By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Tyler Reddick joining 23XI Racing starting in 2024 is not a big surprise. That one of NASCAR’s top young talents wants to join one of the most well-funded and supported organizations in the Cup Series garage makes sense.
But the announcement Tuesday that the 26-year-old Reddick will depart Richard Childress Racing at the end of 2023, with his first start for 23XI coming in 19 months (February 2024), was one of those didn’t-see-it-coming type of deals.
It is not unprecedented for a driver or team to announce (or decide, with the announcement coming months later) that a change is coming more than a year in advance. That is how the sport works, especially when it comes to replacing some of the biggest drivers in the garage.
In this instance, it is not for certain that Reddick will replace anyone, though 23XI remaining a two-car operation for 2024 is more than likely than expansion. 23XI Racing President Steve Lauletta said the organization will keep its same driver stable (Kurt Busch and Bubba Wallace) for 2023. He wouldn’t confirm contract status or years remaining, but he did indicate that the organization is working on an extension for Wallace, who reportedly is in the second year of a two-year deal and whose spot is secure with his current sponsors.
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The 43-year-old Busch could retire after next season, but team co-owner Denny Hamlin said Busch will have a seat as a driver as long as he wants it.
Hamlin, who co-owns the team with basketball icon Michael Jordan, admitted that he doesn’t yet have anything signed for Reddick, except Reddick himself.
“I watched him,” Hamlin said. “I raced against him. I wanted him. And I got him. And I didn’t know anything else that goes along with that. … We do not know who the sponsor will be. We do not know what car it is.
“All we know is we wanted him, and we made sure we planted our feet deep in the ground to make sure Tyler had an opportunity with this race team, and we made it happen.”
Richard Childress Racing was caught off-guard by the announcement. The organization picked up Reddick’s option for 2023 and had started talking to sponsors about potential long-term deals for him.
“We’re proud of the success Tyler Reddick has found at Richard Childress Racing,” RCR said in a statement. “We’re focused on winning a championship in 2022 and 2023, although timing of this announcement could not be any worse.”
It actually could be worse from a business sense, as RCR can now plan for a future without Reddick. From a competition sense, though, this will lead to team members wondering who their driver will be and at what point next year Reddick will stop being told any technical information that RCR doesn’t want him to know before leaving.
NASCAR is different than other sports leagues in that drivers are independent contractors. There is no collective bargaining agreement that sets when teams can talk to drivers (though the contracts drivers sign could have clauses on exclusive negotiation periods). When a driver with Reddick’s potential doesn’t have a long-term deal, that team should be nervous that another organization with a little more cash (and a little more success than RCR has had in recent years) could lure that driver away.
And that’s apparently what happened. Reddick earned his first career victory for RCR a couple of weeks ago at Road America. And 23XI Racing, with the backing of Toyota, has shown that it is growing, especially with Busch running relatively well (16th in the standings, nine points behind Reddick) for a new organization.
Reddick is used to a little upheaval. He announced he was leaving JR Motorsports before the end of the 2018 season and won the Xfinity Series championship as a lame duck. He then went to RCR and won the 2019 Xfinity title before being moved to Cup.
“This shouldn’t have been a total shock to RCR,” Reddick said. “As we were navigating what the future would look like a while ago, we said that after the option was up in ’23, [for] ’24 and on, we were not sure that if we were going to return, that we were going to figure out what lies ahead.
“So this shouldn’t have been a true shock to them. But it’s out there, and everyone has the information now, and now we will collectively figure out what we do going from here.”
Reddick could have waited; if he wins more races, his already high stock could go even higher. The current NASCAR television package ends after the 2024 season, and a new deal could be signed in 2023, giving drivers a better indication of the money teams will earn from it starting in 2025.
But Reddick didn’t wait because he found a place he wanted to race, and he’d rather deal with the awkwardness of being a lame-duck driver for the next 53 races than be asked about his future week after week, month after month. Still, Reddick knows it could be a tough year; many will remember Kevin Harvick’s tumultuous 2013 with RCR after he decided at the end of the previous season to join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.
Apparently, Reddick is willing to risk that in order to have his future set.
“Just seeing where 23XI has started and where they’re going, it’s been very obvious to me that the ramp that they’re on and how they’re improving, it was very exciting for me,” Reddick said. “And I wanted to be a part of that.
“Also, I look at, just for me, just talking to Denny and getting to watch and see the direction the team was going, where Toyota is to their commitment to this sport … I really wanted to be a part of it. And that heavily influenced my decision.”
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!
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