Tyler Reddick had a lot of time to think about his first NASCAR Cup Series win.
No, the thinking didn’t come through his first 91 series starts. It wasn’t in those oh-so-close moments where a potential victory was snatched away at the last moment.
Where Reddick had plenty of time to think was during the long 16 laps he led Sunday afternoon at Road America before finally seeing the checkered flag. Especially the last lap, a 4.048-mile trek around the scenic road course as Chase Elliott got smaller and smaller in his rearview mirror.
It took approximately 38 minutes to run those 16 laps. And in those laps, Reddick had to be perfect behind the wheel of his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Sunday was finally Reddick’s day. In Elliott he beat one of the best road course racers in the series, and finally earned the result he’d narrowly missed twice before this season.
“It was just a huge sense of relief,” Reddick said of triumphing in the Kwik Trip 250. “This whole team, we’ve been at it for a couple of years now together, and even some of us back to the Xfinity Series days. That first year together in the Xfinity Series, we were able to go out and back up a championship, win a lot of races, and then we got slapped in the face with the reality of what Cup racing is like. I’ve had to learn a lot over the course of these last three years in the Cup Series as a driver, but I’ve had some really great people behind me to help me do that.”
What made Sunday all the more impressive was how Reddick was the only driver who could stay with Elliott in the final stage. Elliott dominated the day and went unchallenged until Reddick pressured him in the last stint.
By keeping with Elliott before the final round of pit stops, Reddick was there with him coming off pit road and on his bumper on fresh tires. It didn’t take long for Reddick to capitalize and then drive away.
“The last five were pretty nice,” Reddick said. “I’d say that 10 to five range when Chase was kind of closing back in there, and I was searching within myself what I needed to be doing, that was probably the most stressful part. Because I could get away, he would close back in, and I was worried about my brakes fading late.
“Being out front, I was kind of playing it a little too safe, honestly. I realized my brakes and car were good and could push a little bit harder in the braking zones again, and that allowed me to get out to a comfortable distance. The last five laps were pretty stress-free. It was really nice to know that I had that much left in the tank in the car to be able to hold him off and have that gap and then manage it.”
Reddick used near-misses such as Darlington as learning opportunities. John Harrelson/Motorsport Images
Twice a runner-up this season, Reddick had finished second five times previously in his career. One of the most painful was Easter weekend when Reddick was spun in Turn 3 from the race lead by Chase Briscoe on the final lap.
“I’d say I was pretty miserable, yeah,” Reddick admitted. “I don’t think Alexa enjoys being around me when I run second. Second place isn’t a bad place to finish, but we’re here to win races. We’re here to get those five playoff points. We’re here to get in the playoffs.
“For me, when we run second, the smallest little things over the course of the day, whether it was in Stage 1, the opening laps, Stage 2, whatever it was, one thing could have changed the outcome of that second place. It could have made it a win. And so it was very frustrating, because I know there were little things that I did in the race that I could have done better that could have changed that.”
Reddick doesn’t obsess over past races, but he certainly studies them to use as lessons. And while he can’t list off his second-place finishes, he’s heard plenty about them from pundits.
“It gets talked about, so I’m aware of it,” Reddick said. “But in the heat of the moment, the night after or when you go to bed the night of a second-place finish, it eats away at you a little bit. But again, I try and look at it as, how can I learn from this? How can I learn from Bristol? Yeah, I got wrecked, but I had a gap, and I let him run me back down and get there. I gave him an opportunity. I look at Darlington. I could have done a better job on that restart. I could have had a run on Joey and William , but I kind of got messed up myself.
“There are a lot of things I could have done differently over those five second-place finishes to where I could have won the race. I try to look back at that and learn from it so that hopefully, when I’m in a position to win a race again, I don’t make those same mistakes.”
A win in the Cup Series gives Reddick the distinction of winning at the sport’s highest level after doing so in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series. It came in his 92nd start and third full year in the Cup Series. There were the highs and lows, the good cars and struggles.
But Sunday, there were the longest laps Reddick’s had to run in the Cup Series, and they’ve never felt so good.
“What a crazy ride it’s been, and had to put a lot into it,” Reddick said. “All of us have. It’s really nice to finally get it done.”