Editor's note: Full results, race notes and updated driver standings are at the bottom of the story.
It typically happens at least once in every NASCAR Cup season, where someone who is so deserving to win – especially after numerous close calls, runner-up finishes and frustrating losses – finally takes the checkered flag and triumphantly celebrates in victory lane.
It happened once again on Sunday at Road America in Central Wisconsin. Tyler Reddick, one of the most deserving drivers in a long time, finally broke through for his first career Cup win in the Kwik Trip 250.
As journalists, we’re supposed to be objective. But when you have a back story like the kind that preceded Reddick to his win, you can’t help but feel good and happy for the young man.
Reddick came into Sunday’s race at the longest track on the circuit (4.048 miles and 14 turns) as maybe not necessarily the king of frustration in the Cup Series, but certainly was the prince of it.
In 91 previous Cup starts, Reddick compiled five runner-up finishes – at Texas, Homestead, the Charlotte Roval, Bristol (dirt) and Darlington – but never was able to make it to the finish line first.
To borrow an old adage in NASCAR, if there ever was a guy primed for and most deserving of a win, it was the 27-year-old young man from Corning, California.
Not only is Reddick a talented driver, he’s also a great guy to get to know. But up until Sunday, he was someone who put up with so much frustration, difficulty, ill-timed wrecks (usually not of his making) and just sheer bad luck that it would not be surprising if he questioned whether he’d ever win a Cup race.
This, coming from a guy who won 10 races and two championships (2018 and 2019) in NASCAR’s junior series, the Xfinity Series.
He came to Richard Childress Racing and the Cup Series with so much promise, that it’s hard to believe he went over 90 races before finally hitting pay dirt in Race No. 92 of his Cup career.
In so doing, Reddick becomes the 13th different winner in the Cup Series this season – including the fifth first-time winner of the season.
Which also further hastens a potential problem for the Cup Series. There are still eight more races before the playoffs begin. That means there are only three spots remaining to be filled before the full 16-driver complement is reached.
NASCAR has never had a situation in past playoff situations where it had more race winners than playoff berths. But that potentially may occur in 2022, the year of the so-called Next Gen car.
That new vehicle has not only brought about the hoped-for parity that NASCAR and its teams hoped for, it has also spread things out so much that at the halfway point of the 36-race season, no driver yet has more than two wins thus far.
That’s so unlike the way it has been in all the previous seasons of the NASCAR playoff system. We’ve seen drivers run away with seven, eight, nine and even 10 wins in a single season.
But at the rate things are going now, I will venture a guess and say that no driver – including whoever ultimately wins the championship – will earn more than four wins in 2022.
Okay, maybe five, but that’s the max.
But let’s get back to the three open slots remaining to make the playoffs. And how about those drivers outside the top 16 that remain winless, including Erik Jones, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon, Cole Custer, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland and the shocking 30th-place ranking of Brad Keselowski.
(I still can’t figure that one out. I thought for sure Kes would be in the top 10, at the very least).
So, right there, you have one dozen drivers who still have the potential of making the playoffs.
All they have to do is win.
But then, what happens to guys who are still winless but are currently among the top 16 points-wise? Guys like Kevin Harvick and teammate Aric Almirola, who are ranked 11th and 12th after Road America, yet neither has won a race.
Will they be potentially knocked out of the playoffs if they fail to win and three or more of the still-winless dozen below the current cutoff line win in the next eight races?
And what happens if, by some fluke, we end up with 17 or 18 or even 19 drivers who have earned at least one win in the first 26 races of the so-called “regular season”? Does the lowest-ranked driver or drivers – even if he/they have at least one win – get eliminated from the playoffs?
Or would NASCAR do what it did in 2013 when, due to the whole Michael Waltrip Racing scandal, expanded the playoff field to accommodate Jeff Gordon as the 13th driver in the then 12-driver playoff field?
Sure, NASCAR has its rules – and rules are meant to be adhered to – but if more than three drivers win for the first time in the next eight races, I believe all drivers with at least one win should make the playoffs.
Even if it ultimately becomes, say, an 18-, 19- or even a 20-car field (which would be the best solution from a mathematical perspective, but that’s a whole different story for another time).
No matter what, Reddick is in the playoffs as a result of Sunday’s win. He deserves it. And quite honestly, after all the bad stuff he’s gone through this season, making the playoffs couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Now, just watch Reddick go out and win the championship – even if he ends up the season with just that one win.
That could be one of the greatest rags-to-riches story the sport has ever seen.