After a wild afternoon at Talladega Superspeedway, the pressure is still on 23XI Racing for one more week. Both of the team’s drivers, Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace, are below the cut line heading into the final race of the Round of 12. Fortunately for them, their deficits are small. Reddick is ninth in points, two below the cutoff. Wallace is only one point ahead of Ross Chastain in 10th, nine points behind the last transfer spot. This weekend’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL will decide both drivers’ playoff fates.
If Reddick and Wallace advance to the Round of 8, 23XI would have a lot to celebrate no matter what happens the rest of the year. Until this season, Reddick had never advanced past the first round of the postseason. Wallace drove the playoff-qualified No. 45 car at the end of last year and reached the second round of the owner’s championship, winning a playoff race along the way. But Wallace has never competed in the postseason for a driver’s championship until now. He and Reddick are among the biggest underdogs left in championship contention. Yet the next round of the playoffs only has room for eight drivers, and right now, Wallace and Reddick are not in the top eight.
The good news for Reddick and the No. 45 team is that the ROVAL is up next. During his still young NASCAR Cup Series career, Reddick has become one to watch on road courses. His first two wins came last year at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course competing with Richard Childress Racing. The move to 23XI this year didn’t slow Reddick down at all. He earned a victory at Circuit of the Americas in just his sixth start with the team, paving the way for him to reach the playoffs.
However, the rest of the road races in 2023 have been a mixed bag for the No. 45 team. At Sonoma Raceway, Reddick got a flat tire while running in the top five with 13 laps to go. The incident dropped him all the way to 33rd by the time the race ended. Then, a few weeks later at the Chicago Street Course, Reddick stuffed his Toyota into the turn six tire barrier. He certainly wasn’t the only driver who made that mistake, but he was once again running in the top five, and the crash spoiled a potential win. Reddick’s next two road course races, at Indianapolis and Watkins Glen International, resulted in a top five and top 10, respectively. Those finishes should give him confidence heading to the ROVAL, but he will have no more room for error as far as the championship is concerned.
Meanwhile, Wallace finds himself in a more precarious position. Road courses have never been his specialty. He only has two road racing top 10s: fifth at Indianapolis and seventh at the ROVAL, both in 2022. Last year’s finish may provide some optimism for the No. 23 team, especially since it continued a trend of Wallace improving his finish at the ROVAL each time he’s raced there. That said, a good finish might not be good enough for Wallace to stay in the playoffs, especially if he winds up battling Reddick for the final transfer spot.
For Wallace to continue his championship pursuit, the key is to keep doing what has kept him in the game so far – maximizing stage points. Recall how Wallace was a trendy pick to win at Kansas Speedway a few weeks ago, given his win there last year and 23XI’s speed at the track. Yet it was Reddick who won the race instead. Wallace had a much more difficult day, blowing a tire while running second, slapping the wall, and breaking a toe link on the No. 23. His 32nd-place finish dropped him 19 points below the cut line, and most people figured that he would be eliminated from the playoffs at Bristol Motor Speedway the next week.
However, stage points made the difference for Wallace. Before the crash at Kansas, he had already collected nine stage points by finishing second in stage one. At Bristol, the No. 23 team used pit strategy to finish third in stage one, giving Wallace another eight stage points. On the other hand, playoff drivers like Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick did not earn a single stage point all night. After Logano got collected in a crash and Harvick fell several laps down with an ill-handling car, Wallace soldiered to a 14th-place finish. The final tally placed him four points ahead of Logano and Harvick for the last transfer spot. The No. 23 was moving on.
Oddly enough, Wallace and his team appear to have moved away from the stage point strategy since Bristol. He only scored three at Texas Motor Speedway and none at Talladega. Wallace’s top five at Texas was great, but he missed out on a possible win when William Byron snuck by him on the final restart. At Talladega, Wallace and Reddick were stuck in traffic all afternoon. Neither looked like they had cars capable of winning the race. While hindsight is 20/20, you must wonder if the No. 23 team wishes that they had prioritized stage points more over the last two weeks.
Ultimately, both 23XI drivers still have a path forward in the playoffs. Reddick’s road course speed gives him a good chance to advance, and Wallace can also get through if he and his team are efficient in collecting stage points. Either driver advancing to round three would take 23XI to heights that it has never reached before. That said, both teams have to execute their game plans well, and execution has been a problem for this organization in the past. This weekend at the ROVAL will decide if the 23XI underdog story continues, or if Reddick’s and Wallace’s title hopes must wait for another year.
About the author
Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past six years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and aspiring motorsports historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.
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