Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway is a home race in name only for Tyler Reddick.
The Richard Childress Racing driver grew up in Corning, California, a little over two hours north of the twisting road course. But he’s never turned a single lap there.
Last year’s Cup race at Sonoma was one of several dates realigned due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so Reddick didn’t go there in his rookie campaign.
On Sunday, he and his fellow competitors will race with lower downforce than what the Cup cars had in the last Sonoma race in 2019. Throw in a lack of practice and qualifying sessions, and Reddick will have some learning on the fly to do.
“Those in our sport that have run there for many years … Yeah, the tires change, but they understand how the characteristics of the track are,” Reddick explained Thursday in a media teleconference. “And they probably have an understanding of, ‘OK, I’ve got to give up this, lap after lap after lap, to be able to sustain well over a long run.’
“Where a guy like me, where I’m coming in, I think I’m going to have to wing that because yeah, I can look at lap times and understand the pace fall-off from years previous; but again, it’s a different layout and downforce package, so it would be really hard to do that.
“I’m going to have to wing it at the beginning of the race, and hopefully, my level of winging it is good enough to be able to improve it throughout the course of the race and getting better by the end.”
But even with a lack of knowledge about the circuit, Reddick says he can’t help but be confident going into Sunday.
It’s not hard to figure out why.
Reddick was 28th in the Cup playoff standings after finishing 26th at Atlanta in March. In the nine races since, he’s rattled off seven top-10 finishes, earned his first career Cup pole, and gained 125 points on the bubble to rise into the 15th playoff position (+61 over 17th-place Matt DiBenedetto).
Through 15 races this season, Reddick already has eight top-10 finishes. He had nine last season and just three at this juncture.
On top of that, Reddick and his No. 8 team can point to their pole and ninth-place result at COTA two weeks ago as proof of progress on the road courses entering Sunday.
However, he still hasn’t come home with a top-five finish since his runner-up at Miami in February.
When asked about what needs to be done to make himself a regular inside that group, Reddick said he must improve on two key fronts: Pit road and restarts.
“(The Coca-Cola 600) was a very challenging one for us (with pit road),” he admitted. “With the nature of that race and the lack of comfort that I had running really close to the maximum speed limit allowed, like Kyle Larson could all night, I was very off in that regard. But I was absolutely terrified, if I’m being honest, of having a speeding penalty and completely derail what could be a very manageable and realistic top-10 day, even with those little crumbs left on the table.
“… The last month or so there’s been, one restart a race I’d say, where I’d choose the wrong lane, anticipating where the car ahead of me is going to go, and it puts us back two or three spots. It really changes the whole direction of the race from that point on.
“It’s just little details, especially in the Cup series. You can’t just be really fast on the race track to win races. All these big teams are really calculated to know how much to push at any point in the race. But for me, it is nice to see how much better we’ve been able to get in about a year’s time. We still have a lot of room to go.”