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March 3, 2024

Tyler Reddick gets on track with strong runner-up finish at Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – In the waning laps of Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Tyler Reddick was in the shadow of Kyle Larson. It was a position he was familiar with throughout the duration of 267 laps.

Reddick had a mediocre qualifying effort on Saturday, putting him middle of the pack in 18th for the start of the race. The No. 45 Toyota soared through a chaotic opening stage immediately, however, to finish runner-up to Larson and earn nine stage points.

That track position was short-lived, as Reddick slid through his pit stall at the end of the first stage. He lost nearly 15 positions along with all the progress he gained during the first stage.

“Our biggest challenge was our track position,” said Billy Scott, crew chief of the No. 45 car. “We had an early draw in qualifying that added to it, but we didn’t have our best effort yesterday, so we had a lot to overcome from our starting position and pit stall. That’s what got us at the end of Stage 1 — we worked up there to get second and got boxed in, had to back up — had a mess.

“Just having to overcome that all day. I felt like we were one of the best cars and had a shot at it.”

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Throughout the second stage, Reddick powered through the field and finished second to Larson. He ran second for the majority of the final stage and began hunting down Larson in a 27-lap sprint to the finish. Reddick maneuvered his car where he was most comfortable, rim-riding the wall and making a run for the win.

With two laps remaining, Reddick was within a quarter of a second of Larson. But the 2021 Cup Series champion blocked Reddick’s air and was able to hold off Reddick for the victory after leading a race-high 181 laps.

“We were pretty evenly matched, so I don’t know if there is anything that I could have done to get around him,” Reddick said of his battle with Larson. “He would have had to make a big mistake or had some traffic knock his momentum down.

“It’s a solid effort for our team and that’s how we need to run. I don’t like running second.”

Reddick mentioned that with Larson blocking, he couldn’t get out of the wake of his dirty air to get a good enough run on the leader.

“The wake isn’t wide, but you don’t ever want to follow someone into the corner,” Reddick added. “The air is so turbulent underneath the car after it exits the diffusor that drivers can use the block to their advantage.”

Larson dominated the race running the bottom lane, but when Reddick was closing in he began playing a cat-and-mouse game.

MORE: Watch Larson fend off Reddick | Drivers to sweep stages

Larson said: “With two to go, he expected, I think, me to run the middle or top or something, and I was able to do kind of a nice lazy arc to the bottom and take his air away in the center of (Turns) 3 and 4 and got him tight. That killed his run down the front stretch, and thankfully that was the white flag. I knew as long as I hit my marks I was going to be safe to the checkered.

This is the third time the two northern California drivers and longtime competitors swept the first two spots of a Cup Series race. Larson has come out with the upper hand on all three occasions. Sunday’s race at Las Vegas played out similarly to last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, where Larson won by 0.447 seconds. In Sin City on Sunday, the margin of victory was 0.464 seconds. The first time they finished first and second was in the 2021 playoff race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course, advancing the No. 5 team to the Round of 8.

It was a much-needed finish for the No. 45 team, which had a best effort of 29th in the first two weeks of the season. The 53 points scored by Reddick vaulted him 12 positions higher in the regular season championship standings to 12th. That only slighted the disappointment of finishing runner-up.

“It’s good, surely,” Reddick said of getting his first top-five finish of the season. “Regular season points matter, but we’re capable of winning races and we need to do that.”

With Toyota debuting its new Camry body on a downforce track, Scott considers Las Vegas a success. The team sees it has speed and knows it can be competitive as it gets more comfortable with the inner workings of the car.

“With a new body for this year, you don’t really know what you have until you get out here and get your first intermediate race under you,” Scott added. “We’ve got a lot to build on. We had Tyler a year earlier than we were expecting last year. This was supposed to be our first year with him and we’ve got a lot of stuff that we’ve built on and a lot that we are optimistic about.”

Next on the schedule is Phoenix Raceway on March 10 (3;30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), which will allow Toyota to see how it ranks out of the gate on a shorter track with the new body. Reddick has finished third in the previous two spring races at Phoenix.