‘Underdog’ Reddick, JRM’s No. 9 Team Beat Best of the Rest for Title

Ron Lemasters | 11/21/2018

BurgerFi Championship Homestead News Tyler Reddick XFINITY Series

2018 NXS Champion Tyler Reddick has a lot to be thankful for this year after overcoming the role of 'Underdog' and bringing home the year's biggest prize.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Nov. 21, 2018) – Tyler Reddick said hello to JR Motorsports by winning the closest race in NASCAR’s long history, and he’ll say goodbye toting a NASCAR Xfinity Series championship trophy to his new racing home.

From victory at Daytona to a title at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Reddick and his team had a lot of high points—and some low ones, too—on the way to JRM’s second NXS title in as many years.

Reddick, who took over the title-winning car from a year ago, stole the spotlight his first time out at Daytona, topping teammate Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in NASCAR history—0.004 seconds. That qualified him for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs...with 25 races left until they started.

Through the season, Reddick remained in contention in the points, with some ups and downs, to be sure, and got to the money round with a bit of momentum. The 22-year-old Californian was able to put together a sneaky good championship run that saw him navigate the desert minefield at Phoenix that caught out Championship 4 veterans Sadler and Justin Allgaier and become the lone JR Motorsports representative in the winner-take-all event last Saturday night.

When he got there, it was almost as if he was an underdog.

Christopher Bell, who won seven races in 2018, was also in the field, and former JRM driver Cole Custer had put on a clinic in the final race last year on the same Homestead-Miami track where William Byron capped an improbable rookie season with his own title. Ever-steady Daniel Hemric was there as well, still looking for his first NXS victory and hopefully, a championship.

Yet, when it came time to determine whose mojo would be strongest and whose intestinal fortitude would be the difference, Reddick came up with the biggest gut-check of all.

“I just can’t believe it actually happened,” Reddick said. “I believed, our whole team believed we could do it, believed in ourselves. It was just a matter of making it to the final race and giving ourselves a shot at competing for it. That was our goal all year long and we were able to carry it out.”

Running near the lead most of the race, it came down to the final pit stops, as is so often the case.

Bell pitted first, and Reddick was right behind him to pit road. He would have been right behind Bell, but was in the high line and trapped by a lapped car at pit-in and went another lap. Custer waited and so did Hemric. That set the stage for the finish, but in all reality, it was over right then.

There were still 60 laps remaining in the 200-lap event, and despite the window being open the strategy was interesting, to say the least. Reddick, with the final set of tires he would wear in place, headed immediately back to the tippy-top of the banking all the way around the 1.5-mile oval, much to the dismay of NBC commentators Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte.

Going into the finale, Reddick said his championship hopes rested just a couple of inches off the SAFER Barrier, and he put his BurgerFi Chevrolet in that groove and let it eat.

It worked.

Bell, who had not run the top much at all during the race, couldn’t hang with Reddick once the young Californian got it wound up, and Reddick ran him down quickly. Custer, after leading 182 laps last year and 90-plus on Saturday night, couldn’t high-line it either. Reddick was untouchable up top, ripping the boards, and by the time there were 10 to go, Reddick had forged a seven-second advantage.

That, as it turned out, was that. Reddick blazed his way into Victory Lane for the race and forced NASCAR and track officials to combine the separate celebrations for the race winner and the series champion into just one.

Some underdog.

Asked when he knew he had it in the bag, Reddick gave it some thought.

“I thought when we broke out in the first (stage) run and were able to stay in second for as long as we did, I thought we had a pretty good shot at it. I wasn’t having to run too extreme yet, and I wanted to keep Cole in my line of sight. We made adjustments to it, and honestly, we made it worse. We ended up creating a new issue and then going back to the same issue at the end of the (Stage Two) run.”

The third and final stage, the one that counted most, began with Reddick a bit farther behind than he wanted to be.

“We unloaded in the third and final stage a ways back from the rest of the Championship 4, and we just had to pick them off one by one,” Reddick said. “We used a little bit of strategy that was already put in place by the 20 (Bell), and then we got out in front of those guys. We let the 20 go, and it was trial and error, literally, bouncing off the fence. I figured out what I needed to do, and from there it was just an inch at a time.”

Crew chief Dave Elenz, who once again jumped to the career lead in victories for the organization, made the call to pit Reddick, and then sat back and watched his driver win a title. Early in the race, during a particularly moribund stretch of laps, Elenz coaxed Reddick to try to run the bottom to gain track position. That didn’t work, but it made a difference.

After getting back onto the track in that last run, Reddick went right back to where he was most comfortable...at the top of the track. For more than 50 laps, Reddick raced with the right front fender inches off the wall, and he was so fast there he just bludgeoned the favorites, Bell and Custer, into submission.

That was sweet for Reddick.

“Throughout the year we had a lot of ups-and-downs, but come playoff time we honed in and eliminated a lot of our weaknesses,” he said. “We were able to survive and get there (to Homestead), and to have a shot at it was unreal. To be able to put ourselves in a spot there in the last half of that race to go from being probably the worst of the four cars to the best, was a really awesome achievement.”

As team owners Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kelley Earnhardt Miller watched from the team’s pit box, Reddick brought it home for the victory, which meant he started the year holding a trophy in Victory Lane in Florida and ended up holding both the race and the championship trophies in another one, some 300 miles south.

Elenz is the first JRM crew chief to earn two titles, the first to win back-to-back titles and the first to guide two rookie drivers to championships. Those titles came in his first two full seasons with the same driver, too. In fact, all three of JRM’s titlists won the championship in their rookie seasons, which makes Elenz the “Rookie Whisperer.”

Earnhardt Jr. won two titles himself as a driver, and now five more as an owner. He had a little advice for Reddick when it was all over.

“(He told me) just to make sure you take a minute and enjoy what just happened,” Reddick said. “You can do everything right, just like Justin Allgaier and Christopher Bell did all year long and still end up not being the champion. A lot of things have to go right and they did for us.

“Don’t take it for granted. I plan to cherish every minute of this.”

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300*

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Daniel Hemric (P)4033-7
4Christopher Bell # (P)4026-14
5Elliott Sadler2255-1785
6Matt Tifft2254-1786
7Justin Allgaier2251-1789
14Michael Annett632-3408