Heading into the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Tyler Reddick was the underdog. Fast forward one year later and his 2019 NASCAR season has been completely different.
Last season, Reddick squeaked into the championship race for JR Motorsports via a strong stretch of races in the playoffs. But entering Homestead-Miami Speedway, he had just one victory, six top five and 19 top-10 finishes in the opening 32 races of the year.
This season, a team change, crew chief switch and a fresh start has seen the defending champion elevate his game.
Now, piloting the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, Reddick has five victories, earning the regular season championship while posting a series-high 23 top fives and 26 top-10 finishes. It’s been a complete 180-degree turn from his time at JRM.
On Saturday (Nov. 16), Reddick has one mission, and that’s to beat out his fellow two members of the Xfinity “Big Three” in Cole Custer and Christopher Bell. There’s also Justin Allgaier, who enters the championship with a ton of momentum via a win at ISM Raceway last weekend. If Reddick can fend them off, he’ll be the first driver in NXS history to win consecutive championships with different teams. That would be an achievement within itself.
“It would mean a lot,” Reddick said of potentially making history. “The second one, for me, it’s more about winning it for RCR in its 50th year. Granted, Cup racing is next year, but I want to do everything I can to win what I can for them.
“We’ve gotten those five wins, we’ve got the most top fives, regular season championship. Those are all good things, but we want to add one more thing to that and be a champion on Saturday after the race is over.”
Nobody gave Reddick a shot to win the title last season. But once the dirt-slingin’ driver found the wall, it was game over for the rest of the field.
Since he’s done it before, Reddick’s confidence is much higher entering Homestead this year. His team has experience in the Championship 4, too, manning Daniel Hemric’s effort that came up just short in 2018.
“I feel like going into this, we’re more complete of a race team,” Reddick said. “We’ve shown that the takeoff speed with getting poles, just being good at the beginning of the run. The pit crew has done a good job, they’ve been consistent … We’re more complete. We’ve been more consistent, and on top of that, I was really enthused by the amount of speed Daniel had here in the fall.”
In order to win the championship last season, Reddick had to win the race. In order to do it again in 2019, he’ll likely have to pull off a repeat: Championship 4 drivers have combined to take 21 of 32 races this season.