Several times in 2021, Tyler Reddick looked like a driver on the brink. And he did a lot right, improving in nearly every category over 2020, including top 10s, laps led, races completed, lead-lap finishes and average finish. That’s exactly what should be expected of a second-year driver. If Reddick can show similar growth in 2022, he’ll be well on his way to a Playoff berth — and maybe more.
Reddick brings balance to his Richard Childress Racing team. He’s played a large role in elevating the organization’s performance over his two seasons, and his hungry, aggressive style complements his more laid-back teammate, Austin Dillon. Reddick shows the intensity of a young driver with something to prove. It works — sometimes Reddick is reminded to pace himself and follow Dillon, and sometimes Dillon is coached to follow Reddick’s risk-to-reward approach. They’re good teammates because they push each other.
Reddick had a competitive edge over Dillon last year, and it paid off with a Playoff spot, but he also paid the price for his aggressive style at times — Reddick finished 34 of 36 races, tied for second-most in the series, but his 24 lead-lap finishes ranked in the lower fourth of the Playoff drivers. His risk on track will bring reward, but he still needs to temper it at times.
Crew chief Randall Burnett has called the shots for Reddick for three years, two in the Cup Series and also Reddick’s 2019 Xfinity Series championship season. The pair had a wildly successful title run, scoring 24 top-5 finishes. RCR as an organization isn’t quite at that level on the Cup side, but Reddick scored 16 top 10s last year, and if he can do that again, adding just a handful of top 5s to his 2021 total of three, he’ll be in great position to make the Playoffs. With a little more consistency and a dash of luck, he can advance.
RCR had not made a formal sponsorship announcement as of press time, but the team has a longstanding relationship with Caterpillar, and restaurant chain Cheddar’s got good value from its part-time package last year, using Reddick in commercial spots as well as for on-track presence.
It all comes down to equipment for Reddick. The new car puts everyone on equal footing to start the year; if RCR can get a jump on it, it would pull them closer to the competition despite a growing financial disadvantage. Over 25 years removed from its last Cup Series championship with Dale Earnhardt, RCR has slipped behind Hendrick Motorsports to second in the Chevrolet pecking order.
That’s not the drivers’ fault, but they can help turn it around. Reddick has proved he’s an elite talent, and he can get as much out of his cars as anyone, but he’s limited.
Reddick has been at the front or within striking distance midrace on several occasions only to fade late, and sometimes that’s due to overaggression, wearing out tires or tangling with another car or the wall. Keeping the hunger while curbing that aggression just a little will give him more opportunities, and once he’s comfortable in the new car, it will pay dividends.
Reddick looks like a driver on the brink of something special. He’s running up front enough so that everyone knows he’s there. Now he has to stay there when it counts.
If last year is any indication, at some point this season, Reddick will put the pieces together. His progression in Cup is right on target for a breakthrough victory in his third season. He’s elevated his team to the point where he can win. It’s simply a matter of time — and patience.