By Cole Cusumano
By all accounts, Tyler Reddick had an impressive NASCAR Cup Series debut in 2020. Besting the rugged newcomer class in top-5s, top-10s and laps led, the only thing that prevented him from receiving the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Awards was Cole Custer’s final-lap victory at Kentucky Speedway.
Reddick ran well inside the top-10 at numerous tracks, a performance which demanded recognition. The 25-year-old’s freshman season hit an early peak after his first laps led and a fourth-place finish at Homestead Miami Speedway, and then once more at Texas Motor Speedway, where he finished runner-up to teammate Austin Dillon.
While results matter a great deal, it’s often what’s underneath the helmet that produces success.
The California native never let off the gas once the Champion was crowned at Phoenix Raceway, as he opened up about a busy offseason. While in the simulator time is a given, Reddick has mainly been working on maintaining a composed mindset.
The most challenging aspect for the two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion was finding motivation when enduring rough stretches throughout the 36-race season. Reddick believed his mentality began to shift after the doubleheaders at Pocono Raceway, where he would end up finishing 30th and 35th with a combined nine points between the two events.
“That’s when we started to creep back to the cutline and then the desperation came in, and the mindset just took a turn for the worst,” Reddick told POPULAR SPEED. “The amount of desperation I was having on the race track to try and go faster, at the end of the day, was more costly for us than what we were gaining.”
While correcting this headspace has been the fundamental focus of Reddick’s offseason, he doesn’t plan on implementing anything new into his routine or how he competes.
“[It’s about] going back and understanding that we need to minimize the bad days — we can’t let the bad days bleed over and turn into bad weeks or bad months,” Reddick said. “I feel like a different mindset and preparation going into this year, we’ll be in a better place and hopefully we’ll be mentally stronger and more up for the roller coaster and the challenges that we face.”
Reddick will be confronted with one of these challenges in just under two weeks in the Busch Clash at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Although an exhibition event, the second-year driver called the race “extremely important” for many reasons.
He notes the additional track time at an unfamiliar course over drivers ineligible for the event, along with the acclimation of racing with competitors again. Most importantly, it’s about applying what his team learned in 2020 and the offseason, and seeing how it translates on the track.
The Clash will also set the tone for the 2021 season, as the revamped schedule includes a hefty seven road course events — tracks Reddick has struggled at historically, but has been making strides at in recent attempts. This in mind, he wants to set the correct mental tone right out the gate.
“I still have a long way to go in learning about road racing, especially in these heavy cars and understanding how to manage the brakes and tires,” Reddick revealed. “The process is never ending and that’s the way anything is in racing, but I’m feeling a lot better about it today than I did a year ago. We’ve been working hard trying to put things together and try to grow my knowledge and understanding of these types of events.”
In focusing on road courses, Reddick says the team has been working on developing race-ready cars off the hauler, better efficiency on pit stops, and most importantly, himself.
“The biggest thing that needed to get changed is the biggest variable in the car, which is me,” Reddick said. “I have to become more consistent and keep the car in one piece the entire event.The driver has so many more opportunities to make poor decisions on a road course with sharper corner angles, longer braking zones, all the things that go into it.”
In 2020, Reddick’s mission was to make the playoffs. Finishing 19th in the standings, he attributes the failure of the “easily attainable goal” to the fluctuations in his headspace. Feeling he should have achieved the feat last year, the driver of the No. 8 aspires to advance past the first round of the postseason in 2021.
Reddick’s newfound composure hopes to be on display in the Busch Clash exhibition from Daytona on February 9 at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and then in the season opener in the Daytona 500 on February 14 at 2:30 p.m. ET on FOX.