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Tyler Reddick reflects on closest finish in NASCAR history

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On Saturday night in Daytona Beach, everyone was hanging out at BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse.

At one table sat 10 people. Among them was Tyler Reddick, the winner of the day’s Xfinity Series race just down International Speedway Blvd. at Daytona International Speedway.

The 22-year-old driver ate and had a few drinks with friends and competitors, including Spencer Gallagher and his girlfriend.

At another table, Reddick’s spotter Earl Barban dined with his wife and a friend.

Ryan Reed, who finished third to Reddick, was at another with his family and some of Reddick’s friends.

At one point, a friend told Reddick he was getting together with people for drinks 10 miles away, right on the coast at Riptides Raw Bar & Grill.

Reddick tagged along.

When the JR Motorsports driver entered the establishment, a surprise gathering of between 30 and 40 friends and family members were waiting for him.

They were there to celebrate Reddick’s triumph in the closest finish in NASCAR history.

A HEAVENLY PUSH

Not among those celebrating with Reddick was his grandmother, Carolyn Brown, who passed away from health complications in October.

Saturday’s win was the first for Reddick since.

For Reddick, she was there to help put his No. 9 Chevrolet in the right place when the final of five overtime restarts began earlier in the day.

She was present in the form of the No. 1 Chevrolet driven by Elliott Sadler.

Due to a power problem stemming from the exhaust system on his car, Reddick had been unable to push or be pushed effectively in the draft most of the day.

That changed when an 18-car wreck broke out around Reddick on the backstretch on the first overtime restart, when he had restarted in the fourth row. Reddick was one of the few to make it through with minor to no damage.

“When there was not very many cars left and I was one of the few left to push, I guess they had no choice but to push me,” says Reddick.

On the final restart, Reddick restarted on the inside front row with Sadler behind him. Reed and Ryan Truex were on the outside.

The dueling set of drivers were nearly even for the first half lap. Then the push – similar to one Sadler was penalized for earlier in the race – came. It allowed Reddick to clear Reed heading into Turn 3. No one but Sadler would pull even with Reddick the rest of the way.

Thanks to Grandma Brown.

“That little extra push that we got, Elliott was her helping us, that’s how we looked at,” Reddick says

Tyler Reddick beat Elliott Sadler by a NASCAR record margin of victory of 0.0004. (Getty Images).

ONCE MORE, WITH FEELING

When the two cars leading the PowerShares QQQ 300 roared by pit stall 42 for the last time, David Elenz was pessimistic.

Sitting atop his pit box, the crew chief for Reddick and the No. 9 Chevrolet didn’t believe his car would win the drag race against Sadler to the checkered flag.

He had plenty of reasons to believe either way thanks to the race’s previous 142 laps, but specifically the last 22, which included all five overtime restarts.

The third one ended in a two-car wreck exiting Turn 4 with Reddick cleanly leading the field and preparing to take the white flag.

But the caution was issued moments before Reddick crossed the start-finish line.

“I was excited and I thought I had won, but I was like, ‘No, there’s no way. That was too easy. I’m sure that’s going to come back,”‘ says Reddick. “Sure enough, it did.”

As for Elenz, TV cameras had caught the 36-year-old crew chief celebrating his third Daytona win (Chase Elliott, 2016; William Byron, 2017). In the confusion of overtime, he’d forgotten NASCAR allowed unlimited restarts.

“It was pretty quick that Earl said on the radio that we were still under caution,” says Elenz, who quickly had to focus on his job. “It becomes factual at that point. … Thankfully, we had something we had to do. We had to work with the engineers and see where we’re at on fuel and see how much was in the box to make sure he could pick up on the apron or not. There was something for us to work on. I think if we had plenty of fuel and weren’t worried about it, I think it would be a little harder because you’d still be sitting there all pumped up and not focused on something you have to do. I think it helped that we were in a difficult situation.”

Two tries later, Reddick took the white flag and Elenz’s job was done.

Finally, mercifully, Reddick had enough fuel to also take the checkered flag.

After Reddick crossed the start-finish line, Elenz wasn’t going to get too excited.

“Heck, we’ll wait a little bit longer, because we didn’t wait long enough the first time,” Elenz thought.

Tyler Reddick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in victory lane at Daytona International Speedway (Getty Images).

ONWARD

Three days after his win over Sadler by 0.0004 seconds, Reddick’s voice is shot.

“Too much hootin’ and hollering and all that stuff,” he says.

In his first start in the No. 9 Chevrolet, with a new crew chief, new spotter, new everything, the native of Corning, California, won his second Daytona race. He was the victor of the 2016 Truck Series race.

Reddick’s two-for-six so far at the “World Center of Racing.”

“Some people try and go their whole careers just getting one win and I somehow got me two already,” says Reddick. “It obviously hasn’t sunk in because it hasn’t hit me in the face what we accomplished in our first outing as a team together.”

Reddick was still catching up on about 300 text messages and an avalanche of social media messages congratulating him on the win.

“You can see where obviously the race just ended,” says Reddick of the text messages, which included a message from his former owner Chip Ganassi. “Twitter blew up so bad that I can’t even scroll pass one day of feed or notifications, even if it’s just mentions.”

The time for celebrating will end soon with the Xfinity Series continuing its season Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

“I have a really good feeling about it since we tested there a month ago,” says Reddick. “I feel like we’ve already gotten the ball rolling pretty good.”

He’ll be doing it with Elenz, who won last year’s Xfinity title with Byron in his first year working with just one driver.

“I told him I’m going to make him mad a lot this year,” says Reddick. “Not because I mean to, I’m very frustrating to work with sometimes because I’m so black-and-white with how I break things down, being the dirt racer that I am. Nevertheless, I know we’re going to have fun this year.”

Reddick’s new owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. agrees.

“In the offseason he was texting me about how their tests were going,” Earnhardt said this week on the Dale Jr. Download. “He’s on his own shooting me text messages about how the day is going and I love that about him because he just wants to be engaging. We have great relationships with all our drivers but he’s fitting in so well to JR Motorsports.”

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NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

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The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

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Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.

How much does starting position matter at Sonoma?

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Do you need to qualify on the pole, the front row or the even the top five to better your chances of winning a NASCAR race?

On a typical race weekend one would think that’s the case. Through 15 races this season, the winner has started in the top five eight times. Only four winners started 10th or worse.

But this isn’t a typical race weekend as the Cup Series heads to Sonoma Raceway for its first road course race of the season.

The series has held 29 races at the road course since 1989. In those 29 races, the winner started from the pole five times (17.2 percent).

That makes it the most prolific starting position at the track in terms of wins.

But a winner hasn’t come from the pole since 2004 when Jeff Gordon did it for a track-best third time.

The driver starting second has won three times, the last occurring in 2010 with Jimmie Johnson. Since that race, only one Sonoma winner – Carl Edwards (fourth) in 2014 – has started in the top five.

In the 13 races since Gordon last won from the pole, the race winner started in the top five three times.

The last three races saw the winner start 11th (Kyle Busch), 10th (Tony Stewart) and 12th (Kevin Harvick).

In contrast, the 14 races from 1992-2005 saw every race winner came from inside the top 10 and 11 from the top five.

What’s changed? Road course racing became much more aggressive with the transition to double fire restarts in 2009. The introduction of stage racing last year added another wrinkle to a type of racing that already saw aggressive pit strategy.

But Sonoma isn’t too kind to drivers starting in the back half of the field.

The deepest in the field that a race winner has started is 32nd, when Juan Pablo Montoya won in 2007. Only one other time has the winner come from outside the top 15, when Kyle Busch started 30th and won in 2008.