Tyler Reddick caught many off guard with his performance Sunday in the Cup Series’ race at Phoenix Raceway, including himself.
At one point in the second stage, the rookie driver was in the top five and being told by his crew chief the only other car keeping pace with him was Brad Keselowski.
“I’m honestly concerned how I’m the fastest car on the race track,” Reddick recalled thinking. “We’re at Phoenix, this just doesn’t make sense to me.”
The Richard Childress Racing driver appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radios’ “On Track” Monday to discuss a surprising, but disappointing outing in the fourth Cup race of the year.
The two-time defending Xfinity Series champion started the day 29th and ran as high as second before a tire on his No. 8 Chevy went down on Lap 265, sending him into the wall and to a 33rd-place finish, his worst of the year.
Reddick said it was a “mystery” what caused the tire to go down, but added it was “odd” the same problem occurred to his teammate, Austin Dillon, on Lap 131.
“We had some positives and it’s nice to know a place I had a lot of questions marks going into, especially starting 29th on the day, how is it going to stack up and how could I improve and improve a lot going back for it in November,” Reddick said. “It seems like we’re not as bad as we thought. We’ve definitely got something to work off of.”
After qualifying 29th Saturday, Reddick said he was “very concerned” about how hard it would be to pass cars after watching the Xfinity Series race.
But on Sunday, he was ninth by the end of the first stage, having discovered he could “kind of sling (the car) in there, dive bomb people to get around them. So it actually worked out OK.”
However, he learned early on not to be too aggressive.
“I made a few mistakes early racing a little too hard at times with guys like (Ricky) Stenhouse (Jr.),” Reddick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “He didn’t appreciate it, I got it. No issues going forward. I’m just trying to get to the front and figured out early in the race, ‘OK, I don’t want to get too aggressive with these guys and send the wrong message.'”
Reddick said it’s important to him when he gets opportunities to race near the front that “you’re not just knocking guys out of the way, you want to make sure that you pass them right.”
That was what was on his mind on Lap 208 when he was in second and suddenly got out of shape and dropped back to 10th.
“It was fun racing with (Martin) Truex (Jr.), it was fun racing with Kyle Busch,” Reddick said. “Didn’t get to race against Kevin (Harvick) a whole lot. But at one time I was at the top of three wide, I really didn’t want to give him room, but I didn’t want to be the guy who squeezed two champions down going into Turn 3 and causes a big wreck. I slid up and lost a lot of track position, unfortunately. It was a good learning experience racing with those guys, knowing I can do it.”
Despite earning nine stage points, Reddick’s 33rd-place finish dropped him from 23rd to 25th in the point standings. He has a five-point advantage over fellowing rookie John Hunter Nemechek. He takes that to the race this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
At 325 laps/500 miles around the 1.5-mile track, it will be the longest race of his career (he’s crashed out of both of his Daytona 500 appearances).
“Normally it takes me about 400 laps for me to figure out what I’m doing out there,” Reddick told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Places like Atlanta, I love. The longer the races goes, the more comfortable I get there. Places like Darlington, Homestead.
“As aggressive as I seem as a driver, I actually do ease into at those kind of places, whether it looks like it or not. I think the longer race will help me. I’m curious how this car will drive. I know how I want to get around this race track in a Xfinity car, with more power and less downforce. Now with this car I don’t know whether I’ll be able to do the same things to go fast around there. We’ve got to figure that out in practice. We’re back to that game of drivers that are trimmed out are going to look good for 15 laps. The ones that have downforce built into their cars won’t.”