Reddick wins at COTA, my top 10 takeaways from Sunday’s race

Tyler Reddick prevailed in three overtime re-starts to claim his first trophy of the year – and first with his new team, 23XI Racing, with a 1.411-second victory over two-time series champion Kyle Busch in the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix – the NASCAR Cup Series’ first road course race of the season.

It was a field of international champions and NASCAR’s very best at the famed Circuit of The Americas course but for most of the race the outcome looked to be decided in a good ole Texas duel between the two fastest cars all weekend driven by Reddick and Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron. The pair exchanged the lead, lap after exciting lap for most of the afternoon.

And on the final two-lap restart Reddick was able to put his No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota out front exiting Turn 1 – a tight left-hander – and power forward to the lead; while Busch and third-place finisher Alex Bowman, fourth-place finisher – and defending race winner – Ross Chastain and fifth-place Byron fought door-to-door bumper-to-bumper as they chased after him.

“I’ve been wanting to win here in a Cup car for a long time,” the 27-year-old Californian Reddick said, who now has four NASCAR Cup Series wins, but noted this was his first as a Toyota driver and with his 23XI Racing Team – co-owned by fellow competitor Denny Hamlin and NBA superstar Michael Jordan.

“It means the world,” said Reddick, who sat down on the track and leaned against his car with a bag of ice after winning to cool down on the typically Texas-hot afternoon. “This whole 23XI team has been working hard all winter long to make the road course program better and was extremely motivated to come in here and improve performance. Just so proud of this Monster Energy team and TRD (Toyota Racing Development). All the resources they’ve put in to turn around the road course program means a lot.”

As often happens late in a road course race, patience lags and urgency increases. That was certainly the case Sunday with three different overtime restarts deciding the outcome. Reddick and Byron’s No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet combined to lead 69 of the race’s 75 laps with Reddick out front a race best 41 of those, most of them after hard-fought challenges and back-and-forth corner after corner with the race polesitter Byron.

“It feels good to get a top five, but we had a top-two race car really with the 45, he was really better than everybody, but I thought we were a close second,” said Byron, a two-race winner already in 2023, whose fifth-place finish at COTA was his career best on a road course. “We’ll keep building on it.”

Busch’s runner-up effort was an impressive comeback. He had been mid-pack for most of the afternoon but gambled on fuel strategy to move forward during some late race cautions in regulation.

“Even if we were on equal tires, they were lights out,” said Busch, driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

“Overall, for as much effort as we put into coming here and focusing on this place and all the testing we did in the offseason, we’re coming out of here with a good finish. Tyler’s obviously a really good road course racer.”

3 of Reddick’s 4 career wins have come on road courses including three different ones. He’s not only the top of the game on these tracks, he also has the most wins (4) than anyone else in the last 20 races too.

Team Penske’s Austin Cindric, 2023 DAYTONA 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Ty Gibbs and Front Row Motorsports’ Todd Gilliland rounded out the top-10.

Chastain takes over the championship lead by 19 points over Busch. Ty Gibbs, who finished ninth, continues to lead the Sunoco Rookie of the Year points standings.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to competition next Sunday in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 26: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, lead the field to an overtime restart during the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 26, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Wild Start, Chaotic Ending

Sunday’s race at COTA could be categorized as a wild beginning of the 75 lap race and an embarrassing finish. Four separate drivers were penalized for cutting the corner in the esses. Several cars spun. Two cautions including a first lap incident sparked a wild first stage.

The middle portions of the race was shaping up to be a strategy battle before a chaotic ending which saw five cautions in a 14 lap span. In the end, it seemed like we could never get to the white flag due to several messy spins behind which sparked full course yellows.

Strategy Race

The first race without stopping for stages ended up being exactly what I figured it would be. In fact, it almost didn’t happen. We’d see a caution on Lap 11, which was three laps shy of the opening stage break. That part of the race ended up being like it would have prior with some drivers electing to pit while others didn’t.

As a result, it did set up some strategy for the final two stages. Tyler Reddick was the lead driver on one strategy as he stopped for the first time on Lap 12 and gave up a stage win in the process. William Byron was the top driver of the other strategy with him not stopping until Lap 23 and took the opening stage win due to Reddick pitting.

It was shaping up to be a fun battle of which strategy play was going to win out. Would it be Byron’s two stopper or Reddick’s three?

Reddick hit pit lane for his second time on Lap 31. Even with doing so, he was chasing down Byron for the lead again shortly after. Reddick passed Byron for the top spot on Lap 38 and was trying to pull away as he had one more stop still.

Byron’s tires had already began falling off which was going to make this an interesting strategy play to watch through the end….

Lap 40 Caution

Until the caution on Lap 40 for debris in Turn 9. That changed everything. Most of the drivers on the lead lap hit pit lane on Lap 41 to put everyone on the same strategy now. With the fuel window being 20-24 laps, it would put everyone close to making it to the end.

They weren’t guaranteed, so everyone on the ensuing restart began fuel saving. It was going to be another fun strategy to see whom could make it to the end or not, until the Lap 56 caution for which meant this was an all out sprint until the end.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 26: Tyler Reddick, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 26, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Reddick Answered Toyota’s Deficit Question…Or Did He?

Many wondered if Toyota truly had a deficit or did their drivers maybe miss a step. Toyota’s struggled last year on road courses. Martin Truex Jr finished 7th, 26th, 13th, 21st, 23rd and 17th in the 6 races on them a year ago. Denny Hamlin was 18th, 31st, 17th, 14th, 20th and 13th respectively himself. Kyle Busch was 28th, 30th, 29th, 11th, 32nd and third. Christopher Bell being 3rd, 27th, 18th, 12th, 8th and first was the bright spot. Bubba Wallace was 38th, 36th, 35th, 5th, 35th and 7th. The 45 ride which is now the 23 was 32nd, 18th, 23rd, 17th, 16th and 22nd between Kurt Busch and Ty Gibbs.

In saying this, how much would another change to the racing package bring them together or does Chevrolet make further gains?

Reddick proved that while the Toyota package overall was down with them finishing 9th (Ty Gibbs), 16th (Denny Hamlin), 17th (Martin Truex Jr), 31st (Christopher Bell) and 37th (Bubba Wallace), he still can get the job done in leading 41 of 75 laps en route to the victory.

I’d say he answered the question on if Toyota is truly that far off in comparison to everyone else. Or did he truly do so? Maybe he’s just among the best road course racers in the game today.

Reddick has four Cup wins now with three of which coming on road courses including now having a win in half of the six of them on the schedule.

He won last July in Road America as well as Indianapolis and again on Sunday in COTA. With three straight top five finishes now, he has to be among the early championship favorites now.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 25: William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 25, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

HMS Looks Back To Form, Byron Not Quite There Yet On Road Courses

Another question looking to be answered was if the Hendrick Motorsports road course package could get back to dominance. Having 2 cars finish in the top five a day after 3 of them started in the top six leads me to believe they have.

They went 1-2 here in 2021 and entering last season, had combined to have won 9 of the last 11 road course races in general.

Then came the new car last season.

They all said that this new car will greatly improve the road course racing because this car has an emphasis on left and right hand turns. It changes everything. So, did that change HMS’ dominance?

It absolutely did. They went 1-for-6 while Trackhouse won twice, RCR twice and JGR once.

Larson finished 29-15-3-35-1-35 on them last year. On those same tracks in 2021, they went 2-1-16-3-1-1.

Chase Elliott was 4-8-2-16-4-20 a year ago. The year prior, he was 1-2-1-4-2-12.

Elliott had won six of the last 11 road course races in general entering last season with the only four that he didn’t win being the February race in Daytona to where he led the most laps but was screwed for a caution being displayed for rain in which he was going to cruise to an easy victory. The other was a runner-up in Sonoma and Watkins Glen as well at Indianapolis to where he had a top two car that day before the last race chaos. Kyle Larson won 3 of the 7 road course races himself in 2021.

They went 1-2 in COTA, 1-2 in Sonoma, 1-2 in Watkins Glen and 3-4 in Indy for that 2021 season.

The Next Gen took away those advantages. Now, with a year of learning, plus a rules package update, do those changes help HMS get back to the front again?

It showed so.

Elliott wasn’t here this weekend while Jordan Taylor fills in for him. Taylor was in the top 10 in practice on Friday and qualified fourth. He’d finish 24th in his Cup Series debut.

Larson struggled here last year but looks vastly better this time around. He was second quickest in practice and was a human pin ball machine in the race however. Bowman looked strong in another top five effort in third, while Byron scored his first career road course top five finish in 22 career starts on them in fifth after leading 28 laps.

“It was all right. I probably could have done better on those restarts,” Byron said. “I gotta look. I just kept getting pushed wide, and it seemed like the last one didn’t happen for some reason. I just gave up too much track position. It was really my only option. Good to get a top five.”

That’s what Byron needed. He was taken to school a bit one could say and that’s okay. He’s not been in this position late in a race on a road course in a position to win. Now, he has and this experience can make him dangerous on these tracks in the future.

We had a good racecar; I think a top-two racecar really, with the 45,” he admitted. “He was a lot better than everybody, but I thought we were a close second. It was really fun. Tyler is great, and they were great all weekend. Tyler’s been great on the road courses. We made it a battle for sure every time with crossovers, out-braking each other — that was a lot of fun. I hate that it kind of got down to restarts there at the end. I got shoved off one time in second. We needed a top five and probably could have done some things different.”

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 24: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #84 Club Wyndham Chevrolet, and Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Worldwide Express Chevrolet, drive during practice for the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 24, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Trackhouse Drama

Denny Hamlin and Ross Chastain may have a truce, but I have a feeling something is still brewing between Trackhouse Racing teammates Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain. I got the vibe something was amiss last year and it may have come to a head on Sunday.

Daniel Suarez was pissed at Alex Bowman for contact towards the end and took it upon himself to chase Bowman down on the cool day lap and try to wreck him. It spilled over to pit road.

“He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him,” Bowman said of his conversation with Suarez. “I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of the 99 was to protect from the 1. Then the 1 just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into the 99, kind of cleaned him out.

“Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time. I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there.

“You see that a lot at these road courses. Indy last year, Harvick was super mad at me and crashed me. Then he watched the video, and he was like, Man, I crashed the wrong guy.

“Sometimes just it’s a chain reaction. Fortunately, it worked out for us, ended up with a top five.”

Suarez saw that he got the wrong guy and video evidence showed him going to confront his teammate in Chastain.

He didn’t do much talking of the incident.

“When we got spun, I think we restarted down at Niece Equipment south of town. To come back to a top five was a top effort for our Worldwide Express team,” he said.

“I thought we were a top-five car all day. Thought the 45 had us covered. There was a line of Chevys second through sixth. It was about positioning each other while we were saving fuel, then racing each other, whoever was in front was going to be pretty good.

“Another top five here. I love this place. I love road course racing. But the fight to get better never stops. I know there’s things I can be doing better.

“From everybody from Jockey to Moose, Advent Health, everybody at Trackhouse, Justin Marks’ birthday this weekend. We ended up with a good finish, but it wasn’t the prettiest.”

Trackhouse needs to get ahead of this. Both drivers luckily have their futures secured with them but I can see how Suarez probably felt threatened last year by Chastain getting Trackhouse’s first win and stealing a lot of the limelight. Chastain felt like Suarez was Pitbull and Trackhouse’s main driver and can see where a driver who’s fought for every ride he’s had wouldn’t go down easy.

This has the potential to get ugly if it’s not addressed soon.

Corey LaJoie

This guy keeps amazing me more and more. The Spire driver would admit that road courses aren’t his strongsuit. However, he leaves COTA with an 11th place result. His other two COTA finishes were 20th and 36th respectively prior.

He did so after serving multiple penalties on Sunday which included cutting the turns in the esses, speeding as well as having to pit a fall multiple laps down for repairs to his car.

Now, this was his fifth top 20 finish in six races run this season including three of which being in the top 15. He was 4th last week and still sits on the plus side of the playoff bubble.

AUSTIN, TEXAS – MARCH 25: Jordan Taylor, driver of the #9 UniFirst Chevrolet, drives during qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on March 25, 2023 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Road Racing Aces

In addition to the NASCAR stars, the field that raced Sunday included four big names from other racing genres including IMSA champion Jordan Taylor, who drove the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for injured former COTA winner Chase Elliott; a pair of former Formula One champions in Jenson Button and Kimi Raikkonen and popular IndyCar Series regular Conor Daly.

Among these four, the Englishman Button – the 2009 Formula One champion – claimed the top finishing position, 18th in the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford.

“It was an emotional rollercoaster,” Button said. “First, it was terrible. I mean, I must’ve been last by the end of it. And I was just like, ‘Everyone: Go. I just need to drive and find a rhythm.’ I’ve never gone through a corner too wide so often. And trying to place my car in the right place — I just got it wrong every time.

“Normally, if you’re a little bit slow through a corner, nobody tries to overtake you from the outside. Because they’re not going to make it all the way on the next one. But here they do, because they get a wheel inside for the next one, and if you turn in, you turn around.

“The first stint was really bad — it was embarrassing for me. I was like, ‘All right guys, we need to pit, freshen the tires and I need some air – I need some fresh air.’ I got that. The pace was good, consistency was good. I was really happy — and passed a few cars, which was nice.

“We got a little bit unlucky with the safety car because it was just two laps before our window. Pitted, then the next stint was mayhem. We also made a couple of changes that just didn’t work. Big oversteer —  went from the car feeling great to really difficult to drive. I also had a massive whack from Kimi (Räikkönen), and it fell off after that. The car wasn’t quite right. Every time I turned in, the rear tires would chatter, then immediately to oversteer. It was really difficult, but toward the end, we made some good calls stopping and putting on fresh tires. I enjoyed the last three restarts — got good placement and good overtaking moves from the outside.

“Finished 18th after almost stopping because I had heat exhaustion. It was so hot, I don’t have a fan in my seat which really didn’t help me too much. It was so hot, I thought I was going to faint in the car. So, I stopped twice for a minute. They put ice on me, gave me loads of water, and I went back out. I was so close to getting out of the car because I thought I was going to faint. I must’ve drunk eight or nine bottles of water during the race. The team kept me calm, and it’s the reason why we got a good result in the end. So, I was happy.”

Taylor, a two-time winner at COTA in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Series finished 24th but made a huge impression in his debut after qualifying fourth.

“Yeah, it was definitely wild,” Taylor said. “I wouldn’t say I survived; I feel like I’m beat up pretty much. Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side. So, yeah, it was pretty much just survival. The guys knew I’d be a little bit more hesitant, so they would take advantage of it. At the end, I got more aggressive and made our way almost back to the top 10. On the last restart, I don’t know who went down on the inside, but they were never going to make the corner and used us to stop themselves. I’d say it was a disappointing day. I made a couple big mistakes early on that probably put us back there, but the No. 9 UniFirst Chevy was fast. I need to thank UniFirst and Hendrick Motorsports for giving me the opportunity. We had good pace, but we just got shuffled back every restart. Tough day.”

Raikkonen, the 2007 F1 World Champion from Finland, finished 29th but ran as high as fourth place late in the race.

 “I think it wasn’t too bad,” Raikkonen admitted. “We got unlucky with the incidents that happened. It was one of those things, unfortunately. Then there were no tires left. They kept coming, getting more restarts and more restarts, so I think after the spin I had, the tires were just done. It’s a shame because when we were there, but then we restart, and just wrong place, wrong time. It was a case of trying to stay out of the issues in the first corner and every time. It looked like you’d be very good, then three corners later, somebody’s going the wrong direction. There’s a bit of mess and luck involved.”

Daly only got 16 laps into the race before his team had to take his No. 50 The Money Team Racing Chevrolet behind the wall for extended repairs. He finished 36th.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson didn’t even get a full lap of green flag racing in only his second start of the 2023 season. The owner-driver of the No. 84 Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet was collected in a multi-car accident that eliminated his Chevrolet and left him 38th in the standings.

“What a disappointing finish,” said Johnson. “Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start yesterday and qualified poorly. We all know what happens when you start in the back and, unfortunately, we were caught up in that. Just a wild and crazy first lap that was taking place. I thought I had the wreck missed, but I just saw a flash of red out of nowhere. I guess there was more going on the outside of the No. 6 car (Brad Keselowski) as it was spinning, and I saw him and just got collected.”

Busch Just Didn’t Have Enough

Kyle Busch is driving the car that Tyler Reddick won twice on road courses with last year. He had a great view to watch Reddick drive Busch’s brothers car from last year to victory lane on Sunday. Reddick topped Busch by 1.411-seconds as Busch brought the No. 8 Chevrolet home runner-up on Sunday.

Even with several late race restarts, Busch said he had nothing for Reddick in the end.

“I don’t know if we could have,” Busch said on what he needed to do to get by and hold off Reddick in overtime. “Even if we were on equal tires, when we tested here, they were lights out. Had us beat on the frontside of the runs. We needed longer runs. Even today we didn’t have great long-run speed. We had great middle-run speed.

“Overall, for as much effort and everything that we’ve put into coming here and focusing on this place, all the testing and everything we’ve been able to do during the off-season, come out here with a really good finish.

“Tyler obviously is a really good road racer. He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there.

“They had a whale of a car. Want to thank NetSpend for being on our car, Austin, hometown partner in Austin, Texas. Excited to get them a runner-up finish.”

This was Busch’s first top five finish since his Fontana win but his fourth top 10 in the last five weeks too.

Ford’s Look Less Superior Of Manufacturers

Toyota’s were lacking last year, but it appears the Ford’s may be the third out of three in the manufacturers race on road courses. Austin Cindric (3rd) was the only Ford driver in the top 7 Rows on Sunday. In fact, they have just three of the top 18 starters.

They only had three cars finish in the top 11 too..

NASCAR Cup Series Race – EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix

Circuit of The Americas

Austin, Texas

Sunday, March 26, 2023

                1. (2)  Tyler Reddick, Toyota, 75.

                2. (9)  Kyle Busch, Chevrolet, 75.

                3. (6)  Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 75.

                4. (12)  Ross Chastain, Chevrolet, 75.

                5. (1)  William Byron, Chevrolet, 75.

                6. (3)  Austin Cindric, Ford, 75.

                7. (18)  Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, 75.

                8. (32)  Chris Buescher, Ford, 75.

                9. (17)  Ty Gibbs #, Toyota, 75.

                10. (36)  Todd Gilliland, Ford, 75.

                11. (27)  Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 75.

                12. (20)  Michael McDowell, Ford, 75.

                13. (29)  Kevin Harvick, Ford, 75.

                14. (13)  Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 75.

                15. (19)  Chase Briscoe, Ford, 75.

                16. (21)  Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 75.

                17. (25)  Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 75.

                18. (24)  Jenson Button, Ford, 75.

                19. (23)  Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 75.

                20. (10)  Noah Gragson #, Chevrolet, 75.

                21. (38)  Ryan Blaney, Ford, 75.

                22. (16)  Harrison Burton, Ford, 75.

                23. (8)  Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 75.

                24. (4)  Jordan Taylor, Chevrolet, 75.

                25. (37)  Cody Ware, Ford, 75.

                26. (33)  Josh Bilicki(i), Chevrolet, 75.

                27. (5)  Daniel Suarez, Chevrolet, 75.

                28. (15)  Joey Logano, Ford, 75.

                29. (22)  Kimi Raikkonen, Chevrolet, 75.

                30. (39)  Aric Almirola, Ford, 74.

                31. (14)  Christopher Bell, Toyota, Accident, 73.

                32. (26)  Ryan Preece, Ford, Accident, 68.

                33. (28)  Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 62.

                34. (7)  AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, Accident, 60.

                35. (30)  Brad Keselowski, Ford, Driveshaft, 56.

                36. (35)  Conor Daly, Chevrolet, Transmission, 16.

                37. (11)  Bubba Wallace, Toyota, Accident, 10.

                38. (31)  Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, DVP, 0.

                39. (34)  Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Accident, 0.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  72.886 mph.

Time of Race:  3 Hrs, 30 Mins, 32 Secs. Margin of Victory:  1.411 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  8 for 17 laps.

Lead Changes:  16 among 7 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   W. Byron 1-5;A. Cindric 6-7;T. Reddick 8-12;W. Byron 13-23;T. Reddick 24-31;C. Buescher 32;W. Byron 33-38;T. Reddick 39-41;W. Byron 42;J. Logano 43;W. Byron 44-46;T. Reddick 47-57;D. Suarez 58;C. Bell 59;T. Reddick 60-61;W. Byron 62-63;T. Reddick 64-75.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  Tyler Reddick 6 times for 41 laps; William Byron 6 times for 28 laps; Austin Cindric 1 time for 2 laps; Christopher Bell 1 time for 1 lap; Joey Logano 1 time for 1 lap; Chris Buescher 1 time for 1 lap; Daniel Suarez 1 time for 1 lap.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 24,2,16,48,1,99,8,9,20,41

Stage #2 Top Ten: 45,3,34,4,17,47,5,43,14,42

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