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Tyler Reddick gears up for Xfinity title defense in new territory

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Tyler Reddick wishes he had been able to be more “selfish” with his offseason.

Over the last two months, Reddick didn’t have much time to dwell on anything – past or future.

He claimed his unlikely Xfinity Series championship Nov. 17 in Miami. The following weeks were filled by a trip to Universal Studios and driving to Bloomington, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee, for Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Between the holidays, the 23-year-old’s championship was recognized in Charlotte at the Xfinity Banquet.

After putting roughly 10,000 miles on a brand new Chevy truck in less than two months, Reddick was taken out of commission for two weeks thanks to a tonsillectomy.

“With everything thrown together, I lost track of time,” Reddick told NBC Sports.

The offseason whirlwind didn’t leave him much time to contemplate what lays ahead in 2019 – being the first Xfinity champion to return to the series to try and defend his title since Chase Elliott in 2015 after winning in 2014.

But Reddick will have to do it under vastly different circumstances from last year.

New Team

When Reddick hoisted his title trophy in Miami, it was as the driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

But just a few weeks earlier his move to Richard Childress Racing in 2019 – where he’ll drive the No. 2 Chevrolet – was made official.

Reddick now calls RCR’s campus in Welcome, North Carolina, his professional home.

When Reddick made his first trip to RCR’s campus he was taken aback by the vastness of the team’s campus.

In addition to RCR’s Cup and Xfinity programs, the campus is home to the RCR Museum, Richard Petty Motorsports, Kaulig Racing and the newly arrived Germain Racing.

“I’ve been involved in NASCAR, I can see what’s going on and what not, right?” Reddick said. “But I had no idea they had so many buildings. It’s just insanity.”

The primary reason behind Reddick moving to his third Xfinity team in three years? He was thinking ahead.

Tyler Reddick drives his No. 31 Chevrolet during Daytona 500 practice. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

“It just looked like the avenue to get to the Cup Series with a more clear path than it was at JR Motorsports,” Reddick said. “That was the bulk of it. I got along great with (crew chief) Dave (Elenz) and my whole team. I loved them. I think they loved me as well.”

That foresight paid off quickly, with Reddick set to compete in Sunday’s Daytona 500. His first Cup start will come in RCR’s No. 31 Chevrolet. He’ll start 39th after finishing 13th in his qualifying race on Thursday.

But there are other reasons Reddick likes RCR.

“The thing that makes me feel really good is Richard just has a lot of involvement in everything that goes on,” Reddick said. “Honestly, he’s the decision maker. It’s his business. A lot of these team owners and what have you that are in NASCAR have other business that have been successful. Richard, like a couple of others, not many, Richard and Chip (Ganassi) are the two that come to mind that make their living, their bread and butter is racing. So they take it very seriously and spend a lot of time around it. For me that’s important.”

No (Official) Full-Time Teammates

A year ago Reddick was able to claim three full-time teammates, all who were 10 or more years older than him.

Now he’s technically alone.

RCR will field one full-time Xfinity car in 2019, with Reddick at the helm of the No. 2.

That’s two years after RCR fielded five cars. Last year, the team ran Daniel Hemric and Matt Tifft full-time and various drivers part-time in the No. 3.

But thanks to RCR’s many partners in its technical alliance, Reddick will have the equivalent of a teammate.

Reddick’s offseason was so chaotic he had to ask NBC Sports if Kaulig Racing had officially announced Justin Haley as the driver of its No. 11 Chevrolet.

“In all seriousness, he’s going to be like my teammate,” Reddick said after being told it was official. “Even though it’s not under the RCR banner … we’re still going to be sharing everything.”

Haley, 19, enters his rookie season in Xfinity. He’s made 50 starts in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series since 2015 and earned three wins last year. He also made three Xfinity Series starts with GMS Racing.

But the move to being essentially a one-car operation makes the No. 2 a “nimble” team in the eyes of the man who leads it.

New Crew Chief

Somehow, some way Reddick made it to the end of the 2018 season with Dave Elenz as his crew chief.

“I think any other crew chief in the garage would have pulled out his hair and quit on me halfway through the year but Dave wouldn’t do it,” Reddick said. “He believed in me, more so than anybody else did in the entire garage and that’s what held us together last year and got us to Homestead.”

After Reddick’s win at Daytona last year, the No. 9 team finished in the top five just twice in the next 22 races.

Their struggles stemmed partly from a difficulty to communicate when it came to diagnosing issues on the JRM cars, which were significantly different from what he drove in 2017 at Ganassi.

Reddick took the blame, saying he wasn’t consistent enough in what he conveyed to Elenz.

“Dave was at a huge disadvantage because at the time the Chip Ganassi Racing cars drove night and day different than what JR Motorsports cars did,” Reddick said.” I feel like in the sim (simulator), the Richard Childress Racing cars and JR Motorsports cars are a little bit closer together.”

Reddick says his Ganassi experience is part of the reason he’s connected so quickly with his new crew chief, Randall Burnett.

Burnett was crew chief on the No. 2 in 2018 when it was driven by Tifft. This will be Burnett’s third season as a crew chief for RCR after two years spent in Cup working with AJ Allmendinger.

Before that, Burnett spent 10 years as an engineer at Ganassi. That tenure included working “hand-in-hand” with crew chief Mike Shiplett to build its Xfinity team, which won 14 races from 2016-18 before shutting down due to a lack of sponsorship.

“I think we’ve got a lot of common ground with our racing background, growing up racing go karts and mini-outlaw karts and this, that and the other,” Burnett said. “I think we’ve just got a lot of common ground that we kind of relate to one another and are able to communicate really well so far.”

Burnett has a history of working with a multitude of drivers in a short amount of time. In 2017 he worked with four drivers, including the final five races with Hemric during his run to the Championship 4.

“I feel like I’ve kind of got a pretty good checklist of things to learn relatively quick so I can hit the ground running with a new driver,” Burnett said.

Without any time at a track in the last two months, the duo has adapted to each other through time at the team shop, talking on the phone and in the simulator.

“That’s been a huge benefit too, trying to learn how his language is about the car’s terms that he uses,” Burnett said of the simulator time with Reddick. “Like his scaling. How loose and tight the car is on a 1-10 scaling and how big of an adjustment I need to be able to make based on that scaling.”

Compared to other drivers he’s worked with, including Hemric, Paul Menard, Ben Kennedy and Allmendinger, Burnett describes Reddick as being more “laid back” and in the form of Kyle Larson.

“Kind of not too hands-on in the car setup stuff,” Burnett said. “Just kind of tells you, ‘Hey, it’s doing this.’ Where Daniel Hemric was kind of on the other extreme of that, he’s very in-tune, building his own race cars and everything. Tyler’s kind of on the opposite end. He’s like, ‘You do your job, I’m just going to tell you what it’s doing and you all fix it.'”

‘Do It Better’

With his title defense Reddick joins Christopher Bell, who won a rookie record seven races in 2018, in having a target on his back.

But Reddick says he feels less stress entering his title defense than he did last year.

“I feel like the weight is off my shoulders,” Reddick said. “I know that I can do it again, I just want to do it better than the first time. Winning a title is really cool and it’s great, but it wasn’t a perfect year. Everyone talks about they want to have a perfect year, they want to win every game they play and they want to win the Super Bowl at the end of the season. It’s very hard to do, but I want to strive more towards perfection.”

Simply, he wants to “be more like Christopher Bell” last year, even though he proved you don’t have to be to win the title. No matter how he does it, if Reddick pulls off back-to-back titles, he’d be the first Xfinity driver to do so since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12.

“We can easily, if we execute properly and be smart and kind of play to our strengths, I think we should be able to have a year like Christopher Bell put together,” Reddick said.

Results, point standings after Truck race at Las Vegas

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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second win of 2020.

He beat Sheldon Creed for the victory.

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly finished 18th and Travis Pastrana was 21st.

Click here for the race results.

Point Standings

With his win, Austin Hill is the first driver to advance to the second round of the playoffs.

Todd Gilliland is last in the playoff standings with 2,050 points. He is 13 points behind Ben Rhodes.

Click here for the standings.

Austin Hill wins Las Vegas Truck race

Austin Hill
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Austin Hill won Friday night’s Truck Series playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading the final 39 laps to score the victory.

Hill took the lead on a restart and held off charges from Sheldon Creed over the final 20 laps.

Creed’s progress was slowed with 11 laps to go when he got loose and scraped the wall in Turn 1. He was never able to get close enough to Hill to make a challenge.

Creed dominated the early portion of the race, leading 89 laps before he struggled to get going on the final restart and briefly fell to seventh.

The win is the second of the year for Hill. He’s the first playoff driver to win in the postseason and it come after he finished 25th at Bristol.

“We didn’t have the best truck tonight by no means,” Hill told FS1. “Pit crew did a hell of job on that last pit stop getting me into the position I needed to. I just had to go out there and get it. … Sheldon was definitely way faster than me. … I was probably looking in my mirror more than I was our front. I knew he was better than we were.”

The top five was completed by Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith.

More: Race results and point standings

STAGE 1 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

STAGE 2 WINNER: Sheldon Creed

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Tanner Gray, Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith all matched their best results of the season … While he was the first driver to finish one lap down, IndyCar driver Conor Daly placed 18th in his first career Truck Series start … Travis Pastrana placed 21st in his second start of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Rachael Lessard finished 20th after he had to pit early in the race following contact with the wall … Ben Rhodes finished 23rd after he spun from contact with Stewart Friesen and hit the inside wall on Lap 84 … Jordan Anderson’s engine expired on the ensuing restart. He finished 32nd.

NOTABLE: Natalie Decker, who was not medically cleared to compete Friday night, was treated and released from the infield care center.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 1 p.m. ET Oct. 3 on FS1

 

Natalie Decker not medically cleared for Las Vegas Truck race

Natalie Decker
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NASCAR announced right before Friday night’s Truck Series race that Natalie Decker hadn’t been medically cleared to compete.

No details were provided about the issue that prevented Decker from being cleared. During the final stage of the race, NASCAR announced she had been treated and released from the infield medical center.

The Niece Motorsports driver would have started 23rd. Due to her No. 44 truck having cleared inspection and having been placed on the starting grid she was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker has made 11 starts this year. She missed the June 28 race at Pocono after she was hospitalized due to bile duct complications related to her gallbladder removal in December.

Brandon Brown hopes to shed underdog role in Xfinity playoffs

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Brandon Brown knows the odds are against him advancing beyond the first round of the Xfinity playoffs.

“If I went out and we did a survey and we asked 1,000 NASCAR fans to create a playoff bracket, I guarantee that 90 to 99 percent of them have me getting eliminated in the first round,” he told NBC Sports.

But that’s not stopping him.

Brown is in the Xfinity playoffs for the first time, earning the final spot last weekend with his family-run team. He enters Saturday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) last in the 12-driver field. Brown has 2,000 points and is 10 points behind Ross Chastain, who holds the final transfer spot, entering the first round.

MORE: Saturday’s Xfinity race start time, lineup, forecast

Regardless where he is in the standings, Brown still met the team’s preseason goal of making the playoffs.

“It’s hard to put it into words,” the 27-year-old said of making the playoffs. “It’s so exciting and so thrilling. We’re just happy. Life is good. We’re seeing the fruits of our labor.”

Much of the Xfinity playoff focus will be on Chase Briscoe, who enters with a series-high seven wins. Or Austin Cindric, who won the regular-season title. Or Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races and could be the favorite if he makes it to the championship race at Phoenix Raceway.

Brown, who is in his second full season in the series, has four consecutive top-20 finishes going into this weekend. He knows the challenge he faces.

He said a key for this weekend is to have no mistakes, be running at the end and try to take advantage of any mistakes other playoff drivers have.

Then, he’ll look to Talladega. He’ll have an upgraded Earnhardt Childress Racing engine for that race, the team spending the extra money for the engine upgrade.

“I go into that track with confidence,” he said. “I need to go out there and make it happen, go win and make an name and go ahead and punch my ticket.”

While Brown knows most look at him as the underdog of these playoffs, he hopes to drop that title someday.

“The goal will be to get rid of that underdog title and to build that program that is going to be looked on as a powerhouse of the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” he said. “I enjoy the ride (as underdog), but now I’m ready to advance past it.”

Points entering Xfinity playoffs 

2,050 – Chase Briscoe

2,050 – Austin Cindric

2,033 – Justin Allgaier

2,025 – Noah Gragson

2,020 – Brandon Jones

2,018 – Justin Haley

2,014 – Harrison Burton

2,010 – Ross Chastain

2,002 – Ryan Sieg

2,002 – Michael Annett

2,001 – Riley Herbst

2,000 – Brandon Brown

First Round races

Sept. 26 – Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 3 – Talladega Superspeedway (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

Oct. 10 – Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC)