1. Tyler Reddick is breaking out before our eyes, but …
It was only a few years back when Tyler Reddick was part of the Big 3 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, vying for wins and titles with Christopher Bell and Cole Custer. At the time, Reddick felt like the underdog, even after he won the 2018 Xfinity Series championship.
He was more dominant while defending the crown in 2019, but when Reddick was promoted to a full-time Cup Series ride in 2020, he slipped back behind those two rivals in the pecking order. Both Custer and Bell found their way to victory lane much quicker in NASCAR’s top division.
All along, though, Reddick looked like a driver who would eventually rise up. After a few near misses earlier in the 2022 season, he’s done it in impressive fashion, winning twice in the span of five races after taking the checkered flag this past Sunday (July 31) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course — with a second-place finish at Pocono Raceway thrown in for good measure.
Consistency is still an issue for Reddick and his No. 8 team, as evidenced by the fact he’s 11th in points, 91 behind Bell. But his two wins on road courses bode well going forward since there are more of those on the Cup schedule than ever.
Among them? The Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL this October. It’s a race that could mean an automatic pass into the next round of the postseason if the No. 8 team advances into the Round of 12.
It’s possible Reddick is on the verge of even bigger things, which begs the question …
2. … Is Reddick being too hasty leaving Richard Childress Racing?
Let’s be honest: It’s been quite some time since Richard Childress Racing was relevant. A few wins a season is about all the organization has been able to muster, and occasionally it’s even had one car that wasn’t even in the hunt for wins.
Reddick is driving that second car right now and, as we’ve discussed, has already wheeled it to two victories in 2022. It’s possible that he’s a transcendent talent, or it could be RCR has found something with the Next Gen car that it wasn’t able to muster with the previous Cup Series model. More likely, it’s some combination of the two.
That’s important because when it was first announced Reddick would leave RCR at the end of the 2023 season to join 23XI Racing, it was widely perceived as a step up that would automatically advance his career.
Now? That’s not as clear.
As a two-car group, the 23XI Racing organization has as many wins as Reddick does with his current team. That’s not bad considering it was a one-car effort until 2022 and remains in its relative NASCAR infancy. But it’s not like Reddick will be joining an organization that is dominant and just cranking out victories.
There’s also the potential for growing pains that typically afflict any driver switching manufacturers to consider. Maybe Reddick is so talented that none of this stuff will matter, but his upcoming move isn’t the slam dunk it was first perceived to be, and it might lead to him taking a small step back before moving forward again.
3. Has the NASCAR world already tired of the Indianapolis road course?
When the Cup Series date at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was switched from the iconic oval to the venue’s road course last year, it was both on-trend and a welcome change. For all of its pomp and circumstance, the Brickyard 400 was not often aesthetically pleasing, and neither drivers nor fans seemed particularly sad to see it go away.
But it’s fair to say neither Indy road course race has been an instant classic, and that, plus the inevitable pull of nostalgia, already has some wondering if the oval could return. The road course will be back in 2023, but beyond that, it’s an open question, with Roger Penske even suggesting that perhaps a rotation between the two is a potential solution.
Here’s the thing: NASCAR wants to be at Indianapolis. It’s too important a venue to just abandon. So if there’s going to be a Cup Series race there, the road course doesn’t have to be better than every other track, or even any other track. It just needs to be better than the IMS oval.
So far, it has been. Until that changes, there’s no reason to go back to the oval just because.
4. Is NASCAR going to continue penalizing intentional wrecks on a case-by-case basis … and should it?
Noah Gragson got penalized in early July after NASCAR deemed that he intentionally wrecked Sage Karam at Road America. That would seem like it could have been an effective deterrent to anyone looking to spin a fellow driver on purpose.
The key word is “seem.” Just this past weekend, Carson Hocevar (to John Hunter Nemechek) and Ryan Blaney (to Daniel Suarez) both put the bumpers to their competitors. It’s often difficult to determine intent with 100% certainty in racing incidents, but neither contact looked accidental.
That raises the question of whether NASCAR is going to crack down on these run-ins before they multiply even more. And, if so, how will it determine what is a punishable offense?
Is it if the driver is a repeat offender (which seemed to be the case with Gragson)? Does the presence of innocent drivers getting caught up in the wreck other than the intended target make an intentional accident worse?
There aren’t easy answers here, but there does appear to be a need to lay down some parameters so that drivers in all national series know what is and isn’t permitted — particularly before the playoffs begin.
5. The playoff field is set unless another driver from Kevin Harvick down wins
Anyone who reads this column regularly (hi, Mom!) knows this writer can’t resist the pull of a season where there are 17 or more Cup Series winners. This year has been as close as we’ve ever been, yet with just four regular season races remaining and one potential wild card at Indy producing a repeat victor, it’s probably not going to happen in 2022. (Sadly.)
And while a bunch of drivers remain mathematically alive to make it in on points, those scenarios now involve either Blaney or Martin Truex Jr. finishing 30th or below in three of the next four weeks while the drivers chasing them rip off five consecutive runner-up results.
There was no math done to check those claims, but you get the idea. It’s virtually impossible for someone below Truex to make it in unless they win.
It means the playoff field is set … unless someone between Kevin Harvick and Ty Dillon who hasn’t already won can find a way to victory lane. It’s certainly not impossible, what with a road course and Daytona International Speedway still on the slate, but time is absolutely running out.
A couple of feel-good stories could still emerge from that group (unless you’re a Truex fan, of course). A Bubba Wallace win to make the playoffs would be popular. So would Erik Jones, racing for what remains of the Petty legacy. How about rookie Harrison Burton, wheeling the Wood Brothers Ford and coming off a career-best third at Indianapolis?
The clock is ticking and the odds are against all of them, but it’ll still be fun to see if a driver in the middle of the pack can make it happen.
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