Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Road America: Reddick Win Puts Pressure on Winless Drivers

What happened?

Tyler Reddick passed and held off Chase Elliott to win his first career NASCAR Cup Series race at Road America on Sunday, July 3. Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez eventually finished nearly 15 seconds behind the duo to round out the top five.

Reddick’s victory is the fifth first-time win of the 2022 season. This year is now tied for having the most first-time winners in a single Cup Series season in the modern era. There were also five in 2001, 2002 and 2011.

How did it happen?

Since he started the race from the pole, Elliott not only led during the Cup Series event, he absolutely dominated.

Due to pit strategy, Elliott pitted before the end of stages one and two, leaving drivers Chase Briscoe and Ryan Blaney to go on and win the stage break segments. They were the only ones able to lead laps by the end of the second stage on lap 30.

Elliott inherited the lead for the final stage on lap 32. Behind him, however, was the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Reddick.

Reddick started his Sunday in fourth after a somewhat strong qualifying run placed him up front. However, for the first half of the 62-lap feature, Reddick sat quietly in the top five while Elliott hogged the spotlight.

On lap 32, the two-time Xfinity Series champion stayed right behind Elliott and pressured the leader until the two made their final pit stop on lap 43, setting up for a tense duel between the two coming off the pit lane.

Reddick was now even closer to Elliott and dogged him for the lead until finally, on lap 46, the Hendrick Motorsports driver locked up into turn 5 opening the door for the No. 8.

Elliott stayed on Reddick for a lengthy final 16 laps around the four-mile road course, but the 26-year-old held his own. Unlike what had happened at Bristol Motor Speedway, there were no last second heroics that ended in disaster to prevent Reddick from winning.

Instead, at last, Reddick became a Cup Series winner.

See also
Tyler Reddick's Winning Moment Arrives With Son Fast Asleep

Who stood out?

For the entire second half of Sunday’s race at Road America, it was Reddick and Elliott’s race to lose. Everyone else was simply racing for third.

In fact, out of all 62 laps run on the Wisconsin-based road course, the two Chevrolets led a combined 52 of them. Anyone else led after both drivers had pitted.

Elliott has already established himself as a highly capable road racer with seven of his 15 career Cup Series victories coming on road courses. With that being established, it’s not much of a surprise that he won the pole, led 36 laps and appeared to be the favorite to win for the majority of Sunday.

Reddick, however, is a different story.

Before Sunday, the experienced dirt racer had never won on a road course in his entire NASCAR career. Not once.

That makes Reddick’s win all the more impressive. Because not only was he able to get his first career Cup win on a road course, but he did so by beating arguably the best road course driver in NASCAR in Elliott.

It wasn’t the result of some clever pit stop tire conservation strategy either. Reddick pitted on the same lap as Elliott, raced him off pit road, caught him and then passed him with nothing else but pure driving alone to lead the final 16 laps. That’s not something many drivers can say they have done when racing against the No. 9 on a road course.

There’s a parallel between Reddick and Elliott too. Elliott’s first career Cup win also came on a road course after finishing second multiple times. Of course, we all know what the HMS driver has gone on to do since then.

Who fell flat?

Receiving a penalty on pit road is a mistake. Receiving the same penalty again only a few laps later is a problem.

For Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs Racing, it’s a problem that needs to be addressed, especially with the playoffs on the horizon.

On lap 12 during Sunday’s race at Road America, Hamlin drove through three pit boxes upon exiting his pit stall during his first pit stop. It was a completely forgivable mistake. After all, Road America has some of the shortest pit boxes on the entire Cup Series calendar. Plenty of Xfinity drivers received the same penalty the day prior.

But when the JGR driver returned to pit road to serve his penalty, he made the same mistake, costing the No. 11 team even more time with a second penalty.

Hamlin has had a history of being prone to pit road penalties for most of his career, but in 2022 it seems to be a reoccurring issue. Even more so than before.

Despite his issues this season, Hamlin has managed to snatch himself a pair of wins already, all but guaranteeing him a spot in the playoffs. With no other Toyota earning two wins so far this year, he’s the only one out of the car builder’s camp to be practically locked in.

However, if these penalties continue in the post-season, it’ll be difficult for the No. 11 to stay out of elimination long enough to earn himself another chance at his first Cup Series championship.

What did this race prove?

If you’re still a winless driver in 2022, Reddick’s win should start to worry you.

In the game of playoff musical chairs, each new seat filled is one less available for those still winless. Before Sunday, Kevin Harvick was still within the top 16 on points, but after Reddick’s victory, he now finds himself 20 points below the cutline with a real possibility that he could miss the post-season altogether.

There are still a whopping eight races left in the regular season but only three spots left in the top 16. Additionally, some of those winless drivers aren’t slouches. Names like Blaney, Martin Truex Jr and Harvick all have not yet tasted victory in 2022.

This year is already statistically the most competitive year since the beginning of the NASCAR playoff era. There are already 13 different winners this season, eclipsing the amount of every year at this point of the racing calendar since 2014. What’s more, with plenty of competitive drivers and teams still winless in 2022, that list may continue to grow. But will it get to 16 by the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway?

It just might.

Last year it was Larson that ran away with the season by winning multiple races before storming the playoffs on his way to his first championship, leaving plenty of playoff spots open for points racers. Before that, we could rely on drivers like Harvick and Kyle Busch to earn multiple triumphs in the first 26 races.

But there doesn’t seem to be anybody like that this year. As of Sunday, the most wins anybody has is two, a tie shared by five different drivers.

So, with the playoff roster growing and points positions being filled more than it ever has before, those that are still winless may have to face the possibility that there will be very few playoff positions left for points drivers.

If any at all.

Better than last time?

Road America is the longest track out of any NASCAR national series calendar, and in the Cup Series, it really shows.

In 2021, NASCAR fans had to sit during four 30-minute-long caution flag segments as the field crawled around the four-mile circuit during stage breaks. Much to the delight of broadcasters, as it gave them ample opportunity to spam as many ad breaks as possible.

On Sunday, however, for the first time all year, there was not a single unscheduled caution. In the case of Road America, that’s really not a bad thing.

However, that also meant less bunching up the field which, in turn, meant much fewer battles for position.

That includes battles for the lead.

In 2021, there were eight different leaders swapping the top spot 11 times before Elliott went on to earn his first victory of the season. This year, there were eight lead changes between six drivers. Of course, only two of those drivers were actually in contention to win.

For somebody who respects and studies racing history, Road America is a treat to have on the NASCAR calendar. Both years the Cup Series has traveled there have been met with plenty of excited Midwestern race fans converging to the circuit like an annual festival — which it kind of is — and having an appreciative community is something NASCAR needs to hold onto right now.

See also
Up to Speed: Tyler Reddick is Reconstructing Richard Childress Racing

However, that doesn’t mean its racing product hasn’t admittedly been subpar, and even a somewhat exciting duel for the race lead isn’t going to change that image.

At least not in the Cup Series.

Paint scheme of the race

It was a similar red, white and blue sight to what we saw during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway earlier this year. With it being Independence Day weekend, it seemed natural to pick a stars-and-stripes-themed livery.

Like Charlotte, however, when every team is using the same pattern as a part of their design one has to pick a paint scheme that truly stands out over the others. Even if it isn’t by much.

With that being said, I present to you fish flag.

Bubba Wallace‘s Colombia-sponsored red, white and blue scheme is certainly creative with its fish-patterned red stripes. Additionally, however, its designers also captured the darker blue that we usually see on the typical star-spangled banner.

What’s next?

The Cup Series returns to its newest superspeedway.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the first track return of the season. Cup qualifying for the Quaker State 400 begins on Saturday, July 9 at 11:35 a.m. ET. with the main event being televised live on USA on Sunday, July 10 at 3 p.m. ET.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021 after writing for IMSA. A race fan since he was three years old, he began freelance writing in 2018 and graduated with a B.S. in Communications from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

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Bill B

Congrats to Reddick and his team. After coming close so many times they finally got the win. Of all the first time winners this year, he was the one that most people expected to win this year. I’m glad he got the monkey off his back.

I love the track but no cautions made it a pretty strung out field with limited passing. I guess that’s the way it goes some weeks.

DoninAjax

That’s what happens in a real “race” and not what we’re being fed now. There’s no strategy especially in a road course event now or any other example of Brian’s product. The toadies in Daytona won’t undo the damage. Didn’t you anticipate a phantom caution to get Elliott next to Reddick on a GWC?

Bill B

Well I expected a late caution just to provide a game seven moment at the end. I don’t buy into the “NASCAR blatantly helps Elliott” (or any other driver) conspiracy theories. I can say that I was glad there was no caution thrown because, even though I like Elliott, I’ve been waiting and hoping for Reddick to finally get that win and I was glad he did.

Carl D.

I too was glad to see Reddick finally closed the deal.  Felt the same way when Suarez won.  Yesterday, most of the best racing was behind the leaders, but it was intense and, for the most part, clean.

I would also like to comment on the NBC computer graphics the last two weeks.  They have been highly informative, and visually they have been impressive.  WTG NBC.

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