The New #8: Tyler Reddick’s Journey in NASCAR

            When one thinks of the most well-known driver to wheel the #8 in NASCAR, the mind goes to an obvious place. After winning back-to-back Busch Series championships in 1998 & 1999, Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove the DEI #8 car for the first nine years of his cup career, winning 17 races along the way, being voted most popular driver five times, and being just a few lucky breaks away from a championship in 2003. Following Earnhardt’s departure for Hendrick Motorsports in 2009, no driver wheeled the #8 car in the Cup Series for nine years, until Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric ran two races in 2018, then a full-time schedule in 2019. The following season, however, Tyler Reddick – a two-time Xfinity Series champion himself, just like Dale Jr. – would take over the #8 car for RCR, and looks to have that seat locked up for the foreseeable future.

            Tyler Reddick’s racing journey is fairly prototypical. Born in Corning, California, he started racing go-karts at four years old, and after showing real talent, began racing larger vehicles – midgets, dirt late models, and sprint cars. His early career is full of “youngest driver to ever do *such and such*” accolades, such as the youngest driver to ever: win a pole at the Eldora World 100, win the East Bay Winter Nationals, win in the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series, and qualify for a World of Outlaws sprint car feature race. From a young age Reddick established a reputation as a very talented dirt racer, and someone to really watch moving forward.

            Reddick’s career in NASCAR began in 2012, when he made his ARCA Series debut for Ken Schrader racing at just 16 years old. He ran two races in ARCA that year, finishing 15th and 8th respectively. He also made his K&N Pro Series East debut in the 2012 season-finale at Rockingham, winning the race – again, at just 16 years old! Reddick’s win actually allowed a young Kyle Larson to win his first career NASCAR series championship due to a last lap incident with then race leader Brett Moffitt, who would have won the championship had he won the race. If you’d like to see the wild finish (which I’d strongly recommend) here’s a link:

            Moving forward, Reddick would make his Truck Series debut in 2013 at Rockingham with Ken Schrader Racing, finishing 30th. The following year however Reddick’s career would start a quick ascent as he moved to Brad Keselowski Racing in 2014 on a part time schedule, going full time in 2015 and 2016. In 2015, Reddick would win two Truck Series races, including the season opener at Daytona, and would end the season 2nd in the standings. The following season would see a slight decline in performance with him finishing 9th in the standings, but he would still manage to notch seven top-5’s and a win at Las Vegas. In November of 2016 however, it was announced that Reddick would not return to BKR.

            Following his departure from BKR, Reddick would start a very interesting and successful three-year arc in the Xfinity Series, driving for a different team each year. In 2017, Reddick ran a part-time schedule with Chip Ganassi Racing. Over 18 races in 2017, he notched six top-10’s, two pole awards, and earned his first Xfinity Series win at Kentucky. All told, 2017 was a successful developmental season for Reddick – one which he parlayed into fantastic seasons each of the following two years.

            In 2018, Reddick signed with JR Motorsports to race full time in the #9 car. His season got off to as good a start as possible, with him winning the season-opening race at Daytona and locking himself into the playoffs. He would go on to have a consistent, albeit not particularly flashy regular season, racking up 13 top-10’s and three top-5’s, but no more wins, entering the playoffs as the 5th seed out of 12 drivers. During the playoffs though, Reddick really hit his stride. Across the seven races of the playoffs, Reddick recorded six top-10’s, three top-5’s, and won the season finale race at Homestead to secure his first career Xfinity Series championship. However, after winning the championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick made the move to Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity Series team in 2019 for a better chance at securing a Cup Series ride.

            Reddick took full advantage of his opportunity with RCR in 2019, and put up his best season to date. Across 33 races, Reddick notched 27 top-10’s, 24 top-5’s, five pole awards, six wins, and an average finish of 6.3. Just like the season before, Reddick would go on to win the season finale at Homestead and secure his second consecutive Xfinity Series championship, becoming the sixth driver to win back-to-back Xfinity Series titles, and the only driver to ever accomplish that feat with two different teams. On top of his Xfinity Series dominance, Reddick also made his Cup Series debut in 2019, running two races for RCR including a top-10 at Kansas.

            Reddick’s success in the Xfinity Series forced RCR to make a tough decision. After just one year of full-time racing, and fresh off of a Rookie of the Year season, RCR cut ties with Daniel Hemric, and promoted Tyler Reddick to take his place in the #8 car in the Cup Series. Over the course of two years, Tyler Reddick went from driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to piloting the #8 car that he helped make famous. Things had effectively come full circle.

            Reddick’s Cup Series career to date can be best described with one word: potential. In his first two seasons, Reddick has shown a lot of promise, as well as steady improvement. In 2020, one of the toughest seasons imaginable to come in as a rookie thanks to COVID, Reddick put up nine top-10’s and three top-5’s, and finished 19th in the standings. He would have easily won Rookie of the Year were it not for Cole Custer winning a race and qualifying for the playoffs (my thoughts on this rule as it relates to ROTY will not be discussed here…)

            Moving to 2021, Reddick avoided a sophomore slump and improved his marks, notching 16 top-10’s, three top-5’s, and qualified for his first career playoff performance, beating out RCR teammate Austin Dillon for the only remaining “point-in” spot in a year with 15 different regular season winners – a very impressive feat. He was eventually eliminated in the Round of 16, missing the 12th place transfer spot by only two points, and would end the season 13th in the final standings. From 2020 to 2021 Reddick improved his average finishing position from 17.5 to 15.0 (+2.5), the fifth biggest improvement in the entire field across that span, trailing only Daniel Suárez (+6.5), Christopher Bell (+4.5), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (+2.9), and William Byron (+2.6). It’s important to note, however, that both Suárez and Bell moved to far more competitive teams over that span.

            Tyler Reddick, who will be entering his age 26 season in 2022, has established a reputation as an exceptionally talented young driver with loads of potential, who gets the most out of his equipment. He’s well known for his ability to “rip the top” at tracks like Homestead and Darlington thanks to his aggressive yet controlled driving style – a trait that will likely pay even stronger dividends as we move to the composite bodies of the Next Gen car that can better handle an occasional brush with the outside wall. He is effectively seen as the “future” of Richard Childress Racing, and that team’s path back to a level of competitiveness that it has not seen for the last several years. There is no real reason to believe that Reddick will not continue his steady improvement, and be a playoff contender – and possibly a championship contender if RCR is able to improve in step with him – for years to come.

Featured photo from @RCRracing on Twitter.

Published by Walker Skeeter

Walker is a 4th year climatology PhD candidate at the University of Delaware. Despite being a climate scientist, Walker has been a NASCAR fan for over 20 years! His favorite drivers are Bubba Wallace, Tyler Reddick, and Alex Bowman in cup, and AJ Allmendinger, Tommy Joe Martins, and Ryan Vargas in Xfinity. Outside of racing, he enjoys talking about (and studying) the weather, watching Baltimore sports, and playing video games.

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