Tyler Reddick hit the ground running in 2018, winning the season-opening NASCAR XFINITY Series race this past weekend at Daytona International Speedway. He’s not taking the opportunity to drive for JR Motorsports lightly.
Reddick, 22, is coming off a season in which he competed in 18 races for Chip Ganassi Racing, winning in September at Kentucky Speedway. In his final two starts for the No. 42 team, he captured the pole awards at both Kansas Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway, each resulting in top-five efforts.
However, 2018 was a fresh start for Reddick, taking over for William Byron, who was crowned XFINITY Series champion last year and made the move to the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports. There’s just a little pressure to perform in the championship ride.
“Him [Byron] winning the championship was great,” Reddick said. “It’s something that I’ve given a lot of thought about – him winning the championship and Chase [Elliott] winning the championship, both running this [No.] 9 car and are now full-time drivers in top level equipment. I feel like if I do my part, be smart and if we can win a championship just like those two, we can find ourselves in a Cup ride.”
It’s a strong statement from a driver who has just 19 XFINITY starts to his name. But when looking at some of the names JR Motorsports has produced — Brad Keselowksi, Martin Truex Jr., Chase Elliott and Byron — it’s an opportunity that should not be taken for granted, and Reddick confirmed that.
The driver of the No. 9 car backed that up on Saturday, edging his JRM teammate Elliott Sadler for the victory at Daytona by .0004 seconds, the closest margin in NASCAR history.
Reddick is working with reigning XFINITY champion crew chief David Elenz. Earl Barban is spotting for the No. 9 car, and even though getting used to new voices on the radio is something the driver plans on getting used to, quickly, it’s still going to be a year of growth for the team.
“I think right now we just need to get our bearings, right foot after left foot,” Reddick said of the start of the year. “We don’t want to get too crazy. We have a lot of learning to do as each race goes by. I’ll be used to getting a new spotter, but everyone else on the team is pretty much the same. There are going to be some growing pains, but nothing has really changed for them besides of an engineer.”
Reddick admits that he has one goal in mind and that’s to be the 2018 series champion, inking his name in the record books. Anything else will be a let down for him and the race team.
“I want to win the championship,” he said. “Whatever way we do it between here and Homestead, it doesn’t matter to me as long as we win the championship. Obviously, we have to run well and get all the bonus points we can get during the regular season and the playoffs is just a bonus.
“If we win 14 races all season and don’t win the championship, it’ll still be a great season, but championships are important.”
Because Reddick was one of the few part-time XFINITY winners in 2017, pairing up with the championship winning team would make it easy to consider him the favorite. However, he has competed on just 15 of the 24 XFINITY Series tracks with an average finish of 15.8.
This season, three of the Championship 4 drivers from last year are back in XFINITY rides, two of which are Reddick’s JRM teammates, Sadler and Justin Allgaier. Daniel Hemric is back in the fold in 2018, and he won the pole at Daytona.
So is Reddick the title favorite?
“In my head I know that I’m very capable of winning it,” he said.” I’m not going to be the guy that goes around saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to win the championship.’ But I used it as motivation to get better over the off-season knowing that this car got it done, so we have to get in there and get it done, too, because that’s what they are expecting. That’s what the team is expecting.
“The way it is now, you just can’t have a bad week in the playoffs and you have to be smart about it. If you do have mistakes, you’ve got to minimize it to the best of your ability and just get out of there alive so that you’re not buried in the hole for the following week. It all comes down to Homestead, and that’s a place I feel like I run well at. It’s my favorite track on the schedule by far. ”
The XFINITY Series added a quartet of hard-nose full-time competitors this season to go along with Reddick. Christopher Bell is coming off the Truck Series championship, and was victorious in his fifth series start at Kansas in October. Ryan Truex, Kaz Grala and Austin Cindric were all called up from the Truck Series and have full-time XFINITY Series rides.
“We had 18 different winners last year, and that’s the most they’ve had in 20 or 30 years,” Reddick said. “That shows you the amount of competition we had. There are a lot of people getting in the same cars and winning, but there are different guys getting in those cars and getting it done. I don’t know if it’s going to be exactly 18 like last year because there are more guys in full-time rides, but I expect that we’re going to have quite a few winners during the season.”
Heading to Atlanta, Reddick has a nine point cushion on Sadler and the rest of the field.
- There are 43 cars on the preliminary entry list for this weekend’s Rinnai 250 at Atlanta, with three Cup drivers entered. Kevin Harvick will be running the No. 98 Ford, while Ty Dillon and Joey Logano are also entered in the field.
- Two of the Truck Series playoff contenders from 2017 will be making their XFINITY debuts this weekend. John Hunter Nemechek will be driving the No. 42 Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing and Chase Briscoe will be in the No. 60 for Roush Fenway Racing. In 2017, the duo combined for three truck victories.
- If an XFINITY regular can pull into Victory Lane on Saturday, it will mark the first time since 2012 that series regulars have swept the first two races of the season. Then, James Buescher won at Daytona, while Sadler was victorious at Phoenix International Raceway.