By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
Tyler Reddick didn’t just earn his first career Cup victory on Sunday at Road America.
He also set himself up for his future.
At 26 years old, Reddick is considered one of NASCAR’s potential future superstars.
As he climbed the NASCAR ladder, he proved he could win races and championships, capturing back-to-back Xfinity titles with two different teams (JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing).
When he got to Cup, he was immediately fast. In his first two seasons, he proved he could lead laps and make the playoffs on points. The only thing he hadn’t proven was whether he could win at the Cup level.
That changed Sunday, when Reddick outdueled one of the best (if not the best) road-course racers in the Cup Series in Chase Elliott, who drives for Cup powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports.
It was a win that Reddick knows he and his team earned.
Tyler Reddick scores first career NASCAR Cup Series win
Tyler Reddick finally has a Cup win under his belt after his victory Sunday at Road America.
So where does he go from here?
The short-term answer is a run at the 2022 Cup title, as Reddick already has a little playoff experience from last year.
The long-term answer isn’t so simple.
Richard Childress said months ago that he intended to pick up Reddick’s option for 2023. That seems like a no-brainer for RCR, but Reddick also knows that virtually every team in the garage would want him on its driver roster. The fact that RCR didn’t tear up Reddick’s entire contract and sign him long-term suggests that RCR needs to solidify long-term sponsorship to be able to afford a driver of Reddick’s caliber.
Reddick said Saturday that RCR did indeed pick up his option for next year, and he will drive the No. 8 car. But no matter what anyone says, as long as he doesn’t have a long-term deal, questions will remain. And if Reddick signs a deal for 2024 and beyond with another team, it wouldn’t be unprecedented for that team to negotiate with RCR to lure Reddick away a year early.
Fast Thoughts after Road America
Bob Pockrass looks at what Tyler Reddick’s win means for him and whether there could be 17 regular-season winners.
While Reddick would likely appreciate some long-term security, he is in a good position to sit and wait. The current TV deal runs through 2024, and a new one could get done by next summer, giving drivers a better idea of how much teams will earn. (Contracts can always include escalators to adjust for what teams get from a TV deal, but that’s just another hurdle in negotiating a long-term deal in the current climate.)
At least three of the major teams could soon have openings if drivers retire: Joe Gibbs Racing (Martin Truex Jr.), Stewart-Haas Racing (Kevin Harvick) and 23XI Racing (Kurt Busch). None of those drivers has announced his intentions, but they are all deep into their careers. Also, most teams likely wouldn’t hesitate to make room for Reddick if any of their current drivers under-perform.
Reddick is in a similar position as Kyle Larson was during his first contract renegotiation with Chip Ganassi Racing several years ago. Larson re-signed with Ganassi in part because the team showed potential and believed in him when few others did. Larson enjoyed solid years but never had a breakthrough, dominant run with Ganassi.
Reddick could look at Larson’s experience — he won the title in his first year at Hendrick Motorsports — and think he should join one of the organizations that have won titles in recent years.
But the same reasons that kept Larson at Ganassi could result in Reddick renewing with RCR. Even though he’s a California kid who doesn’t exude the rough-and-tumble, old-school style of many in the RCR shop, his relentless pursuit of speed and blame-myself-first persona make him a good fit in the organization.
RCR is the organization with which Reddick matured as a driver in the Xfinity Series after a season at JR Motorsports. RCR is the organization that released Daniel Hemric after just one year to open a Cup spot for Reddick.
Certainly, Reddick knows that other organizations have accomplished more; the last RCR Cup title came in 1994, and the last time an RCR driver made the championship race with a chance to win the title was 2014. But if there were any question about what Reddick could accomplish as far as winning races at RCR, the victory Sunday meant everything.
“Everyone wins,” Reddick said about the potential impact of the victory on his RCR future. “When we’re able to go out there and win like this, it’s good for everybody. Hopefully it will mean more long-term partnerships with great partners.
“It’s great for everybody. To get the win, it’s validation for not just myself, it’s for this team, for the partners at RCR.”
That’s what Childress is hoping: that the victory will spark conversations about long-term deals that will allow him to keep Reddick.
“He’s a winner. … We’ve just got to keep building on it,” Childress said of Reddick. “He’ll be back next year. We’ve got more races to run. We want to race for the championship, and I think we can give it a good run for the championship.”
The day before winning at Road America, Reddick was asked whether he had started talking to teams about 2024 and handling inquiries from other organizations.
“It’s a tough thing,” he said. “It is far down the line. You’ve got to get as much as you can in the present and the now, but some of what happens in the present and the now is set up by what you do [have planned] in the future.
“I’m certainly thinking about that. I’ve got a little bit of time, I guess.”
Reddick does have time to talk to teams. And after his performance Sunday, he knows he has leverage. But that won’t make the decision any easier.
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What to watch for
The race in March at the reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway was much like a race at Daytona or Talladega, with big blocks to try to cut off the draft.
With it being 20-to-30 degrees warmer for this week’s race, handling should come into play, as the track is slicker with less grip. That said, one change that could help with handling is that the track has smoothed out the bump in Turn 2.
Teams have made gains with the Next Gen car — and this will be the first track at which NASCAR races with the Next Gen car for a second time — so it wouldn’t be surprising to see drivers who didn’t have good races in March succeed this weekend, and vice versa.
Thinking out loud
NASCAR docked Noah Gragson 30 points and fined him $35,000 for intentionally wrecking Sage Karam at Road America. Gragson had earned 36 points in the event, so the 30-point deduction made it as if he finished 31st (where Karam finished).
The wreck resulted in several drivers suffering heavy damage, including six who were knocked out of the race.
NASCAR didn’t penalize Gragson during the race, opting to issue the penalty Wednesday. NASCAR said it wanted to make sure that there wasn’t a mechanical issue and that the wreck was intentional.
While it’s understandable that NASCAR would want to be methodical in issuing penalties, this was a situation that needed to be handled in the moment, during the race.
Yes, it’s a judgment call, but it’s one NASCAR has made in the past, and it’s difficult to remember a time when a team argued that the driver had a mechanical issue. NASCAR has former drivers and people who have watched racing for a long time officiating races; they should be able to tell or at least make a decision based on their experiences.
If a driver can’t control the car or has a résumé that doesn’t lead to the benefit of the doubt, so be it. With this decision on Gragson, NASCAR opened up every accident to at least a couple of days of speculation on penalties. Neither the debate nor the storyline seems productive.
They said it
“I don’t think [my girlfriend] Alexa enjoyed being around me when I’d run second place. Yeah, second place isn’t a bad place to finish. But we’re here to win races.” —Tyler Reddick
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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