Through all of Sunday’s unpredictability and cautions and restarts gone awry, one driver consistently rose above the rest.
And that was Tyler Reddick.
The driver of the No. 45 car for 23XI Racing did more than enough on Sunday to earn his first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas.
It was the first road-course race of the season — and the win went to one of the best road-racers in the Cup Series.
”It means the world,” Reddick told the Fox broadcast. “This whole 23XI team has been working so hard all winter long to make the road course program better. Was extremely motivated to come in here and prove that performance, too.”
Sunday’s race went into overtime and ultimately saw eight cautions for 17 laps. Six of those cautions came in the third and final stage, and three of them came with less than 10 laps to go.
But Reddick persevered through all of them with aplomb, not losing focus, pulling away with every restart. Once the final restart came and went and the white flag emerged, Reddick was all alone out front, illustrating the theme on Sunday: If you gave Reddick any chance at a long run — he was going to run away with it.
Kyle Busch finished second. Alex Bowman finished third.
“Tyler obviously is a really good road racer,” said Busch, who is driving in the No. 8 car, which is the equipment Reddick was in last year. “He proved it driving this car here last year. I was able to get in it and run right back to him. I’ve been trying to emulate the things he did in order to make this car fast last year, but not quite all the way there.”
Said Bowman: ”Proud of the 45. A heck of a road course racer. Fastest car definitely won today.”
It didn’t take long for this racetrack to impose its will on the NASCAR Cup Series driver field. On Turns 19 and 20 of Lap 1, a bunch of cars got into each other and ultimately prompted an early caution. Among them: Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher and Jimmie Johnson — and Johnson had his day end because of it.
“It’s really disappointing,” Johnson said after emerging from the infield care center.
The seven-time Cup champion and Legacy Motor Club part-owner is racing a limited Cup Series schedule in 2023. He didn’t even get through a full lap on Sunday.
“But it comes with racing, it’s part of it,” he said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have a day yesterday in qualifying. We’re back there around the wreck, and we know those things can happen.”
Some more chaos surfaced a few laps later, too. Bubba Wallace got into the rear of Kyle Larson before Larson and Denny Hamlin collided. That prompted another caution. It also ended Wallace’s day and led to a frustrated postrace interview from the driver of the 23 car: “Trying my hardest not to go down this slippery slope of self-doubt right here,” Wallace said with exasperation. “Two weeks in a row of making rookie mistakes six years into Cup? Need to be replaced.”
After those first few cautions, the race found its groove. There were long runs under green thanks to respectful racing. Midway through Stage 3, there were many instances of pleasant and suspenseful clashing of strategies (thanks to the no-stage-break rule new to 2023 road courses)— some drivers were on a two-pit schedule toward the middle of the pack, some were on a three-pit schedule at the front.
But then that all changed with a caution on Lap 42 for debris on Turn 9.
Leaders all went down pit road after that caution and effectively got on the same pit strategy, and then it was largely a shootout from then on. And the guy who always seemed to be in control — even amid all those late-race cautions and late-race restarts?
Before the last restart, former Cup Series champion Kurt Busch in the Fox booth summed it up well: “How many more bullets does Reddick need to dodge?”
There wasn’t an immediate answer available until Lap 75 — when at long last, the 45 pulled away and got the win.
Before his postrace interview, Reddick poured a bunch of Monster Energy over his cap in celebration.
He then smiled: “I’m out of gas.”
Daniel Suarez unhappy with Alex Bowman
The driver of the 99 car had some words for Bowman after the race. The two spoke on pit road briefly after the race to sort out an incident that occurred on a Stage 3 restart, when Suarez thought that Bowman ran him over.
Bowman addressed the confrontation postrace.
“He just thought I drove in and tried to drive through him,” Bowman said. “I had the corner made. Only reason I was inside of the 99 was to protect from the 1. Then the 1 just hammered me in the corner, dumped me, then I ran into the 99, kind of cleaned him out.
“Daniel and I, we’ve been teammates in the past, raced together a long time. I respect the hell out of him. I’m sure he’s still not super happy. Just tried to explain that I wouldn’t race him like that, that I was shoved in there. You see that a lot at these road courses. … Sometimes just it’s a chain reaction. Fortunately, it worked out for us, ended up with a top five.”
How did the Formula One, other road-course ‘ringers’ do?
Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at COTA featured a bunch of “road-course ringers” — essentially a handful of drivers who aren’t racing in the Cup Series full time who were the field for the circuit’s first road course of 2023.
Among them: 2009 Formula One champion Jenson Button (Rick Ware Racing); 2007 Formula One champion Kimi Räikkönen (TrackHouse Racing); IndyCar star Conor Daly; seven-time Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson; and IMSA star Jordan Taylor.
These drivers all had different days. Some had not-so-good ones: Johnson wrecked out in Lap 1, and Daly also didn’t finish the race. And others did well: Räikkönen finished 27th but was running 13th late in Stage 3. Taylor finished 24th, and Button finished 18th.
Unofficial results from NASCAR race at COTA
|7||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||4.237||75|
|9||54||Ty Gibbs #||4.519||75|
|17||19||Martin Truex Jr.||8.463||75|
|20||42||Noah Gragson #||11.419||75|
|27||91||* Kimi Raikkonen||17.523||75|
|36||50||* Conor Daly||-59||16|
|38||84||* Jimmie Johnson||-75||0|
This story was originally published March 26, 2023, 8:03 PM.