By David Morgan, Associate Editor
“Let’s fight with a purpose today,” Tyler Reddick radioed to his team prior to the green flag Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
The rookie did just that, capitalizing on a late race strategy call to score a career-best runner up finish in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 as Richard Childress Racing brought home a 1-2 finish at the 1.5-mile track, keeping his team alive in the race to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
Despite having his work cut out for him, the two-time Xfinity Series champion made the most of his 24th place starting position, keeping his nose clean and biding his time as the 334-lap race played out in the broiling Texas heat.
The driver of the No. 8 Chevrolet was able to advance up to fourth by the time the first stage was complete, but fell back in the pack during the second stage, finding himself in 25th when the second green-checkered flag waved.
Running in the top-15 when the caution flag flew at lap 307 for a wreck in Turn 4, Reddick’s crew made the call for a fuel-only gamble when the field hit pit road for service, moving Reddick to the lead for the subsequent restart, with teammate Austin Dillon alongside.
Though Dillon was able to get past the rookie on the restart, Reddick held steady in second-place as the yellow flag waved twice more on lap 320 and lap 330, giving him another shot at trying to pass his teammate for his first career Cup Series win.
While he would be unable to catch Dillon on the two final restarts, he was able to keep himself in front of Cup Series champions Kyle Busch and Joey Logano as the laps wound down, showing the veterans how it’s done down the stretch, leading two times for a total of five laps.
With his second-place finish, Reddick now sits 18th in points, just 14 markers below the cut-off line for the Playoffs with eight races remaining in the regular season.
“What a great day for Richard Childress Racing,” Reddick said. “This organization is working so hard and to have a 1-2 finish like we did is incredible. It felt like we had everything happen to our No. 8 Cat Oil and Gas Chevrolet, but strategy was king today. We had good speed overall and earned some stage points at the end of the first stage, but we got shuffled back for the majority of the second stage when we took two right side tires. That really messed with the handling of our Chevrolet and trapped us a lap down for a while. There were a couple major wrecks later in Stage 3 that we were able to miss and that helped us get our lap back to be able to contend at the end.
“My crew chief, Randall Burnett, made a great call to take fuel only during the caution with about 30 laps to go and that put us up front for those final restarts with our teammate, Austin Dillon. We really couldn’t ask for much more than what we got today. One spot better would have been great, but the recovery this No. 8 Cat Oil and Gas team made today was huge. We’re racing for the big picture of making the playoffs, so we have to race smart. Days like this will help us get there.”