AVONDALE, Ariz.—Cole Custer was the top finishing rookie at Phoenix Raceway, but Tyler Reddick impressed the competition in the FanShield 500.
Although his race ended abruptly after his tire went flat and he slapped the Turn 2 wall on Lap 265, prior to the accident he was racing up front against the best racers in the business.
Reddick, who started 29th, ran as high as second before finishing 33rd on Sunday.
“Well, we lost a tire there in (Turns) 1 and 2,” Reddick said. “I really don't know what led to that. I don't know if I just caught something on the race track or it just wasn't meant to be. Our I Am Second Chevrolet was really, really good today. I just made a couple of mistakes there that cost us track position.
“I don't know if that's what ultimately would have kept us from cutting a tire, but we were in really good shape there and I just made a rookie mistake and fell back to the back half of the top 10 and from there we had our flat tire, and that was the end of our day, unfortunately.”
Reddick methodically worked his way through traffic in the early laps of the race. The two-time Xfinity Series champion wheeled his way to 15th by the first caution on Lap 58 and gained two positions during his first pit stop. With patience—and attrition—after Denny Hamlin eliminated himself and Ryan Blaney on Lap 65, Reddick advanced to ninth. He maintained his position to the end of Stage 1.
After a four-tire stop, Reddick lined up 14th for Stage 2 on Lap 84. He quickly returned to the top 10 and went to work again. By Lap 120, Reddick had driven the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet past NASCAR Cup champion Kyle Busch for sixth-place. The drivers traded real estate and Reddick passed the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Toyota again for fourth-place on Lap 168.
“Tyler did a good job,” said Busch, who finished third on Sunday. “He was fast. He was ripping the top really good. He had a good sense of what he was doing. There were a few times there where I was faster and he let me go, and a few times he was faster and I let him go.
“He and I have a good rapport and we race each other well. It’s like he’s actually watched racing for the last 10 years and knows how to do it with experienced guys like us.”
Reddick had an earlier stumble on Lap 204. After restarting third to start the final stage, he ran high through Turn 4—in an attempt to avoid a three-wide situation—and got loose. Reddick dropped to 10th, but quickly gained two spots over the next few laps.
“I lost some track position there,” Reddick said. “I was trying to get a little bit of room in a tough, three-wide situation. We put tires on and re-racked them after that. I don’t know if we just caught something on the race track, a piece of debris.
“With this traction compound, debris blows up to the wall and it seems like it’s sticky up there. So, some of the stuff that falls off these cars might be sticking to the track too. I don’t know if that’s what did it or not and it’s going to be really hard to say.”
After the sixth caution on Lap 215, Reddick restarted second following a two-tire pit call by crew chief Randall Burnett. He remained in the top 10 until the team pitted prior to the Lap 259 restart. Reddick rolled off 14th before the tire issue on Lap 265 ended his day.
“It’s a bummer,” Reddick said. “I don't know if we picked up something on the race track since debris can get stuck on the traction compound really easily, or what happened when the tire went down after that restart. It's really hard to say if that's exactly what happened, but regardless, we had a fast I Am Second Chevrolet. I wish we could have finished out the race, but at least we got some good stage points out of today."
Still, Reddick’s peers knew he was there. Kyle Larson, who grew up racing midgets against Reddick, is pulling for his fellow Northern Californian.
“He was doing a great job, the moves he was making,” said Larson, who finished fourth. “For him to outrun his teammate (Austin Dillon) as much as he has all year, so far, really shows how good of a driver he is.
“Hopefully, he can keep it up. I’m cheering for him. Obviously, I grew up with him, so I want to see him do a good job. He was certainly doing that today.”