NASCAR Cup Series

Tyler Reddick ready for Darlington with Tim Richmond throwback, renewed focus

Tyler Reddick ready for Darlington with Tim Richmond throwback, renewed focus

As far as throwback paint schemes go, the 23XI Racing No. 45 Toyota that Tyler Reddick will drive this weekend at Darlington Raceway feels like the deepest cut on an album full of vintage designs. Plucked from relative obscurity, the vibrant tribute to some of Tim Richmond’s earliest days in NASCAR crystalizes an era that Reddick was born about two decades too late to enjoy.

“I love the ’80s,” the 28-year-old Reddick says offhand. “I wish I was alive for them.”

Reddick will aim to deliver a more distinguished note of history to the color-splashed concept in Sunday’s Goodyear 400 (3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the hardscrabble 1.366-mile track. He’s been a top-three finisher in three of his last four Darlington starts, including a runner-up finish with 90 laps led in the Southern 500 last fall.

RELATED: Darlington throwback schemes | Weekend schedule

Reddick will make his next date with Darlington using the same colors that Richmond campaigned just as he was starting to reach full-time status on the Cup Series circuit. While the rest of the country was overtaken by Pac-Man Fever, Richmond had forged a partnership with a start-up team called Fast Company Limited for the 1982 season. Virginia businessmen Mike Lovern and Bob Jones, who had collaborated on a book about the sport, took the leap and took a liking to Richmond, who was appointed as both the driver and the organization’s vice president of special promotions. Veteran Harry Hyde, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, built the cars and served as the team’s crew chief.

As spiffy as the team’s No. 29 Ford looked, Fast Company’s on-track success was, well … limited. Richmond failed to qualify for the team’s intended debut in the Daytona 500, but made up for the miss by winning a 75-mile consolation race for the 14 DNQs. The two ran just one points-paying race together — a 31st place a month later in Rockingham — before parting ways. Richmond won two races with team owner J.D. Stacy later that season, then landed his first full-time ride with Raymond Beadle’s No. 27 outfit the next year.

That brief window into Richmond’s stock-car origin story came to Reddick’s attention as the team tried to settle on a throwback theme for this year’s springtime Darlington date.

“For me, it’s one that hasn’t got a lot of attention, but has a unique story,” Reddick said earlier this week. “What happened in Daytona, not making the race, winning the consolation race, it’s just a part of Tim’s career path at probably a point in his career that wasn’t recognized as much as some of his other rides he was a part of. Nonetheless, it’s part of his story, of why he was who he was. So for me, I think that aspect of it made it fun. I feel like over the years of throwback, we’ve seen the legendary cars and drivers in those cars a number of times, and I just kind of liked the idea of getting off the beaten path with this one, and throwing it back to a moment in Tim’s career that was a part of it, but maybe not as recognized as others.”

This isn’t the first time that Reddick’s Darlington car has made a Tim Richmond reference. In 2018, his JR Motorsports No. 9 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series adopted the Old Milwaukee colors and sponsorship from Richmond’s three years (1983-85) with Beadle’s team.

There’s no direct, obvious connection between the two, but Reddick admits to channeling at least a smidge of Richmond’s wild side as he climbed toward NASCAR’s top series. Richmond was known as much for his 13 wins and hard-driving style as he was his flamboyant lifestyle and movie-star swagger.

“I feel like back in my JRM days, I was living a little crazier, if I’m being honest,” Reddick says. “I was having a lot of fun during the week before we’d head to the race track, and it was just a different time of my life. I think the biggest thing for me when I think about Tim is, he was an individual that really enjoyed life and was really happy with himself during the week, and I think that really set him up to succeed when he would get to the race track. Unless they just were never published, I’ve not really seen many photos of Tim Richmond with a frown on his face or pissed off. He was always really, really happy to be doing what he was.

“I think that’s a very important part of racing, and it’s something that I think drivers can really lose sight of, especially in today’s age where there’s a lot of opportunities to work yourself to death during the week, and then go to the race track and feel like you get nothing out of it. So I think for me, when I think of Tim, like I said, he’s a guy that really was happy with himself, enjoyed life, loved what he was doing, and it really allowed him to find success when he would get to the race track.”

PREVIEW: Risk, reward at historic Darlington

Richmond is etched in Darlington’s record books as the 1986 winner of the Southern 500. Reddick is still seeking his first victory at Darlington, where the distinctive layout of NASCAR’s first superspeedway places a strict premium on driver skill and carrying momentum on the high line just inches from the outside retaining wall. Pushing the envelope to gain ground is possible, he says, but so is the potential to make race-altering mistakes.

The comfort level with Darlington has grown in recent years for Reddick, who confessed that he would hit a lull or rough patch during the middle portions of the longer Southern 500 in his earlier years, often forcing him to play catch-up to salvage a solid finish. Last year’s runner-up placement in the Labor Day classic, he said, should sharpen his approach to Sunday’s shorter 400-miler.

“For me, it was a huge stepping stone, because we were pretty much in the mix of that race all day long, led a good chunk of laps in that middle stretch that I talked about,” Reddick said. “That’s where I’ve had the race get away from me, so I’m excited about the progress that I’ve been able to make there. We’re looking to continue that when we go back. I don’t know, just the way that track races and drives and the risks you have to take lap to lap, for me, it’s a place that makes that really, really fun, and it’s a fun challenge.”

***

Reddick’s name has also come up this week, not in the context of his throwback tribute, but as a reference point in the buzz surrounding last Sunday’s ending at Kansas Speedway. Kyle Larson outdistanced Chris Buescher by a mere 0.001 seconds at the checkered flag in the closest finish in Cup Series history.

The winner in the closest finish in Xfinity Series history — and NASCAR’s national series record books — is Reddick, who eked out a win in the 2019 season opener over then-teammate Elliott Sadler in the fifth overtime. Reddick pushed that margin of victory an extra decimal point, with officials adjusting the official listing of 0.000 to 0.0004 seconds after a timing and scoring review.

MORE: Reddick tops Sadler by a sliver in 2019 Xfinity opener

“I mean, you truly don’t know who wins,” Reddick recalled of his experience that February day. “I think from the driver’s seat, I think it’s easy to say, ‘Oh, well, I had momentum,’ or things of that nature can make you feel like you have. But thankfully, my only time being a part of that, I was on the winning side of it. I can only imagine what it feels like when you lose. It’s got to be an odd feeling to have when you’re that close and it doesn’t pan out.”

Not yet halfway through the regular season, NASCAR has had three photo finishes this year — Daniel Suárez’s three-wide victory by 0.003 seconds at Atlanta in February, Sam Mayer’s narrow 0.002-second nail-biter win over Ryan Sieg in the Xfinity Series at Texas last month, and Sunday’s even-closer thriller in Kansas.

The competitive nature of those circuits is a common thread for how close the finishes have become, but so are — Reddick says — the doors that have been left open when the checkered flag is about to fall.

“I feel like place like Atlanta, that was bound to happen,” Reddick says. “A number of things took place — missed blocks, things of that nature — to open up the finish like that. There’s a lot of variables. I think Kansas, I didn’t really get a chance to see the lead-up to that, but I feel like in that situation, it was a missed block in my quick little opinion of it. Kyle got the outside and was able to, even though he’s in the wall, still side-draft and pull Chris back. The cars are close, right, but I think what lends its lends itself to having close finishes is drivers are making small mistakes on the last lap, and it’s kind of opened up the door for a challenger, and we’ve seen it come really close to the finish.”

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