BROOKLYN, Mich. – “Three” was the magic number in Saturday’s LTI Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway, and that was just fine with Tyler Reddick.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series leader — one of the so-called “Big Three” in the series this year — saved enough fuel over the closing 44-lap green-flag run to win for the third time this season, matching fellow Big Three members Christopher Bell and Cole Custer for most so far this year.
RELATED: Race results
After Custer and Bell pitted for fuel from the top two positions with 10 and 11 laps left, respectively, Reddick inherited the lead on Lap 115 of 125 with a lead of just over three seconds over Michael Annett. Ultimately, Reddick finished 1.515 seconds ahead of Noah Gragson, who passed Annett for the runner-up spot on the final lap.
Annett held third, followed by pole winner Paul Menard and Justin Allgaier.
The victory was Reddick’s first at Michigan and the sixth of his career, accomplished with three different organizations (Chip Ganassi Racing, JR Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing, his current ride). Reddick overcame a Lap 33 snafu on pit road where he slid through his pit stall and dropped to 10th for a restart on Lap 38.
Reddick came to pit road for the final time on lap 78 and got 47 laps out of his last tank of fuel.
“I just didn’t want to burn a lot of fuel there,” the driver of the No. 2 RCR Chevrolet said of the closing run. “Our Chevrolet was really good, but I made some mistakes on pit road, and we didn’t get the track position until the end there.
“A great team effort. I didn’t do the thing I needed to do on the race track but, man, that was a great car and we put ourselves in position to win.”
The victory was Reddick’s third in the last five races.
“All the guys at Richard Childress Racing just make an outstanding effort throughout the week,” Reddick said. “Their efforts back at the shop and their hours spent from morning to afternoon every single day is what’s paying off in getting us back to Victory Lane so often this year.”
Custer and Bell shared the lead and ran 1-2 for the bulk of the 250-mile race’s final stage. But a mixup kept them on the track during the race’s sixth and final caution and forced them to stop for fuel during green-flag conditions late in the race. Bell pitted on Lap 114, and Custer — the faster of the two over the final stretch — stopped on the next lap.
That handed the lead to Reddick, who led from Laps 115-125. Custer finished 12th with Bell 13th.
Bell later explained that this was the first week that his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 team used code words to discuss pit-stop strategy. Miscommunication with veteran crew chief Jason Ratcliff led to Bell staying out, and Custer was told by his crew to mimic Bell’s strategy.
“Yeah, that was our first time using code words and we got the code words mixed up,” Bell told FOX Sports post-race. “My definition was a little bit different than what Jason had planned. Ultimately that was a big hiccup in our day, but the 00 blew our doors off, man. So we just have to get faster. That’s our biggest thing. For whatever reason on the bigger tracks right now, I just don’t have the speed that the 00 has, so we’ve just got to keep working hard and get our Rheem Supras to be a little bit faster and it’ll be easy to clean up the miscommunication there.”
Ratcliff shouldered blame for the gaffe.
“Just some code words and it’s really simple actually,” Ratcliff said. “It’s first-grade stuff and somehow we mixed it up. He did exactly what his wristband said on it. Unfortunately, it was poor execution on my part in communicating what to put on the wristband. I think we had a good performance today after a little bit of a struggle last week in Pocono. I felt like our car had speed so we’ll just build in that and go on to Iowa.”
Menard, a Monster Energy Series regular, started from the pole position and led a race-high 56 laps in his first Xfinity start of the season. Menard won Stage 1, but settled for a top five in the Team Penske No. 12 Ford.
Custer led 20 laps; Bell was out front for 36.
“We had a really fast Mustang,” Custer said ruefully. “I really wanted to win here for Ford in their back yard and everything. We got the track position and got up front, and I think we had the best car here. I don’t know how much the 2 (Reddick) was saving there, but the strategy just didn’t work out for us. That one kind of stings, but I definitely feel like we had a fast car.”
Brandon Jones finished sixth, followed by Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeb Burton and Justin Haley completed the top 10. Reddick increased his series lead to 89 points over Bell in second.
The Xfinity Series’ next race is the CircuitCity.com 250, scheduled Sunday, June 16 (5:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM) at Iowa Speedway.
Note: Reddick’s No. 2 Chevrolet was found with one lug nut not safely secured in a post-race check. The guidelines for such an infraction should mean a fine for crew chief Randall Burnett next week. It was the only issue in an otherwise all-clear inspection.
Contributing: Staff reports