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2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Tyler Reddick Proves Timing Is Everything in Breakout Season

It was only going to be a matter of time for the young man from Corning, Calif.

At Road America in July, Tyler Reddick, then 26 years old and driving the No. 8 3CHI Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in the NASCAR Cup Series, earned an emotional and well-deserved first career Cup victory.

After two NASCAR Xfinity Series championships in as many attempts and five runner-up results in 92 Cup races, Reddick was a winner at NASCAR’s highest level. It wasn’t an easy win, either. He’d had to steal it away from a dominant Chase Elliott in the final stage.

“What better place [to get it done] than Road America.” Reddick told NBC Sports. “I love the fans, I love this racetrack, being here on Fourth of July weekend is just so special. Huge shout out to 3CHI and the special paint scheme we had this weekend, love them coming on board this year and taking a chance on a young guy like me. We got it done, we won a race.”

That’s just the start of the story.

Despite a higher-than-expected number of tire and mechanical failures taking him out of contention in races he could have won, Reddick finished 2022 with three wins, 10 top fives and 15 top 10s, with only a Round of 16 elimination and 14th-place points finish cramping his style. 

Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here

He was also the first driver since Kevin Harvick in 2013 to earn multiple wins for RCR in a single season, something that could indicate the historic organization is on the verge of breaking back into championship contention for the first time since Harvick rocked the No. 29.

But if it does, it will be without Reddick.

The surprise announcement came on July 12, just one race separated from Reddick’s big win at Road America. Interrupting a Denny Hamlin media Zoom call, Reddick joined the 23XI Racing co-owner to announce that he’d signed a multi-year agreement to drive for the Toyota team also co-owned by Michael Jordan starting in 2024. 

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2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Brad Keselowski's 1st Year as Cup Owner

“It made sense to me,” Hamlin explained on the call. “To me … franchise drivers don’t come around that often. And so if there’s ever one that you feel like you can grab, you go after it and you do whatever it takes to make that happen. And then you work on the details later.”

You read that right, by the way. 2024. RCR confirmed in March that it had extended Reddick’s contract through the end of the 2023 season. So, unlike the contract drama that plagued the NTT IndyCar Series later that very same day, Reddick’s announcement didn’t put him into legal limbo. Reddick was in the clear to see out his RCR contract for the next season-and-a-half before making the switch.

But Richard Childress, who found out about Reddick’s plan at the same time as the media and the fans, didn’t have to be happy about it. The tweet heard ‘round the world said it all.

Even in August, after Reddick took the checkered flag at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Childress didn’t sound like he was over it, comparing the situation unfavorably to a similar experience he’d had with Harvick ahead of his departure in 2013.

And then, of course, in came the Kyle Busch rumors. 

When Toyota snapped up the young prospect in Reddick to secure the automaker’s future in NASCAR, it did that with the knowledge that longtime Busch sponsor Mars, Inc. wasn’t going to renew its contract with Joe Gibbs Racing after 2022. Toyota suddenly found itself willing and able to let Busch walk. And as the Silly Season rumor mill kicked itself into overdrive, speculating as to where the two-time champion would strap in for 2023, one team consistently found itself atop the pile: RCR.

For weeks, the NASCAR world pondered the intertwined futures of these two men. Would Busch really sign for a team owner who once punched him in the mouth? Would Reddick be forced out a year early, demoted to the Xfinity Series or loaned to a satellite team? Were Reddick and Busch both taken advantage of by Toyota, to Childress’ sole gain?

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2022 NASCAR Top Storylines: Jimmie Johnson Returning to NASCAR

Hanging over the whole narrative like the sword of Damocles was Kurt Busch’s concussion. After a seemingly ordinary crash in qualifying at Pocono Raceway forced the 2004 champion out of the No. 45, it soon became clear that the elder Busch brother would sit on the sidelines through the end of 2022, if not longer.

On Sept. 13 the next domino fell. Kyle Busch announced at the NASCAR Hall of Fame that he would be rejoining the Chevrolet camp for the first time in over a decade to wheel the No. 8 for RCR starting in 2023. That’s not some rebranding exercise, Randall Burnett was confirmed as his crew chief. Kyle Busch would be taking Reddick’s team. 

Reddick, informed of Childress’ decision a mere hour in advance of the press conference, would switch to a third entry for the organization, with details to be announced at a later date. Just four days later, Busch and Reddick, both expected to make deep playoff runs, found themselves eliminated in the Round of 16, after mechanical issues sent both drivers to the Bristol Motor Speedway garage.

Yet just one week after that, Reddick was back in victory lane, coming out on top in a grueling 500-miler at Texas Motor Speedway to claim his third and final victory with RCR.

On Oct. 15, Kurt Busch announced that he would be stepping away from full-time racing in 2023 and that 23XI had secured an early release for Reddick to take over the No. 45, finally putting to rest the story that had been haunting him for the second half of the season. And that was that.

Of course, common knowledge suggests while NASCAR contracts are occasionally signed a year in advance, they do tend to take effect much sooner than initially planned (just ask Jamie McMurray). Maybe we should have all seen it coming. To be fair, many did, especially as Reddick kept collecting checkered flags while the doctors continued extending Busch’s unexpected break. 

Perhaps unexpectedly if you’d taken stock mid-season, the RCR 2022 Silly Season musical chairs seems to have worked out well for everybody. Toyota gets Reddick at 23XI after both driver and team finally put the pieces together to start performing regularly in the middle of the year. Kyle Busch is able to leave JGR with his head held high, departing for a No. 8 team that won more races last year than his own No. 18. RCR was able to replace rising star Reddick with one of NASCAR’s all-time greats — and get a huge payout from Toyota for the privilege of not having to figure out a 2023 seat for Reddick. 

And Kurt Busch remains under contract with 23XI, where Hamlin has promised that he’ll have a seat as soon as he recovers, telling RACER.com in September, “it’s important for us to make sure Kurt has the opportunity to come back whenever he wants.”

In NASCAR, it isn’t possible to hype a driver into victory lane. Sometimes increased media attention indicates nothing deeper. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. 

But based on the largely positive talk about Reddick on social media this year, on how highly Hamlin speaks of his fellow driver and how interested 23XI was in locking him down as far in advance as they could, I think this cigar is something else. There’s a reason everyone was talking about Reddick in 2022. There’s a reason two race-winning teams were willing to fight for him. Even with all the contract drama and off-track nonsense, Reddick kept delivering on the racetrack. He gave RCR its best year in a decade and he’s moving into one of the highest-funded cars in NASCAR for 2023.

It’s Tyler Reddick’s world. We’re all just living in it. 

About the author

Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.

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