When Tyler Reddick won his first race at Road America on 4th of July weekend, it was a universally loved win in the garage area.
After coming close at places like Phoenix and Bristol earlier this season, it was more of a “when, not if” situation.
After winning Sunday’s Verizon 200 at the IMS Road Course, Reddick is etching his name as a serious playoff contender. He started first, and finished there too. In a race that had its share of thrilling moments, he held off a late charge from the later penalized Ross Chastain to kiss the bricks for the first time in his career, and became the 4th driver in RCR history to have a win at one of racing’s hallowed grounds.
This past month, though, hasn’t been all cheers for the relationship between the two camps. On July 2nd, shortly before his first win at Road America, RCR announced they had picked up his team option for 2023. Much needed great times ahead for RCR, right? Wrong. It was announced ten days later that Reddick would be leaving RCR after the 2023 season to drive for 23XI Racing in 2024. While the option had been picked up, 2024 was hardly a formality as RCR tried to find sponsorship. He did what any driver would do, took the best available offer.
For the first time in his career, Tyler held all of the cards. In 2016, he was let go from Brad Keselowski’s truck operation. He then signed on to drive part time for Chip Ganassi’s Xfinity team for 2017. He responded by winning at Kentucky and parlayed that win into a full time seat at JR Motorsports in 2018. He would win the season opening race at Daytona, and came up clutch in the final race of the season to win the Championship. During that season, he announced he’d switch from JRM to RCR, with RCR having the better pathway to a Cup ride sooner than later. He’d win his second consecutive Xfinity series title in 2019.
Tyler has bet on himself a few times, and so far the formula works. Was it a shock move that blindsided RCR? Yes. However, a long term extension could have been reached well before any of this exchange happened. We aren’t privy to the details, but it comes off like RCR wanted to take the wait and see approach, and strike after his first win. But with that approach, it gave Tyler a chance to gauge interest from other teams and 23XI was right there to pounce on signing what owner Denny Hamlin calls a “Franchise Driver”.
23XI still has a few more questions than they do answers. The team’s first driver Bubba Wallace is in the second year of his two year deal, though team President Steve Lauletta stated during Reddick’s introduction that Bubba is in the long term plans, and just this weekend it was reported that the two sides are close to an extension.
There’s Kurt Busch, who has one win this season and has been their most consistent driver for most of this season. Busch was sidelined with a concussion before Pocono, and has been replaced in the last two races with Ty Gibbs. Gibbs has finished 16th and 17th in his first two starts in the next gen car. Busch has stated that 2023 may be his last season full time, but there’s whispers that 2022 could be it as well.
Denny Hamlin has made it no secret that the eventual plan is for 23XI to become a four car team, but those plans aren’t set in stone just yet. Hamlin has stated that all future updates to the team will be dependent on how the next TV rights package benefits the drivers and teams.
Richard Childress has stated that Tyler will drive the 8 car in 2023, but it was recently announced that Austin Hill is set to make his Cup Series debut next week at Michigan International Speedway.
Winning does solve a lot of problems, but it also may have created an irreparable rift. When pressed by NBC’s Parker Kligerman about how the relationship is between he and Tyler after the announcement, Richard Childress replied with “When Kevin Harvick said he was leaving, we announced it together. He won 4 races and almost won us a championship. This one didn’t happen like that.”
2024 is 17 months away, and an off season remains ahead. 2023’s plans may look good and settled on paper, but there’s a chance that the mess has only just begun. At the end of the day, Tyler Reddick knew what he was worth on and off the track. We may not like the way he went about it, but no divorce is ever easy.
Photo credit: Patrick Vallely