By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor
The official box score will show that Tyler Reddick earned one victory on Sunday in the EchoPark Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas, but the case can be made that he earned three victories and a runner-up by the end of the day.
First, the obvious reference.
In surviving three overtime finishes, Reddick was made to have defended a race he had already effectively won, having outdueled William Byron in a spirited old-school classic by the end of regulation. Then came 45 minutes of repeated crashing that sent the race into triple overtime.
That he not only dominated regulation, but also had the steely resolve to defend his spot against the likes of Byron, two-champion Kyle Busch and even a late surge from Alex Bowman was reason enough to give him three trophies.
It’s also why Denny Hamlin gave him a lot of money to come to 23XI Racing during the offseason.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s why I went after him as early as I did,” Hamlin said. “I wanted to get the jump on all the other teams because I knew he was going to be the most coveted free agent in a very, very long time. That’s why I got the jump on it. It cost me a lot of money to do it, but it pays dividends.”
Remember that Hamlin signed Reddick last summer, a year and a half before he was set to become a free agent, eventually working out a buyout with Richard Childress Racing so that he could leave early.
That cost Hamlin a lot of additional money, but …
“You have to have that driver that you feel like can carry you to championships and wins for decades,” he said. “I think we have that guy. It’s not going to stop at road courses. Dirt racing, short tracks, speedways, he’s got what it takes on every racetrack we go to.”
But make no mistake, they really needed him road courses especially, at least early on in the development cycle of the Next Gen.
Toyota on the whole really struggled on these types of tracks last year. Further, with Chevrolet taking the early aerodynamic lead on downforce tracks, that sets TRD up against the wall on over two-thirds of the schedule.
Enter Reddick, who won at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and is viewed as one of the best at this discipline. The hope is that Reddick would get Toyota directionally better.
Crew chief Billy Scott knew Reddick would elevate the manufacturer but a dominant win through three overtimes exceeded their expectations.
“We’ve wondered where we were at on our road course program now for a while,” Scott said. “We struggled last year. To bring him here, that was one of the hopes, too, was that he could help guide us in the right direction.
“He certainly did. It’s nice when all that comes together.”
For Reddick, who wants to win multiple races and eventually win championships for Hamlin and Michael Jordan, taking the road course program to the next level was the first item to cross off the checklist.
“Obviously I would love to see all the Toyotas get better,” Reddick said. “Certainly, we’re all going to work together, share notes, hopefully get the rest of them up there soon. Good step in the right direction.
“Like I said, it was a really big point of emphasis for myself coming in here to try to help Toyota to get better on the road courses. Yeah, I’d say that was a success.”
So, what’s this about giving Reddick a second-place trophy too? Busch said he had nothing for Reddick, driving the same car that won Road America and Indianapolis last year, and the two-time champion credited Reddick there too.
He made the Richard Childress Racing road course program immediately capable, but there wasn’t a lot ‘Rowdy’ could do on Sunday to emulate his predecessor.
“Tyler obviously is a really good road racer,” Busch said. “He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there.”
Think about that level of high praise for a second. Busch said he did everything he could to catch Reddick but just isn’t all the way to where he is yet. That Reddick is the reason that car was so good on Sunday but still not enough to beat the man himself.
And again, Reddick did it repeatedly, to end regulation and over three green-white-checkers. It’s championship caliber stuff as far as Hamlin is concerned.
“Yeah, I mean, certainly it’s a big pressure situation probably for Tyler because you’ve been the dominant car all weekend, you’ve had the field covered, and you know at that point when you’re leading the race, it’s your race to lose,” Hamlin said. “There’s not much to gain. There’s only a lot to lose if he doesn’t execute, right? For him to manage those pressure situations, execute on restarts, it’s huge. …
“I think this says a lot about Tyler’s poise. It’s what I saw all week in his performance, not only the simulator, he just slows everything down. He’s running fast, but he’s doing it in slow-motion, which is just a sign of someone that’s in control.”
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