By STEVE MEGARGEE
AP Sports Writer
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Tyler Reddick finally has his first Cup Series victory and probably a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
He is not letting off the gas now.
The Richard Childress Racing driver and his team have bigger goals than simply qualifying for the playoffs.
“We talk about being a contender for the championship, and I think we can. I truly think that we will be a contender for the championship when we get into it,” team owner Richard Childress said Sunday after Reddick’s win at Road America.
Strong statement for a team that only earned its first Cup win Sunday, in Reddick’s 92nd career start. But Reddick had come close enough before — five runner-up finishes before his win at Road America — and was reigning NASCAR champion Kyle Larson’s preseason pick as surprise driver of the year.
So it’s been a buildup to get to victory lane and now Reddick will try to carry his new momentum into Atlanta Motor Speedway, where NASCAR races this Sunday and Reddick was a contender in the spring until a late crash.
Reddick had acknowledged just one week before Road America how frustrating it has been to fall short of that breakthrough first Cup win. He’d been driving his partner, Alexa, crazy as he struggled to take the next step.
“I’d say I was pretty miserable,” Reddick said. “I don’t think Alexa enjoyed being around me when I’d run second place. Yeah, second place isn’t a bad place to finish. But we’re here to win races.”
His first victory came on the course where he experienced one of the low points of his career.
Reddick recalled a disastrous performance in a 2018 Xfinity Series race at Road America that had him questioning whether he had what it takes to make it as a driver at the highest level.
“It was about here that things could have went one of two ways,” Reddick said. “It could have went one way where I was pretty much giving up … I don’t think I had it. But I had a lot of good people around me that believed in me, got me back where I needed to be, and from that point on, things have been a lot better.
“It’s really crazy that this is the place I got my first win because this place four years ago had me questioning everything.”
The win showed how far Reddick has come as a road-course driver since the early stages of his career.
“He was like: ‘Man, I hate road course racing. I’m not very good at it,’” crew chief Randall Burnett recalled. “He’s pretty good at everything he does, so for him to say that, it was a little bit of a challenge.”
Burnett credited Reddick for working tirelessly to make himself more comfortable on road courses.
“I think that’s a nice little cherry on top, for him to know that he’s worked that hard to get as good as he has on these places,” Burnett said. “So I think it’s pretty special for him to actually win on a road course for the first time.”
Reddick generally had many more good days than bad days while racing in the Xfinity Series, where he won consecutive Xfinity titles in 2018 and 2019 and earned the seat in the No. 8 Chevrolet driving for Childress. He was surprised in the significant leap in competition when he got his Cup ride.
“We got slapped in the face with the reality of what Cup racing is like,” Reddick said. “I’ve had to learn a lot over the course of these last three years in the Cup Series as a driver.”
That also meant making sure he didn’t stew too much over his second-place finishes and instead figured out how the experiences could make him a better drive. Reddick didn’t even cast blame over his heartbreaking finish at Bristol this year, when he led until Chase Briscoe tried to slide past him in a move that caused both of their cars to spin out of control. Kyle Busch passed both to earn the victory.
“Yeah, it eats away at you a little bit, but again, I try and look at it, ‘How can I learn from this? How can I learn from Bristol?’” Reddick said. “Yeah, I got wrecked, but I had a gap and I let him run me back down and get there. I gave him an opportunity.”
Reddick’s team made sure frustrations never boiled over. They all knew a victory would come sooner or later.
“It wasn’t a matter of if he was going to do it, it was when they were going to win,” Childress said. “That’s what we kept telling them.”
Now they’re ready for more.
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