For Tyler Reddick and Michael Jordan’s 23XI, a smart Talladega strategy pays off

EditorLast Update :
For Tyler Reddick and Michael Jordan’s 23XI, a smart Talladega strategy pays off

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Did the plan work because 23XI Racing’s Tyler Reddick delivered Toyota a victory Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, or did the plan spectacularly blow up as three Toyota drivers were knocked out of the race due to an inner-manufacturer accident all while Toyota seemingly sat in the catbird seat?

This was the question after Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race, but the answer is not complex.

In a sport where victories are hard to come by and playoff berths come with a regular-season win, Toyota left Talladega having accomplished something worthy of celebration. Not only was Toyota able to craft a strategy that put Reddick in position to win, it overcame the numbers superiority both Chevrolet (16 cars entered) and Ford (14) held over it (eight). Reddick is now virtually guaranteed a spot in the playoffs, and team co-owner Michael Jordan finally got to witness a 23XI win in person.

Although that last point may seem trivial, it was a big deal to Jordan, who had missed 23XI’s previous five wins and finally got to take part in the festivities.

“I love it,” Jordan told The Athletic.

That Jordan could join Reddick in victory lane was a direct byproduct of the strategy Toyota and its three teams (23XI, Joe Gibbs Racing and Legacy Motor Club) laid out before the race.

The plan centered around whether Chevrolet and Ford decided to have their drivers conserve fuel in Stages 1 and 2 by running as much as 50 percent off throttle during Stages 1 and 2. If either one did, the likelihood was they would do the same during the final stage in an attempt to control the race, possibly boxing out Toyota due to its lower number of entrants.

Toyota planned to counterpunch by pitting during Stage 3 under the green flag at a juncture where its drivers could then run full throttle for the remainder of the race. Although Toyota’s drivers would fall way behind, they would be able to overcome the deficit before the race’s conclusion because their lap times would be as much as four seconds faster than the competition. And this was if the race stayed green until the end.

And if a caution occurred to bunch up the field, Toyota would gain the track position because its drivers would not pit again whereas the Chevrolet and Ford drivers would have to. It was a well-crafted plan that could potentially flip the script, giving Toyota the advantage it otherwise lacked.

As Toyota anticipated, that plan was needed after Chevrolet and Ford attempted to stretch their fuel mileage during the first two stages.

“We played the strategy in the third stage, the way we wanted it to,” said Tyler Gibbs, Toyota Racing Development general manager.

“It looked promising there,” said Billy Scott, Reddick’s crew chief. “So it would have been really interesting for it to play out and see. We thought we were in a good spot anyway with leading our pack. We got formed up really nice, we had all of our cars together. Things were really shaping up to have that play out the way we intended.”

Tyler Reddick

In the white No. 45 car bearing Michael Jordan’s signature pose, Tyler Reddick slid up to the front after a last-lap crash involving Michael McDowell and Brad Keselowski. (James Gilbert / Getty Images)

Of course, you can’t plan for every contingency, especially at a drafting track like Talladega. Nor can you account for self-inflicted mistakes.

Toyota’s plan nearly came undone on Lap 157, five laps after Reddick, Ty Gibbs, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Martin Truex Jr. and Bubba Wallace all pitted together to force the hands of Chevrolet and Ford.

As Toyota’s seven drivers sped nose-to-tail into Turn 3, Nemechek pushed Wallace into Jones, sending Wallace and Jones crashing. Hamlin was also collected, and when the smoke cleared, all three were done for the day. (Christopher Bell had wrecked out earlier.)

“We were all pushing really hard to keep our line going,” Wallace said. “We had a plan and just didn’t execute it as well as we should.”

But while Toyota suffered a blow, the resulting caution worked in its favor exactly as hoped. When the majority of the field pitted, Reddick, Truex and Gibbs stayed on the track to gain valuable track position, restarting first, second and third.

“You have to shift gears and recenter in on your race,” Reddick said. “Like, ‘OK, well, that really stunk for the drivers involved, but now we’ve got a real opportunity, those that remain, to capitalize on this moment and make sure one of us gets to victory lane.’”

Now well positioned to vie for the win, Reddick stayed up front for the remainder of the race with the help of Truex and Gibbs, who continually pushed him forward. And when leader Michael McDowell and second-place Brad Keselowski made contact on the frontstretch on the final lap coming to the checkered flag, Reddick slipped in to take the win.

An opportunistic victory, for sure, but also one that was a direct result of a strategy call that worked as intended. He, and Toyota, were both lucky and good on Sunday.

“We had the right strategy,” Tyler Gibbs said. “And again, barring what happened in Turn 3, we put ourselves in a position in which we probably are leading both of those lines late here. And it’s just kind of interesting to watch again; it’s less team-by-team and it’s more what are the strategies we can work on to foil the others.”



Michael Jordan celebrates his NASCAR team’s win at Talladega

(Top photo of Tyler Reddick taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s race: Sean Gardner / Getty Images)