Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick highlight new faces in new places ahead of Daytona 500

Tyler Reddick stares off after exiting his No. 45 Toyota
Chris Graythen
Getty Images

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — New teams. New fire suits. New paint schemes.

There are plenty of drivers in different rides entering the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season after myriad offseason moves.

“It’s like going to school and like seeing people in different outfits,” William Byron said Wednesday at Daytona 500 Media Day. “You’re like, ‘oh OK, let me make a mental note.'”

Atop the list, of course, sit Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick. Busch, who parted ways with Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 years in the No. 18 Toyota, heads to Richard Childress Racing to pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet. That car’s former driver, Tyler Reddick, jumps ship to Toyota to drive the No. 45 Toyota this season.

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Busch has been in the Chevy camp before, but not since 2007 — three generations of NASCAR vehicles ago. A two-time champion since his last venture outside of JGR, Busch is taking in the sights, sounds and relationships around the Welcome, North Carolina campus of RCR.

“It’s certainly early, but the way the companies are run is entirely different — which is good, fine, different,” Busch said. “Nothing wrong with that. It’s just a matter of trying to continue to figure out what the pluses and the minuses all are. Certainly, there are some pluses of the new team with RCR and the management and everything else that’s going on there. I enjoy working with the whole group, whether it’s the office or the competition side. It’s been really fun. And then, obviously, too, the JGR side had its pluses as well.

“So just trying to incorporate all the stuff that I’ve been accustomed to and been around for the last 15 years — and not all of the processes and procedures that I’m used to, but definitely trying to work my way into what RCR is and how they work first, and then just say, ‘but have you guys thought about doing something XYZ like this?'”

Busch is plugged into what was Reddick’s team with crew chief Randall Burnett and spotter Derek Kneeland. The combination showed early strength in the exhibition opener at the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Busch snagged a third-place teammate behind current teammate Austin Dillon and race winner Martin Truex Jr., Busch’s ex-teammate.

“Yeah, I mean a lot of it is [a mental reset],” Busch said. “There has been a big reset in general obviously with joining forces with RCR and Austin. Thankful for the opportunity and looking forward to the many sponsors that we have and working with them. It’s just a fresh outlook and it’s nice to be in a place where you are wanted, and you are accepted. Having that chance to just go racing again is going to be fun.

“We have done a little bit of that already with the [Circuit of The Americas] race that we ran, the test that I had, and spending some time with Austin doing stuff off-track has been pretty cool. So, we will continue to evolve and get better and RCR will again become a powerhouse like it once was … and to win races and championships.”

Reddick, meanwhile, heads to new Toyota territory at 23XI Racing after spending the past six years with Chevrolet. The ride Reddick occupies previously belonged to Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup Series champion and older brother of Kyle.

While it wasn’t exactly a one-for-one swap between JGR and RCR, the Reddick-Busch swap certainly had semblances of a blockbuster trade. 23XI Racing, co-owned by JGR driver Denny Hamlin (oh yeah, and basketball legend Michael Jordan), serves as a satellite team to Joe Gibbs Racing.

That wasn’t lost on Reddick, who revealed a conversation with Busch before the duo exchanged manufacturers.

“I just said, ‘Hey, you’ve got a great group of people, take care of them. They’re really passionate and they’ll do a lot of good for you,'” Reddick said. “That was pretty much the extent of it. We didn’t share notes or anything like that. So far it seems like he’s fitting in really good with those guys over there so I’m happy that a team that I’ve been with for so long and have done so much with, they’re getting that.

“I didn’t know when the end was going to be or if it was going to happen, looking years back, but for whatever reason, if I wasn’t going to be driving for those guys or that group, I wanted them to have the best driver out there and I feel like Kyle’s (Busch) one of those drivers.”

Reddick also inherits crew chief Billy Scott, who worked with Kurt Busch in addition to Ty Gibbs and Daniel Hemric a season ago.

“Billy’s definitely a very structured, on-time, methodical person and I feel like I’m the exact opposite,” Reddick said. “We balance each other out pretty good. I don’t think I’ve gotten under his skin too much yet. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Maybe this week I’ll be able to. I think it’s going pretty good so far. I think we have the potential to mesh really well together. We’re just going to keep learning and growing as we go.”

The duo similarly got off to a solid start in Los Angeles, snagging a sixth-place finish at the temporary quarter-mile oval. Teammate Bubba Wallace led the second-most laps all night with 40 circuits out front, capping an impressive night for Toyota.

“I thought it went really well honestly, Reddick said. “Balance-wise, we didn’t hit it exactly perfect on the head, but Bubba did, and they were really strong and we were a little off on the balance, but we still had a really strong race car. Feel like it went really well. We had a few mistakes on the choose lap with just not choosing the right lane and lost a lot of spots there, but we were able to get some of them back by the end of the race.

“For the most part, I think we could have done a couple things better, but for the first real weekend and attempt out, a lot of things that me and Billy and my spotter could control, we did pretty good.”

The driver who actually led the most laps at The Clash was another new face — well, a returning face — in a new ride. Ryan Preece wheeled the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to the front of the field for 43 laps in the Feb. 5 exhibition, his first appearance in the vehicle previously driven by Cole Custer.

Ryan Preece stands next to his No. 41 Ford after qualifying for the Clash at the Coliseum
Chris Graythen | Getty Images

“What you can use from The Clash is chemistry – team building,” Preece said. “We unloaded fast, had a great car and we really didn’t make many adjustments. We thought about it overnight, and we made some small tweaks that made the car better. At the end of the day, when it comes to racing, it’s about relationships, people and fast race cars.

“I know that I have the team to turn the knobs in the right direction and tune us in. We’re going to go do that. We’re going to see where we are after qualifying, get through the Duels – contending for the win – and make the adjustments to have an even better [Daytona] 500.”

Preece spent last season as a simulation driver for SHR, working closely with all four drivers in 2022 and participating in weekly competition meetings. So while he’s new to the No. 41 car specifically, no introductions are necessary.

“I’ve already been there for a year, so outside of just my race team – whether it’s the fabrication shop, paint shop, the floor guys or parts room, they see me around,” Preece said. “I feel like I already earned their respect. I’m there pretty much every day, and they see it. I’m right there with them. I met [crew chief] Chad [Johnston] in 2021 when I won that [Truck Series] race in Nashville. So that was the start of that relationship, and I personally feel like we’re already a year and a half ahead of where we would’ve been if this all just came about and this was a new job.

“I already feel comfortable there, and the foundation – especially after LA – is solid. It’s just continuing to build the house and going through the steps.”

The most critical next steps will be taken Sunday in the 65th annual Daytona 500 (2:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).