Tyler Reddick and the game of centimeters

Most drivers would be happy to finish in the top five two times in a row like Tyler Reddick has done in the past two weeks.

But Reddick’s disappointment can be forgiven. His last two races could have easily resulted in wins if a few things had gone differently. Instead, he and 23XI Racing are left wondering what could have been.

A week ago at Nashville Superspeedway, Reddick survived the chaos of five-overtime and stormed through the field in the final laps. He got close to the rear bumper of leader Joey Logano for the last time in Turn 3, but couldn’t find a way to get past the No. 22. Reddick was very frustrated in his post-race interview despite a strong third-place finish

“Everything,” Reddick told NBC’s Kim Coon when asked if there was anything he could have done differently. “It’s very disappointing. I’m trying my best (to deal with the frustration), but it’s tough. Right now I’m trying to keep my cool. I’m really upset about how this turned out.”

Last weekend’s race on the Chicago street circuit brought another good result, but did not ease Reddick’s disappointment.

For the second time in as many years, the race was another grueling, rainy affair that was ultimately called off by darkness. As the race approached, the No. 45 team was one of many to pit before the end of the second stage, swapping the rain tires for slicks. The pit stop dropped Reddick far down the field, as several drivers who had been racing at the back of the field stayed out, opting to hold their position on the track and finish the race on rain tires. At first, Reddick and his fellow competitors made little progress on slicks, and staying on rain tires seemed to be the right decision.

However, in the last five minutes of the race, the track conditions changed in favor of slicks.

Reddick began to tear through the field, just as he had in Nashville. He quickly closed on leader Alex Bowman, who was still on rain tires, and was within sight of the No. 48 when the white flag was waved. Reddick had the pace to pass Bowman on the final lap and appeared to be on his way to redemption. But as he raced through Turn 5 for the last time, Reddick took the corner a little too tight and bounced off the inside wall. The collision killed his momentum and allowed Bowman to get away. Bowman held the lead until the checkered flag, ending a winless drought of more than two years. Reddick had to settle for second place.

“We caught Alex there by a long way … and, I don’t know,” Reddick said. “It’s confusing to me. I clearly messed up trying to stay in the dry lane. And I had more than enough room in the dry lane, as I see right behind you (on the replay), and just turned the wheel a little bit too much. Just not focused enough, I guess.”

“Unfortunately, that didn’t even give us a chance to compete against him. I hate it, that’s not what this Jordan Brand Toyota Camry is about, that’s not what this team is about. We’ve got to start capitalizing on it and getting those wins.”

NBC’s Parker Kligerman summed it up well after Reddick’s interview, calling the NASCAR Cup Series race “a game of inches.”

That sentence perfectly describes Reddick’s season and how close he came to winning multiple races. In addition to Chicago and Nashville, Reddick also came close to winning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March. He was running second to Kyle Larson in the final laps and got within a car length with three laps to go. However, Larson did a great job of blocking Reddick’s line and disrupting the airflow around his car, preventing Reddick from passing him.

Another potential win eluded the No. 45 at Darlington Raceway.

Reddick dominated the middle portion of the race, winning the second stage, but as the laps wound down, he tried to catch leader Chris Buescher. With 10 laps to go, Reddick attempted to pass Buescher by diving deep through Turns 3 and 4 and passing the No. 17 on the corner exit. But Reddick was unable to complete the pass and forced Buescher into the wall. The collision damaged the tires on both cars, giving Brad Keselowski a chance to win and knocking Reddick and Buescher out of the race.

An angry Buescher, who himself had lost to Larson by 0.001 seconds the previous week, confronted Reddick on pit road after the race. Reddick took responsibility for the incident and acknowledged Buescher’s frustration at a missed opportunity.

Sure, Reddick had some bad luck in 2024. But the story of his season wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging that the game of inches worked in his favor at Talladega Superspeedway. First, Reddick was the first driver out of pit road when he and his Toyota teammates made a scheduled pit stop on lap 142. As the Toyota draft leader, Reddick was able to avoid the crash that occurred behind him a few laps later. Then, on the final lap, Reddick narrowly avoided a collision with Michael McDowell’s spinning car while racing to the finish line. The No. 45 team took home the trophy that day, but it might as well have left Talladega with nothing but the steering wheel.

If you’re counting at home, Reddick’s record this year is 1-4 in close finishes. Certainly driver errors in Chicago and Darlington played a role, but one has to wonder if bad luck and missed opportunities could be Reddick’s undoing in 2024.

He qualified for the playoffs and earned eight playoff points, but that total could be significantly higher if a few things had gone differently, especially in the final two races. With the battle for the championship getting more and more exciting at the end of the season, you never know when Reddick could miss out on those points.

Again, Reddick can be forgiven for being unhappy with his top-five finishes. The game of inches has largely not gone in his favor, but there are still six more rounds to play before the postseason begins.

Maybe Reddick can turn his luck around and put a smile on his face one more time before the playoff participants are decided.

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Tyler Reddick