Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DOVER, DE – Even though Tyler Reddick won the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship on the strength of his final-race performance at Homestead-Miami Speedway last year, he concedes that Christopher Bell, driving the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, was the class of the Xfinity field.
“Last year, I thought he was just in another zip code whenever we were racing together,” Reddick said on Friday at Dover International Speedway, site of Saturday’s Allied Steel Buildings 200 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
After a switch from JR Motorsports to Richard Childress Racing and a new pairing with crew chief Randall Burnett, Reddick feels more competitive with the top cars in the series this year. And well, he should.
With last Saturday’s victory at Talladega, Reddick leads the series standings by 32 points over Bell. In the first nine races of the season, he has seven top fives and has finished no worse than fourth in the six events since Las Vegas in March. That translates to a series-best average result of 4.9.
“We enjoy being in the points lead right now,” Reddick said of the No. 1 ranking. “I know the 18 and the 20 (Joe
Gibbs Racing Toyotas) really like having that spot. It’s cool to be in their spot, and we’re trying to make the case that it’s our spot.
“We want to keep that points lead going. We want to keep scoring stage points. But we want to try and learn some things that are going to help us over the summer stretch—and definitely in the Playoffs.”
TOP SPEED IS A PLEASANT SURPRISE TO RAPHAEL LESSARD
On his first visit to Dover International Speedway, Raphael Lessard topped the speed chart at 154.999 mph in opening NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series practice.
For the 17-year-old from St. Joseph de Beauce, Quebec, it was a gratifying, yet eye-opening experience.
“It is amazing how fast you are going here,” Lessard said on Friday at Dover. “It is my first time at a race track like that, and it feels weird at first. You want to let off your foot off the gas pedal, but your mind says not to, because you want to go fast.
“It just feels like a roller coaster. But it was fun. First time here and to end up P1 in first practice was amazing.”
Being close to the edge on a one-mile track was a new sensation for Lessard, who has four races scheduled with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season. But the teenager adapted quickly.
“It feels like you are jumping in a hole getting into the corner,” Lessard said. “At first it feels very tricky like you are going to get out of control. I told myself that those guys can do it, so I was going to try. If they can, I can. That’s what I told myself. So it went pretty well. At one point, when you get used to that sensation it just gets normal.
“The speed you carry on new tires, you don’t even let all the way off the gas pedal. It is amazing. I am not used to not using any brakes into the corner. Like every short track that I have been too, has been brake, then let off, then gas it up really hard. But here you have to have momentum, but kind of, you don’t want to use any brakes. You kind of want to let it roll.”
KYLE LARSON’S WILD RIDE WAS A TESTAMENT TO NASCAR SAFETY
Last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, Kyle Larson experienced a wild barrel-roll down the backstretch on the final lap.
On Friday, Larson got to see the incident from another point of view— the in-car camera in his No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, as NASCAR continued to study the reasons for the liftoff and how to prevent it in the future.
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of confidence in NASCAR,” Larson said on Friday at Dover International Speedway. “I’ve been involved in some big crashes. It seems like, with any crash I’ve been in or that other drivers have been in, they’ve made improvements from them and made the cars safer and all that.
“So yeah, they have a lot of smart people in the safety area of their business. I’m confident that they’ll look at it and make improvements from it.”
Larson also had an amusing takeaway from watching the video of the incident.
“It makes me feel like I’m really tough,” he quipped. “Yeah, it’s pretty crazy how much everything stretches. My seat belts, my harness, everything stretch with an impact like that. So, I stretched far enough that my head hit the steering wheel a little bit.
“And with each tumble, just the jolts that my body went through was pretty crazy to see. And then you slow it down and look at how the chassis is flexing when it makes contact with the pavement, it’s pretty incredible. We’re driving heavy vehicles. So, for it to hold up as well as it did was pretty amazing.”