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Second-year Cup driver Tyler Reddick ranks as of one of NASCAR’s top seven long-run passers this season on non-drafting ovals and appears one improvement away from a breakout. But that area of vulnerability — restarts — has nagged him in marquee moments.
Reddick’s charge from 13th place to second across Homestead’s final 60-lap green-flag run, in which his rim-riding around the 1.5-mile track made for a pleasing aesthetic, deserves all the plaudits. He isn’t willing to hear them, though; a poor restart to open the run saw him lose three positions within the first two laps, a crucial error that he believes kept him from contending for the race win.
“It was a great run through the field on that last green-flag run, but that restart was my worst restart of the day,” Reddick said. “I lost like four or five spots and that was the difference in what that outcome was. It’s just those little things.”
Of the little things affecting his progress, restarts have been the most frequent. Across all attempts in the first half of the season, he retained position 46 percent of the time — ranked 24th among full-time drivers. Furthermore, the ability to choose his restart position isn’t providing assistance. His retention rate is a hair below 43 percent on choose-rule tracks, ranked 28th overall.
A poor restart two weeks ago at Nashville Superspeedway nullified a heady gambit for stage points. The No. 8 team eschewed pitting in advance of a six-lap run towards the finish of the second stage. While Austin Dillon and Chase Briscoe turned similar strategies into tangible points (nine and eight, respectively), Reddick fell from second (the outside of the first row, a slot with a 72% chance of retention) to 17th, failing to collect a single point for the stage:
Restarts and mental mistakes like the ones for which he took blame after Nashville are indeed standing in the way of a driver whose stat profile is one with a budding trajectory. In his rookie season, he ranked as the 11th-most efficient passer on non-drafting ovals and eighth on 550-horsepower tracks specifically. But similar to his effort this season at Homestead, he most often attempted to overcome deficits created in part due to a restart.
Discounting these positive green-flag runs, though, is a mistake. Effectively, the more positions he gains beyond what’s statistically expected of him, the better he and his team finish, a strength evident in seven of his 10 best races to date in which his adjusted pass efficiency — the percentage of pass encounters resulting in a driver’s favor — was recorded:
After clinching the regular-season championship for the Xfinity Series in 2019, Richard Childress compared Reddick to Cale Yarborough. Such lofty, perhaps hyperbolic praise brings with it specific expectations, but Reddick’s ability to positively influence results in a team sport — even with his shortcomings — is plenty of reason to get excited about the iterations of Reddick that’ve yet to come.
His development has been a slow burn since his first partial season in the Xfinity Series until now, but the incomplete version we currently see is already a viable competitor on all relevant track types. Of his nine top-10 finishes this year, he’s recorded at least one apiece on a half-mile track, a 1-mile track, a 1.5-mile track, a road course and, with his ninth-place result last Sunday at Pocono, a 2-mile track. From Talladega through last weekend’s twin bill at Pocono, a 10-race span including five different track types, he amassed the sixth-most points (314) among all Cup Series drivers.
This well-roundedness gives him a cautious optimism that a legitimate chance at a first career victory might soon present itself.
“You may have a day where you’re not that great and you just don’t make a mistake, everyone else does and you’ll find yourself winning,” Reddick said. “I don’t know if it’s going to come that way. There are a lot of opportunities where, right now, I think our cars are good enough that if I run a good race, the pit crew does their part — which they have been — I think we could surprise ourselves and it could happen at a few different types of racetracks.”
Still, the fine details nag. His Production in Equal Equipment Rating — consideration of a driver’s race result that handicaps team and equipment strength in an attempt to isolate his contribution — ranks 16th, but it’s a PEER that skews towards races with average to low caution volumes. He ranks 12th from races with two cautions or less per 100 miles, while ranking 22nd in races with higher volumes, that signify an increased number of restarts.
To his credit, Reddick has buckled down on improvement in a way he previously never did, part of the coterie of Chevrolet drivers under Josh Wise’s tutelage. The Cup Series talent and equipment pool is deep, a marked difference from the Xfinity Series where Reddick was a two-time champion.
“I guess I never really gave the attention to detail that I do now running in the Cup Series as when I was running the Xfinity Series,” Reddick said of the disparity that tends to confound newcomers. “It is eye-opening, the amount of resources that are available if you really take the time to look through it all, like pit road, restarts, you could go through a lot of things … you don’t realize how much the last tenth or two-tenths mean in the grand scheme of things throughout your day. It could mean the difference between running 10th and running fifth.
“Those are the things that add up to winning races. The more that I can get better at all these other things will give us more opportunities when our car is really good that one day or really good one weekend to be able to go out there and get the job done.”
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Analysis: For Tyler Reddick, improvement begins with restarts, details originally appeared on NBCSports.com