One week on, being crowned NASCAR’s Xfinity Series champion sinks in more and more for Tyler Reddick with the memorabilia sitting at home.
The big trophy isn’t one of them. Reddick doesn’t get that until the December 8 awards night. So for now, he looks at the hat with the word ‘champion’ on it he received that Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the flag he tore to pieces during his front stretch burnout.
“The Xfinity Series champion hat is covered in all sorts beer, champagne and stuff – looks really nice,” Reddick told RACER.
“Smells like victory, so I know that it’s real. I got the hat. It’s like in the Polar Express when the kid gets the bell – it’s like, OK, it actually happened. The trophy has been around here a couple times today, but I think it’s gone now. Yeah, the hat and flag I ripped to pieces and got rubber all over. Got burnt rubber all over it, couple holes, got ripped off the pole. It looks really, really cool now. It’s going to look pretty good when it’s in a frame.”
Making his way into the Championship 4 via points, Reddick rose to the occasion at Homestead. Putting his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet up against the wall, Reddick drove a masterful race once he was at the front of the field. Even after scraping the wall, Reddick kept pushing and gapped contender Cole Custer by nearly seven seconds at the checkered flag.
Reddick bookended the campaign with victories in the first race, Daytona, and last race of the season, but his story is about what unfolded between those February and November nights.
“I can’t believe it’s reality,” Reddick said of the title. “We believed all year we could accomplish it and do it, but to see it come to reality doesn’t feel like real life. We put ourselves in a great spot [by] winning Daytona, but I think I let it affect my decision-making in the wrong way, and I thought it was helping me in the right way. But at the end of the day I was making decisions I probably shouldn’t, and doing things with the racecar that wasn’t worth the risk.
“All year, I thought there was no risk, being as we won a race and were locked in. But we were giving away valuable points.”
The wrecked cars. Points lost. Reddick isn’t cutting himself any slack on those, even though he finished the season as the man on top. He needed to “put his head on straight” Reddick himself said the night he won the title. Part of being a rookie – an award Reddick also captured alongside his championship – is about learning, but Reddick felt he should have done better since he ran 18 races with Chip Ganassi in 2017.
Two wins and championship aside, Reddick had five DNFs throughout the season. But he knows he had a lot more torn-up race cars, hence the need to get things together – which Reddick did in the playoffs with six top-10 finishes in seven races (his worst being 14th at Dover) that translated to a 6.2 average finish.
“I was driving like an idiot at times,” Reddick admitted. “’Pull it together’, and that comment also stems heavily from Las Vegas. Before the playoffs started and us doing the pictures, and I wrecked half the people I’m taking a picture with. I’m pissed off. All that stuff. Wayne [Auton, series managing director] talked to me right after that race and all the crap I was doing, like, ‘dude, need to get your head on straight’. I joked with him after we won the deal, ‘Hey, guess your pep talked worked pretty good’ because I did get it together.’
“Vegas was a race [where] we probably should have finished third or fourth. We had a lot of days like Vegas where things start out OK, they get bad, I make it worse by hurting the car, wrecking it, damaging it, fight all day, somehow survive, fix it, fix it, fix it all day long, then get right back up there in the top five battling for the win. Then because my car is wrecked and I feel the desperation set in, I just do something that I probably shouldn’t and we end up wrecked and give up points.”
Reflecting on that, and with the guidance of crew chief Dave Elenz honing in on what the team, and Reddick, needed to do better, Reddick was prepared for the postseason. And yet looking forward …
“Yeah, we won the championship, but there’s a lot of things to clean up, and I can do better in the regular season,” Reddick said. “When you bring back a clean car, you can go straight to work on the next week, and the week after that. If you’re having to fix things, you can’t move forward.”
But Daytona and the 2019 season are a few months away. Reddick still has a banquet to attend, with a speech to give. Then, once back home amongst his championship prizes, Reddick awaits the arrival of not just one, but three trophies: championship, Rookie of the Year, and Homestead race win. All of which will further remind Reddick of what he accomplished, even if he doesn’t know how they will fit in his house.
“No idea,” Reddick said. “I had the Daytona trophy on the island in my kitchen for, like, nine months. I didn’t move it once. I don’t know what I’m going to do. It’s a good problem to have. I need to find room for three more trophies, because I have no idea where I’m going to put them.”