By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Air hose woes proved to be costly for Tyler Reddick, who was just getting the run on eventual race winner Christopher Bell before the final caution came out, and had to settle for fifth in Saturday’s Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In the closing laps, Reddick’s No. 2 Pinnacle Financial Partners Chevrolet Camaro was making a hard charge on the bottom, to the point of clipping the apron in the corners at times, just to catch the dominant Bell and started looking like Reddick was the only legitimate threat of conquering the No. 20 Rheem Toyota Supra.
“We put a lot of work in on practice doing a line I’m not traditionally very good at,” Reddick on working the bottom. “It just seemed to come to us pretty well during the race.”
Then with just eight laps to go, the only non-stage caution occurred after John Hunter Nemechek lost control at the entry of Turn 2, bunching the field up one more time. However, with the worn out track surface being key on a driver’s set of Goodyear tires, the leaders made the decision of pitting where one mistake can take a contender out of the running, which turned out to be Reddick’s case.
As Bell came out with a 12-plus second stop, Reddick’s crew faced issues after his front tire changer’s air hose got stuck on the splitter, slowing down their progress and once that was solved, the damage was done. The reigning Xfinity Series champion went from second down to sixth on the restart with three laps to go.
The pit stop cultivated a series of issues they’ve had throughout the race, but with Reddick’s driving abilities, it went unnoticed and even after a poor stop, the mindset of a champion caliber team rose during radio communications as everyone, including car owner Richard Childress, remained calm and upbeat. While Reddick gained one spot after a slow restart by Jeffrey Earnhardt for his first top-five of the season, the optimism remained apparent.
“We had some miscues that just took us back, but our car was great,” Reddick on the team’s miscues. “I know those guys will get it figured out. They’re Cup caliber crew members and got all the faith in the world to them. If we can hit everything right, we’re going to have a good day and we should be able to get this thing into victory lane soon.”
Reddick said after his first top-five at Richard Childress Racing in just two races, he hopes its the start of a strong driver-team combination that could lead the 23-year-old to make more noise in his title defense.
“It’s a start,” said Reddick. “It’s better than I’ve ever ran here before and a different philosophy because normally I have to go to the top to go fast. It’s cool to see this thing go so fast on the bottom, and it’s a shame the caution came out because I think me and Christopher could’ve made it interesting for the end.”
The Corning, California native, who was one of only four other drivers to have led in the 163-lap contest with him leading nine, said it was difficult to regain lost ground because of the top lane has bit several drivers like Earnhardt and Cole Custer, that the bottom lane was the ideal lane for restarts.
“It’s so hard to go at a track like this anywhere but the bottom, but we were able to get a couple there on the top,” said Reddick. “Turns 3-4 were really tough and it’s hard to stay even with people, so you have to get aggressive and get on their door. It’s the end of the race, they understand when you’re trying to get every spot back.”
Everyone saw what Reddick, who’s now fourth in points, was capable of doing when he was catching Bell, but as it pertains of actually passing him had Nemechek not spun is a whole different story, which he felt the possibility of passing him was going to be difficult.
“Running him fast is one thing and passing him is a whole ‘nother. I felt like if I could’ve gotten some air on his left rear, I may have been able to get him loose enough, but I knew he was going to battle hard so who knows what would’ve happened. I’ll take a fifth-place. We’ve had a lot of challenges to overcome today, and I’m looking forward to Vegas.”
Last season, Reddick made his first Xfinity Series starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, finishing eighth during the spring race, but was collected in a crash in the fall, resulting in a 28th place finish. Reddick has a Gander Outdoors Truck Series victory back in 2016 when he drove for Brad Keselowski Racing.