ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Tyler Reddick finally has his first Cup Series win and likely a NASCAR playoff spot.
He’s not gassing now.
The Richard Childress Racing driver and his team have larger goals than simply qualifying for the playoffs.
“We talk about being a championship contender, and I think we can. I really think we’ll be championship contenders when we get into it,” team owner Richard Childress said Sunday after Reddick’s win at Road America.
That’s a strong statement for a team that earned just its first Cup win on Sunday in Reddick’s 92nd career start. But Reddick had gotten close enough before (five second-place finishes before his win at Road America) and was defending NASCAR champion Kyle Larson’s preseason pick for surprise driver of the year.
So it’s been a buildup to getting to victory lane and now Reddick will try to bring his newfound momentum to Atlanta Motor Speedway, where NASCAR races this Sunday and Reddick was a contender in the spring until a late crash.
Reddick had acknowledged just a week before Road America how frustrating it has been to miss out on that big first Cup win. He had been driving his partner, Alexa, crazy as she struggled to take the next step.
“I would say I was pretty miserable,” Reddick said. “I don’t think Alexa liked being around me when she was in second place. Yes, second place is not a bad place to finish. But we are here to win races.”
His first victory came on the field where he experienced one of the low points of his career.
Reddick recalled a disastrous performance in a 2018 Xfinity Series race at Road America that made him question whether he had what it took to succeed as a driver at the highest level.
“It was here that things could have gone one of two ways,” Reddick said. “It could have gone in a way where I was giving up… I don’t think I was. But I had a lot of good people around me who believed in me, got me back to where I needed to be, and since then things have been much better.
“It’s really crazy that this is the place where I got my first win because this place four years ago made me question everything.”
The victory showed how far Reddick has come as a road-course driver since the early stages of his career.
“He was like, ‘Man, I hate road course racing. I’m not very good at it,’” crew chief Randall Burnett recalled. “He’s pretty good at everything he does, so for him to say that was a bit of a challenge.”
Burnett credited Reddick for working tirelessly to become more comfortable on road courses.
“I think it’s a little cherry on top, that he knows he’s worked as hard to be as good as he has in these places,” Burnett said. “So I think it’s quite special for him to win on a road course for the first time.”
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Reddick generally had far more good days than bad while competing in the Xfinity Series, where he won back-to-back Xfinity titles in 2018 and 2019 and landed the seat in the No. 8 Chevrolet driving for Childress. He was surprised at the significant jump in competition when he got his Cup ride.
“We were slapped with the reality of what Cup racing is like,” Reddick said. “I’ve had to learn a lot over the course of these last three years in the Cup Series as a driver.”
That also meant making sure you didn’t worry too much about your second-place finish, and instead figured out how the experiences could help you drive better. Reddick didn’t even blame the heartbreaking finish on him at Bristol this year when he led until Chase Briscoe tried to pass him in a move that sent both cars spinning. Kyle Busch passed both to earn the win.
“Yeah, it eats at you a little bit, but again, I try to look at it, ‘How can I learn from this? How can I learn from Bristol? Red Dick said. “Yeah, I screwed up, but I had a hole and I let it push me back and get there. I gave him a chance.”
The Reddick team made sure the frustrations never boiled over. Everyone knew that victory would come sooner or later.
“It wasn’t about if I was going to do it, it was about when they were going to win,” Childress said. “That’s what we told them.”
Now they are ready for more.