By Dustin Albino

Two weeks ago, Richard Childress Racing was sitting pretty when it came to the playoffs. Two unexpected winners later, and both RCR teams are battling for their playoff lives.

With Kurt Busch winning last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Austin Dillon entered New Hampshire Motor Speedway ranked 15th on the playoff board, with a 104-point buffer. Tyler Reddick was moved down to the cutline, still sitting 96 points above Chris Buescher, who entered the race the first man out.

But neither driver could have predicted what was to come on Sunday (July 18) at New Hampshire.

Aric Almirola, who entered the race 27th in points and had just two top-10 finishes in the opening 21 races of the season, won the race straight up. Now, with four races to go, the No. 10 team is all-but guaranteed a playoff position while the two RCR drivers are battling each other heads up.

By virtue of picking up 10 stage points and finishing 13th at New Hampshire, Reddick gained 13 points on Dillon. The No. 3 car finished the race in 17th position.

But both drivers felt the swing via an Almirola victory.

“Kurt was one of those guys, speed wise, that is good enough to make the playoffs,” Reddick told after the race. “The [No.] 10 on the other hand, I don‘t keep up with his stats but I haven‘t seen him all year. His year started off like ours did: not good. I don‘t know how he‘s ran all year, but this was definitely a big change in their normal pace. Not ideal”

Dillon echoed his teammates words, surprised by Almirola winning the race.

Dillon said, “Obviously people can find speed at the snap of their fingers all of a sudden. It‘s weird. We‘ve just got to fight hard; we‘ve got a lot of fight in us. Just keep working, but we haven‘t been where we‘ve wanted to be.”

Four races remain in the regular season. Two come on road courses at Watkins Glen International and the inaugural event at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. The penultimate race of the regular season comes at Michigan International Speedway. Daytona International Speedway hosts the regular season finale.

With three unpredictable races left — especially Daytona — both drivers remain optimistic about their chances to make the postseason, though Reddick’s strategy has shifted, now sitting on the bubble.

“We‘re good enough to win at these two road courses coming up, but now we‘re going to have to race for stage point,” Reddick said. “It’s going to totally shit the bed for what our normal race strategy that we wanted to have. I don‘t know what the right strategy is going to be. I can‘t sit here and say, ‘Oh, we‘ve got to go for race wins and we‘re going to be fine.‘ But it definitely changes things and it‘s not at all what RCR needs is a points situation.

“It‘s not one car versus the other, ever, with any sort of circumstances. It‘s going to make things very interesting.”

Reddick has two top-10 finishes in the last three road course races, and started from the pole at Circuit of The Americas. Two weeks ago at Road America, it was the No. 8 team that scored the most points in the race.

Dillon, who currently sits 13th in the overall point standings, knows it’s going to be a challenge to beat the No. 8 team.

“We‘ll just see what we‘ve got, but [Reddick has] been really fast lately,” Dillon stated. “We‘ve just got to make our program a little bit better and it will work out.”

The Cup Series has two off weeks before returning to action at Watkins Glen on Aug. 8. In six starts at WGI, Dillon has a best result of 16th. Meanwhile, Reddick has never been to the track in a Cup car.

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