By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
An after thought all season, Tyler Reddick stands alone among the JR Motorsports trio with a shot of capturing the Xfinity Series title. The rookie finished sixth in Saturday’s Whelen Trusted to Perform 200 at ISM Raceway in Phoenix to get the fourth and final spot in the Championship 4.
Entering the NASCAR playoffs, no one would’ve expected him to make a legit run for the title as teammates Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler were in a different zip code. That all changed when it really mattered most in the Round of 8, scoring a fifth at Kansas and runner-up at Texas that proved to be good enough as the aforementioned teammates struggled throughout the round.
Reddick almost had a near scare on Lap 145 when John Hunter Nemechek went up high and made contact that also involved Allgaier. While the 23-year-old escaped without serious damage, the same can’t be said about his teammate, who had to pit to repair his damaged right front, and later lost brakes with 21 to go. The incident ultimately decided the drivers who will compete for the championship in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida Nov. 17.
While Reddick felt he had luck on his side, he believed all season that his No. 9 team can make it to Homestead after beating Sadler in the closest finish in NASCAR history at Daytona in February. In a season that’s been reprimanded with five DNFs, three of them resulted from crashes, their performance had gone unnoticed.
“I’ve been surprised. I know we have the potential to get to Homestead all year long,” said Reddick. “We just been getting our bugs out this year. Regular season had moments of greatness, but never really seized it. We had speed, but something would happen. I wreck or hit the wall, but the playoffs have been more what this team is truly about.
“We’ve done everything what we needed to and done a very good job of staying out of trouble and minimizing mistakes, but we’ve been lucky too. As anything I’ve ever learned with racing, you can do everything right, you can be the fastest car, you can not make a single mistake all race long. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to be lucky.
“You got to get to the end of that race. In a sense, you have to save your cars, but these flange fit bodies are pretty durable. Trust me, I’ve slapped the wall a lot this year. All the guys in the shop reminded me of that too. These cars take a good beating, and fortunately that’ll make it easier to the run the top with less regard on body damage.”
For Reddick, he has an opportunity of giving Dale Earnhardt, Jr. his fourth title as an owner, and the second under the JR Motorsports banner before heading to Richard Childress Racing next season, replacing championship rival Daniel Hemric, who will move up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Not only that, he can also snatch Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors from race winner Christopher Bell, as the honor is given to the driver with the most championship points at season’s end. Reddick added that he and Bell did a test session in the summer to get a feel of the 1.5-mile circuit, which gave him an idea what to expect in the 200-lap finale.
“Fortunately for me and Christopher, we got to go test there over the summer. I have an idea what me and Christopher had at the test,” Reddick said about the test with Bell. “Homestead is a place where you can run the top and that’s something that I’ve had success at before in the past.”
However, he also thought of the other two championship contenders of Hemric, and last year’s 300-mile winner Cole Custer, who led 182 laps while Reddick scored fourth.
“We know how good Cole was last year there, he made us all look really bad. He smoked everybody in that race. Even with Daniel’s misfortune, I think they had a lot of speed in that race if I recall,” said Reddick. “It’s not going to be a walk in the park. The other three guys that will be competing against are really good teams, and obviously they’ve earned the right to be there at Homestead, so it’s gong to be a fight and a lot of fun.”
From the moment the Corning, California native won at Daytona, Homestead has been a track he’s been waiting to compete more than any other circuit this season because of his past success, and strong runs at wore out 1.5-mile tracks this season.
“Wore out tracks, mile-and-a-halves are something that where we’ve had a lot of speed at this year,” said Reddick. “We’ve been able to find speed even if things haven’t gone our way. It kind of falls into my background in what I grew up doing. Just feel really comfortable, and we got to test there and had a good test there.
“I feel really good about Homestead more so than any other track this year honestly. I’m sure we’ll get there and everyone’s going to be really really tough. But me personally, confidence wise, literally from Daytona on I was like, ‘If we get to Homestead, I think we’ll have a really good shot there.’ Based off how I’ve ran there in the past and how much fun I just have at that track.”
In four previous starts at Homestead across both Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity, he’s finished no worse than sixth, highlighted with a runner-up result in Trucks two years ago.