KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) — Every time Tyler Reddick walked into a competition meeting at 23XI Racing and talk turned to Kansas Speedway, it seemed that just about everyone in the room had a win there but him.
There’s co-owner Denny Hamlin, who has won at the track four times, more than anyone else. Kurt Busch, who retired as a driver but remains a consultant for the team. And Bubba Wallace, Reddick’s teammate, who won at Kansas a year ago.
“We joked about that,” admitted Reddick’s crew chief, Billy Scott, “that he’s the only one that sits in our debriefs without a win.”
Reddick took advantage of a late caution and fresh tires to rocket past six others in a two-lap sprint to the finish Sunday, and his win at Kansas Speedway punched his ticket to the next round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.
Hamlin got a poor jump on the last restart, couldn’t chase Reddick down and finished second. Erik Jones held on for third and Kyle Larson, who won at Darlington to clinch his playoff spot a week ago, marched through the field to finish fourth ahead of Joey Logano.
“Just an outstanding job by this whole 23XI team,” Reddick said. “We had really good pace, we just couldn’t get ahead of Denny there, but chaos ensued. Then the bottom lane opened up there and it was crazy.”
Even crazier: It was the third win for the No. 45 car of 23XI in the last four races at Kansas , and all with different drivers after Busch and Wallace won last year. Its owner, meanwhile, nearly pulled off the sweep after Hamlin won in the spring.
“I think that myself and this team work really close together,” said Hamlin, who has long driven for Joe Gibbs Racing. “Typically when we run well, they run well, and we’re learning as much from them as they are learning from us. It’s a great partnership and really valuable to have talented guys behind the wheel of fast cars.”
Hamlin was cruising to the win when Chris Buescher blew his right rear tire with about six laps to go. That forced the leaders into the pits, and just about everyone had a different tire strategy — Reddick took four fresh tires, even though it shuffled him back to seventh on the restart — to set themselves up for the two-lap finishing sprint.
The win was the second of the season for Reddick and the fifth of his career but, more importantly, sends him out of the round of 16 in the playoffs for the first time. The cut-off for the top 12 to advance comes next weekend at Bristol.
“Now they get to go to Bristol and work a strategy that is best for them to win the race, and they don’t really have to worry about finish points,” said Hamlin, who is the leader in points among those yet to advance and in good position to join them.
“Really happy about them putting a whole race together and capitalizing on the late restart,” he said.
It was a tough race for several playoff drivers. Wallace and Martin Truex Jr. also blew right rear tires, which has been a problem with the latest generation of car at Kansas, and sustained heavy damage. Wallace was able to continue after repairing a toe link and finished 32nd, but Truex’s day was done after just three laps and he finished last.
There also was more drama at Kansas for Larson, who was bumped by Hamlin for the lead on the last lap in the spring.
On the final stop before the finish, the No. 5 car had to quickly jerk to the right to avoid Brad Keselowski coming out of his stall, and Larson collided with Chase Elliott, who is not in the playoffs but was aiming for his first win of the year.
The minor contact didn’t sit well with Elliott, who bumped Larson back when the cars got back on the track.
Keselowski still doesn’t have a win since April 2021 at Talladega, when he as still at Team Penske, and Buescher has been overshadowing him lately with three wins for RFK Racing. But the No. 6 car has quietly been running up front, finishing second to his teammate at Daytona, sixth at Darlington and ninth on Sunday.
Logano, who has three playoff wins at Kansas, is also on a roll. Logano has been in the top 10 in three of the past four races with the No. 22 car, including fifth-place runs at Daytona and again on Sunday.
Truex, the regular-season champion, came into the race 25 points above the playoff cut line and left in peril. Truex had his right rear tire go down in the opening laps, sending him into the wall with heavy damage and ending his day.
“I knew something was up for sure, just didn’t realize it was going to blow the tire out,” said Truex, who is seven points behind Kevin Harvick for the last spot in the round of 12. “I guess I should have just pitted, but at that point in time, you just don’t know if the car is just really tight or what’s going on. It’s a real shame. I hate it for my team.”
The series heads to Bristol next week for the final race before the cutoff. Playoff contender Christopher Bell, who sat on the pole at Kansas and finished eighth, won the spring race at “The Last Great Colosseum.”
AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing