A day of promise began with an unforgettable moment. By the time the clock passed midnight, a special day had ended for both of Richard Childress Racing’s drivers.
Rookie Tyler Reddick finished a career-high fourth at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and teammate Austin Dillon placed seventh.
Sunday marked the first time since the July 2018 Daytona race that RCR had two cars finish in the top 10. The last time two RCR cars finished in the top 10 at a track other than Daytona or Talladega? That was 2017 at Darlington.
But before the day’s results would be recorded as among the team’s highlights, Sunday began with the birth of Dillon’s son.
Ace Dillon arrived at 6:30 a.m. Sunday. He weighed 9.1 pounds and was 21.5 inches. Austin Dillon spent a few hours with his son and wife Whitney before flying to Miami for the race.
“You’re just kind of like starry-eyed kids and you feel like you are 18 years old, but it ain’t that way anymore and you’re about to get ready to have a baby,” Dillon told NBC Sports of arriving at the hospital early Sunday morning. “It was funny on the way in, it was kind of surreal. We go through the process and the baby comes out into the world and it just blows your mind.”
Dillon said mother and son were fine afterward, noting “Ace was a stud.”
But Dillon had to leave by about 10 a.m. to go to the airport for his flight. He made it to the track about halfway through the Xfinity race and had time for a quick nap.
While this day had been circled for his son’s birth, Sunday also had special meaning for Reddick. It marked the return to the South Florida track that witnessed Reddick’s victories and Xfinity championships the past two seasons. Few drivers seemed to have been such a perfect fit for this 1.5-mile track as Reddick, who helped revolutionize running along the wall in the Xfinity Series.
Expectations were high for Reddick. He delivered with his first Cup top-five finish. But when it was over, Reddick had mixed emotions.
“I feel like if I could have just gotten ahead of those guys, what if, right?” Reddick told NBC Sports after the race. “I was definitely a little tighter than I needed to be. That was going to make it very challenging for me.
“We thought we were going to make the right adjustment to help us, but we couldn’t quite get our Chevy Cares Camaro to rotate better into Turn 1 like we have been wanting. We really couldn’t find that answer and, unfortunately, I think that is what held us back from being able to break through tonight.”
The more Reddick runs at the front, the more experience he and his team gain in making the right adjustments to take command late in a race.
“It’s me trying to figure out what I can do to the car to make it better,” he said. “It’s (crew chief Randall Burnett) figuring out what adjustments, what knobs can he turn better. On the Xfinity car we kind of had that notebook, we kind of knew what we could do to make those adjustments that I needed.
“On these Cup cars, they just drive a little bit differently. Because of that, it’s kind of like starting from scratch for him and myself and trying to predict that next step the track takes with the 400- and 500-mile races that we have and understanding that the next step is going to be another learning curve we’re going to have to tackle.”
Still, Reddick couldn’t be too down, saluting his pit crew’s performance. Reddick also was happy with something he didn’t do Sunday night while running close to the wall.
“i don’t feel like I stepped over the edge and made the Tyler Reddick rookie mistake,” he said. “Granted that could have been very well what held me back from being that little more aggressive to win the race, but it was going to be hard (to gain to pass the leaders late). I was just trying to play it smart. I guess that’s the biggest thing, I didn’t do anything extremely stupid to on the racetrack hurt our car, damage it or back us up through the day. We were able to get to the front and stay there. That made for a much smoother day than we’ve had in the past when we’ve gotten the good runs.”
Sunday’s race wasn’t easy for Dillon. His car’s handling was off early and he complained about it to crew chief Justin Alexander. The proper adjustments helped but NASCAR penalized Dillon for an uncontrolled tire on a pit stop. That dropped Dillon from fifth to 26th on Lap 175 of the 267-lap race.
Dillon climbed into the top 20 on Lap 184. He moved to 15th on Lap 195. He was 10th by Lap 211. After green-flag pit stops, he was back to 10th on Lap 219 and stayed inside the top 10 the rest of the race.
“We ended up having a very fast car,” Dillon said. “At the end of the race, we were a top-four car. The pit road penalty with the loose tire getting away, that hurt us, but we were able to drive from dead last up to seventh and you don’t usually do that. That was pretty special to get a seventh-place finish with the day that we had with having baby Ace. I was very pumped for that. Reddick had a good run also.”
While Richard Childress Racing had one of its better days in recent seasons, Dillon suggested more such days could be coming.
“I feel like people have been sleeping on us a little bit,” he said. “Since we came back from the quarantine, our No. 3 team has been pretty stout. We had an up-and-down race at Darlington, the first one we were good, the second one we were OK. Past that, the Charlotte races we flexed our muscles.”
Dillon finished 14th in the Coca-Cola 600. He followed it by placing eighth at the second Charlotte race, sixth at Bristol and 11th at Atlanta before finishing 37th at Martinsville after exiting the car early when he was overcome by fumes after early damage.
“We’ve had good cars for the last couple of weeks and it’s been fun to be a part of,” Dillon said. “I feel like we’ve got a good group, the 8 and the 3.”