Winning ways have Richard Childress smiling again

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tyler Reddick’s victory Sunday at Indianapolis marks only the second time since 2014 that Richard Childress Racing has won at least two Cup races in a season. 

It last happened in 2017. Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 and Ryan Newman won the spring Phoenix race.

“Well, it’s great to be back competitive again,” car owner Richard Childress said after Reddick’s win, his second of the season. “The doors have been open, the lights have been on, but we haven’t been competitive. But it feels great to come to a race track and know you’re going to be one of the teams that’s going to be racing for the win.”

The organization that won six championships with Dale Earnhardt has struggled for much of the past decade. Since Kevin Harvick left RCR after the 2013 season, Childress’ teams have combined to win six races. 

The success comes amid turmoil. 23XI Racing announced July 12 that it had signed Tyler Reddick to a multi-year contract starting in 2024. The deal angered Childress, who had not spoken to Reddick since the announcement until Reddick won Sunday.

Reddick said Sunday that “winning helps” in repairing the relationship with his boss.

Childress admitted after the 23XI Racing announcement that he “stayed up most of the night thinking about what I should do, how I wanted to handle it.

“I went in (to the race shop) the next day and told the whole team it wasn’t a perfect circumstance the way it went down, but we’re going to give it everything we’ve got this year, and we’ll see where we go next year.”

As for next year? 

“Tyler will be in the car at RCR next year,” Childress said Sunday.

Asked if that would be the No. 8 car, Childress nodded yes.

For Reddick, he’s focused on winning more races and a championship this season.

“I just look at the time we have left,” he said. “I know I always give it my all, but certainly knowing that (2023) is when the end of the road is going to be, I need to do everything I can to win as many races as possible for this group because I wouldn’t be the road course racer I am today if it wasn’t for RCR, if it wasn’t for the people on my team, if it wasn’t for Chevrolet.

“I owe it to them. I owe it to my team. I owe it to the people that really have helped me to get that done and go out there and deliver for them.

“Certainly if anything it’s helped. Just like when (girlfriend) Alexa told me, “Hey, if you win the championship you can name our son. 

“There’s not always times when I think I need an extra motivator because I don’t know if it’s possible or if it’s out there, but when I get them, I take it and run with it. For this situation, knowing when my last day will be with RCR, if anything it’s probably motivated me more than I thought was possible before all this went in motion.”

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The cars of Chris Buescher and Joey Logano each caught fire during Sunday’s Cup race. Both seemed to be the result of similar circumstances. 

Logano’s car caught on fire on the last lap and he finished the race sixth before pulling off course. The driver side door and rocker box caught fire, Travis Geisler, competition director for Team Penske, told NBC Sports.

“From the contact, the exhaust pipe got bent in where it’s basically blowing directly on the carbon door and rocker,” Geisler said. “At that point, there’s really no carbon material that’s going to survive that kind of heat. It just ignites, and basically your door is on fire. Kind of a situation we had, I would imagine, it was very similar to (Buescher).

“Something we have to think about. What to do? I don’t necessarily know an easy, quick fix for that one.”

Buescher’s car also had contact that triggered a fire inside the vehicle. Jeremy Thompson, competition director for RFK Racing, told NBC Sports that contact with Bubba Wallace “somewhere twisted the exhaust pipe … the rocker panel and all that stuff caught on fire.”

Thompson also said that “what happened, I wouldn’t have anticipated happening. We’ve beat these doors. We’ve hit rocker panels, we’ve done all that stuff. I don’t know. Very, very odd.”

Buescher reported the fire as he was coming to pit road on Lap 12. He lost two laps while in his stall as the fire was extinguished with him still in the car.

He came back to finish 10th.

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Sunday marked the first time since July 1994 at Pocono that three Cup rookies finished in the top five.

Austin Cindric finished second for Team Penske, Harrison Burton was third for Wood Brothers Racing and Todd Gilliland placed fourth for Front Row Motorsports. It was the first top-five finish for both Burton and Gilliland. 

“We can’t get away from each other!” Gilliland said. “We’re either battling like 30th, 35th, or now we finish top five together. It’s really been like that our whole lives, and we were saying once we start winning, it’ll be a lot more fun when we’re battling each other every week.”

Said Burton of Gilliland: ’It’s cool to race in Cup with him and get good finishes with him. And yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. It’s cool. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for our team. And I’m glad we finished up front. For a while there, he was running better than us, and I was worried about just points. Got to beat him in rookie points. So it’s a lot of fun.”

Burton said the finish was much-needed.

“Early in the day, we made a lot of mistakes, and I was like there’s no way we’re going to recover from this,” he said. “We got some cautions, some good restarts there. Really aggressive at the end and ended up OK.”

Gilliland started ninth — his best qualifying effort in Cup — and used that track position to his advantage. 

“Head and shoulders better than we have been,” Gilliland said. “So it’s just about building momentum and hopefully we can repeat this in the future.”

The Burton family also was a part of that event. Ward Burton, Harrison’s uncle, finished second, and Jeff Burton, Harrison’s dad, finished fourth in that race. The other rookie to finish in the top five that day was Joe Nemechek, who was third. 

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Kyle Larson’s crash in Sunday’s race was not the result of brake failure, a team spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday.

Instead, a team spokesman reported that crew chief Cliff Daniels stated that Larson got too deep into the braking zone and got out of shape.

“All I saw was a blue flash and that’s about the hardest I’ve been hit by anything,” Dillon said. “First, I’m just grateful to God that I’m okay and these cars are safe enough to take a shot like that. … I was just blindsided, really.”

Larson sailed into Turn 1, hit the curb and slammed into Ty Dillon’s car, eliminating both. Larson finished 35th. Dillon was 34th.