.
"It's a difficult thing," Reddick said. "As much as we would love to work together, be up front and control the race, it's just not really an option for us. I can't push him to the win and still make the playoffs. And he can't push me to the win and still make the playoffs.
"It's just an unfortunate spot for us to be in right now."
The 12 drivers who must win to have a shot at making the playoffs are Matt DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Bubba Wallace, Chase Briscoe, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Ryan Newman, Ryan Preece, Cole Custer and Anthony Alfredo.
The 15 drivers who already have clinched postseason spots are Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Christopher Bell, McDowell and Aric Almirola.
Larson vs. Hamlin
The regular-season title will be decided Saturday night between Hendrick's Larson and Joe Gibb Racing's Hamlin, a three-time Daytona 500 winner, and it's not a meaningless award.
In addition to a trophy, the champion earns 15 additional playoff points to be applied when the field is reseeded. Hamlin led the points standings for 22 weeks until Larson moved to the top spot two races ago in Indianapolis.
Hamlin now sits 28 points behind Larson in the title fight, and only a bad night would keep Larson from clinching those critical points. Hamlin desperately needs additional playoff points, though; he has just five (compared to Larson's 37) headed into Daytona.
"We seem to put ourselves in contention each and every year at Daytona, so we always look forward to racing there," Hamlin said, "and because my playoff spot is clinched, I can go on offense. I've got nothing to lose."
The family of Wendell Scott, the only Black driver to win a race at NASCAR's top level, will receive a trophy commemorating his historic 1963 victory before Saturday night's race.
Scott passed Richard Petty with 25 laps remaining at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, on Dec. 1, 1963, in the Jacksonville 200.
Buck Baker, who actually finished second, was declared the winner and received the trophy in a victory lane celebration. Race officials discovered hours after the race that Scott was the actual winner by a full two laps on the rest of the field. But he was not credited with the victory for another two years, and his family has long pushed for a proper celebration.
Scott retired because of injuries from a 1973 crash at Talladega Superspeedway and the Danville, Virginia, native died in 1990 of spinal cancer.
He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2015, two years after the city of Danville awarded Scott a historical marker. The statement on the marker notes that "persevering over prejudice and discrimination, Scott broke racial barriers in NASCAR." In a 13-year career, Scott notched 20 top-five finishes.