Analysis: Toyota's strategy cuts through Talladega turmoil with Reddick's win

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Tyler Reddick arrived from Talladega Superspeedway’s Victory Lane with his voice a gravelly mess. The hoot-and-holler celebrating — both in front of the fans in the towering grandstand in Sunday’s late-afternoon sun and with his team in the winner’s circle — had made him hoarse, and he volunteered an apology for the audio quality in his opening post-race remarks.

That’s not the reason he clammed up when pressed to reveal the tipping point that set the Toyota alliance’s final-stage strategy into effect.

“No comment,” Reddick said. “Sorry. I’m not going to talk about it.”

He didn’t, and with good reason. Why shed light on a gambit that could come in handy in the three superspeedway-style races that remain on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule this year, including two in the playoffs. It’s not as if basketball legend Michael Jordan, his 23XI Racing team co-owner and a willing on-site celebrant at Talladega, was prone to offering up vivid descriptions of what was said in the team huddle before a game-winning shot during his heyday.

Reddick powered his No. 45 Jordan-themed ride to a victory in Sunday’s GEICO 500 that broke Toyota’s 0-for-14 streak on tracks where the aerodynamic draft is king. He deftly navigated past the tussle between Ford teammates Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski in the final stretch, a clash that left the Mustang Dark Horse 0-for-10 to start the season.

RELATED: Reddick takes Talladega | Official results

The die was cast, however, for a positive Toyota outcome before the field ever got to the white-flag lap, going all the way back to the team meetings that automakers regularly have before Talladega, where the brand alliances and teamwork run deep. After a relatively calm first two stages, Toyota got a jump on the other makes for the closing stretch when the seven remaining Camry XSEs — Christopher Bell’s No. 20 had exited in an earlier mishap — made their final pit stop for fuel in formation with 36 laps to go.

From there, the Toyota group abandoned the gas-saving tactic that was in vogue for much of the day for the main pack, planning an all-out run to the end and a cycle back to the front. The FOX Sports booth quickly picked up on the disparity in pace, noting “that pack’s in trouble” and in need of a Plan B.

No sooner had those words cleared analyst Kevin Harvick’s lips came what seemed to be Toyota’s undoing. The entangling of the cars of Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones caused a major crash just three laps later that also eliminated Toyota driver Denny Hamlin and severely damaged the Camry of John Hunter Nemechek. The boost in Toyota’s numbers this season — from six to eight with Legacy Motor Club joining the fold — had been cut by more than half.

“It looked promising there, so it would have been really interesting for it to play out and see,” said Billy Scott, Reddick’s crew chief. “We thought we were in a good spot anyway with leading our pack. We got formed up really nice. We had all of our cars together. Things were really shaping up to have that play out the way we intended. Great execution on all the Toyota drivers. So we were thinking it was going to be the same result, that we were going to cycle to the lead, but the unfortunate wreck that took so many of them out just kind of sealed it.”

Brad Keselowski leads on the low side with Tyler Reddick\
Brad Keselowski leads on the low side with Tyler Reddick\

The Toyota camp got its cycle back to the front, but with only Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Ty Gibbs left to collaborate with 23XI’s Reddick the rest of the way. “We played the strategy in the third stage the way we wanted it to when it fell apart. We just worked it from there,” said Tyler Gibbs, Toyota Racing Development’s general manager. “We stayed out. We knew that we’d have the lead when we stayed out on the pit stops, and track position just put us in a spot to win. Again, it gets to be chaos there at the end.”

The mayhem snarled what was a stout challenge to Toyota’s ploy from Ford. McDowell’s No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Mustang had lived up to its name as a front-row starter in all three drafting-track races this year, and it had a leading view of the low lane with Keselowski and Stewart-Haas Racing Ford driver Noah Gragson behind him on the final lap, with a Reddick-Truex tandem hooked together up top.

McDowell’s attempts to block Keselowski’s advances went awry, and their crossing of paths cost both them and Ford a chance at the win when Reddick scooted through the melee.

“As the leader Ford, I wish the Ford pushed me to the win so that way Ford could’ve gotten a win, but I don’t think anybody in second doesn’t make that move, right?” No. 34 crew chief Travis Peterson told “Everybody wants to win, and it’s been a while for Brad and he needs that win, too, just like we do. So, it sucks, but we were strong. Just didn’t play out our way.”

MORE: At-track photos: Talladega | Cup Series standings

The yield from the varying strategies was a postseason-clinching victory for Reddick, who seemed surprised to now have a superspeedway win to match his three on road courses and his two on intermediate-sized tracks. Talladega might seem an unlikely point of emphasis with just two dates on the calendar and its fickle nature, but the magnitude loomed large after a hard-fought 500 miles.

“I mean, they all count, right? And so any one of these can get you into the playoffs, and any one of these can get you the bonus points that help you move on, and all of those things. So it’s important like every other race,” Gibbs said. “I think we’re finding that these are pretty exciting races as we watch the manufacturers set different strategies. Ford had an excellent strategy at Daytona and we watched that play out. It didn’t work out for them in the end. Here, we had the right strategy, and again, barring what happened in Turn 3, we put ourselves in a position in which we probably are leading both of those lines late here, and so it just it’s kind of interesting to watch. Again, it’s less team by team and it’s more what are the strategies we can work on to foil the others, and I think that makes it exciting.”

Reddick reaped the rewards. That, he could talk about.

“As a Toyota driver and the other Toyota drivers, we’re committed to each other,” Reddick said. “Whatever the strategy may look like, whatever the plan is, we’re all on board with one another. It ended up working out for some of us, but that’s just what we’re about. We’re about being on the same page and working together.”