After countless letdowns, shortcomings, and a hard-fought battle with Chase Elliott, Tyler Reddick is finally a winner in the NASCAR Cup series. The well-deserved victory came in Reddick’s 92nd start in Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 at Road America, making him the fifth first-time winner this season.
The race was a two-man show all day, as pole sitter Chase Elliott got out to a commanding lead and dominated for most of the day. Reddick, who started fourth, showed speed right out of the gate as well, but was no match for Elliott in the early stages.
With Elliott’s road course prowess mixed with a scary fast race car, he spent most of the race running multiple tenths faster than the field. His substantial advantage over the competition made it seem as though he was primed to cruise to an uncontested victory. Yet, as the race progressed, Reddick lingered in Elliott’s shadows, slowly shrinking the deficit lap-by-lap.
By the time the final round of pit stops cycled through with about 20 laps to go, the two young drivers were nose-to-tail. With Reddick in hot pursuit of Elliott, the once seemingly easy joyride for Elliott soon became a mano-y-mano heavyweight match between NASCAR’s road course king and an up-and-comer hungry to prove himself with his first win.
Lap after lap, Reddick did everything he could to get past Elliott. The two drivers were better in different sections of the track, making it a high speed game of cat and mouse that neither driver was willing to lose.
Finally, someone faltered.
Elliott overshot turn five and Reddick’s opportunity finally came. He dove to the inside and finished the move in the next turn. After that, Elliott appeared to have used up his equipment and had little left in the tank to challenge Reddick in return.
That’s what makes Reddick’s win so impressive. He did not start out with the fastest car but instead constantly improved throughout the day. That improvement allowed him to pressure one of NASCAR’s best into going too hard, too early, which ultimately opened the door for his first career victory. It was a true chess match that exemplified Reddick’s development as a driver since he first entered the Cup Series in 2019.
Reddick’s path to his first win was one that tested his patience and optimism at every turn. With five second-place finishes to date prior to this past weekend, he had come up just short so many times. For a while it was beginning to seem like Reddick had all the speed he needed, but simply did not have the luck or approach he needed to close the deal out when it mattered.
His tribulations hit a peak earlier this season where he had multiple chances to win, only to watch potential wins slip away in the worst of ways. After leading 90 laps at California and having the car to beat, Reddick fell victim to a flat left rear tire that sent him into the wall and ended his day.
If that wasn’t bad enough, he was two turns away from victory at Bristol Dirt when a desperate Chase Briscoe dive-bombed the corner and took both drivers out, handing the victory to Kyle Busch.
Reddick’s talent has brought with it the inevitable heartbreak that comes with contending for Cup Series victories. With each shocking way that Reddick watched a win slip away, he was brutally reminded just how elusive a Cup win can be. This is the top level, where nothing is handed out and anything can go wrong, but that can all be forgotten now that he’s finally found the top of the scoring pylon.
In terms of the bigger picture, Reddick’s win means there are only three more “win-and-you’re-in” playoff spots available. With so much talent and such limited space, the run to the playoffs is shaping up to be one of the best one’s we’ve seen since the inception of the format.
Playoff favorites such as Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick, and Christopher Bell, all sit without a win with only eight races remaining in the regular season.
It is looking as though a driver with a win may get kicked out of the 16-driver field this year, while other drivers who have a great spot in the standings may miss out due to their lack of a win. With drivers like Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Daniel Suarez, and Chase Briscoe sitting right on the bubble, a win from any of the aforementioned winless drivers could bump them one spot closer to missing the playoffs. Currently, there are five winless drivers within the top 12 in points, which will give them precedent over the drivers behind them who have won already.
The pressure is on for everyone with fewer than two wins now, as no one is safe and anything can change within a week. With an extremely diverse schedule of tracks coming up during this summer stretch, the next surprise winner could strike at any week and shake up the playoff picture even further.
At the end of the day, Tyler Reddick is one of the fastest young drivers in the Cup Series garage. The speed was always there for him, but Sunday proved that he is learning the strategic side of the sport, as well.
Cup races are not just races, they’re marathons. It took Reddick a few years to learn how to finish races out strong, but it is safe to say that now he is showing that improvement, and Sunday's win will likely be the first win of many to come.
With Reddick’s triumph, along with the vast variety of winners this year, it is safe to say that the new car is awarding talent, promoting parity, and creating the playoff scenarios fans have always dreamed of.
With the intensity only rising for the next eight weeks, it’s time to clear your schedule on Sunday’s to see how this season plays out.