NASCAR Crash Course: Kissing the bricks was the best medicine for Tyler Reddick, Richard Childress Racing

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One way to recover from a breakup is to bury yourself in work. Tyler Reddick used that focus to earn one of NASCAR’s crown jewels, a triumph at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday that he hopes will be the first step in healing an open wound with Richard Childress Racing.

Reddick survived a Mario Kart-style ending on this Indy road course, where every restart of Turn 1 felt like drivers were sending him full speed, pinball-like, slamming into each other others just to slow down and cross the bend. Once Austin Dillon forced overtime by getting stuck in the gravel, Reddick’s rival Ross Chastain had a different idea on how to handle crazy restarts: go completely past Turn 1.

“I thought I followed the rule,” Chastain said of choosing an access road. “With three cars to my right, and everyone meeting each other, and I was turning, I didn’t see how I could make it. I was going to be in the grass.”

NASCAR felt differently, awarding a 30-second penalty for missing the turn that made Reddick’s run for the win a moot point. The No. 8 car still took the lead, with the third-year driver leading a race-record 38 laps as he clinched a second consecutive Cup Series win on a road course.

This one was very different from the first, coming less than three weeks after 23XI Racing announced it had signed Reddick for 2024. A total of 18 months as a lame duck is a long time to stay at RCR; 18 days is a short period of time to absorb this injury. Check out some of the first things the driver and owner said after the race.

“I’m really happy with it, and hopefully I’ll race here again next year,” Reddick said. “Well, I should be, I guess. I should be racing here next year.”

Should be? We are talking about a championship contender who is supposed to have a contract with this team until 2023.

“I told the whole team it wasn’t a perfect circumstance the way it happened,” Richard Childress said of the ongoing divorce. “But we’re going to give it our all this year, and we’ll see where we go next year.”

After being pushed, Childress confirmed that Reddick would stay in the 8 until next year. But things looked far from settled for an organization that should be on the up and up, posting multiple wins with a driver for the first time since 2013.

The problem is, just like last time (Kevin Harvick), they’re fulfilling it with a driver choosing to leave the team rather than build on a foundation that took years to create.

“The biggest thing we can do,” said Reddick crew chief Randall Burnett, “is go out and do what we did today and put some fast cars under Tyler and try to win races and show everyone what this team is made of so we can try to figure out what we need to do to fill that void.”

Traffic report

Green: NASCAR rookies — Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric had his best race since February, finishing best in class ahead of Reddick in second place. But what about Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland? Both freshmen posted career-best top-5 finishes (third and fourth, respectively), the best a trio of rookies have achieved in a Cup race since Pocono in 1994.

Yellow: Chris Buescher — Buescher, a competitor to win Sonoma Raceway last month, burst into flames at the end of the first stage after contact with Bubba Wallace. With two laps down, it took almost the entire race to recover the lead lap. Somehow, the #17 team weathered the final laps of the carnage, climbing from 29th to a 10th place finish by the end of the race.

Red: Martin Truex Jr — A driver with four career victories on road circuits was invisible on Sunday, signing his third consecutive finish outside the top 10 on this type of track (21st). Fourth in the standings, Truex remains on the playoff bubble and could be knocked out if a winless driver below him breaks through in the final four races of the regular season.

Speeding Ticket: Lap 1 — On a track where overtaking proved difficult, the whole peloton decided to make turn 1 a decisive effort on restarts. At times, the field stretched over six as it seemed like going into the corner was like closing your eyes and hoping for the best.

This melee, which triggered overtime, was the most egregious. Half a dozen cars strewn across the track which resulted in wild swings in the running order. Chase Elliott was the biggest loser of this one, dropping from a possible win to 16th place. Ryan Blaney, whose tap sent Elliott, ended up there with him after NASCAR overtime, falling to a disappointing 26th.

“That’s all people do at the end of these things,” a frustrated Blaney said. “Just dive in and destroy you…they jumped over the pavement and just wiped you out.”

With NASCAR eyeing a return to the Indy Oval as early as 2024, tweaking this corner could be a smart move in 2023. Could drivers have done better to prepare for it?

“Maybe play a little football,” joked Cindric after the race. “It is more or less that.”

Oops!

Ty Dillon has had a tough month, collapsing in three of the last four races while finding his services are no longer needed at Petty GMS Motorsports after this season. This wreck was by far the worst, circumstances beyond his control as Kyle Larson lost his brakes and found himself crashing into Dillon’s #42 at the start of Turn 1.

“It’s an impact I’ve never felt before in my life,” Dillon said afterwards, finishing 34th. “It was a big deal…there’s nothing you can do about it. Just a series of bad luck we’ve had this year, and we can’t shake it off.”

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