At a racetrack, the wall is the tangible, physical symbol of the risk a driver takes every time he climbs behind the wheel of a racecar. Beyond going fast and turning left, the objective on a NASCAR race day is to keep out of the wall no matter what, lest you suffer the consequences of a wrecked racecar and a premature end to your day.
But for as much risk as there is along the wall, there is also a great reward offered in running mere inches away from it. Rewards which Tyler Reddick, one of NASCAR’s masters of running up against the wall, has reaped.
Now in his third Cup Series season, Reddick has become one of NASCAR’s most exciting young drivers thanks to his hard-charging style and aggressiveness in running the high line. Reddick’s driving style is one that mirrors 2021 Cup Series champion Kyle Larson and it has brought a new level of energy and excitement to Richard Childress Racing, and it’s one that had many — including Larson himself and Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric — picking Reddick to have a breakout season in 2022.
“It certainly was really nice of them to say that … I guess for me hearing that, it’s reassuring,” Reddick told CBS Sports. “I didn’t have any doubts coming into this year about what our process was or how we’re approaching this new car. But it never hurts to hear words like that being said about my team, about what I’m trying to do at RCR.
“If anything, it just motivates us a little bit more, and I appreciate that. We want to go out there and compete with drivers like that week-in and week-out and win races.”
Reddick’s strengths as a driver are most obvious at tracks with worn-out and abrasive surfaces, such as the one featured this week at Auto Club Speedway in the Wise Power 400, that reward a driver who can run right up next to the outside wall and make up chunks of time in the highest groove possible. For a driver with a background in dirt racing like Reddick, running this line is analogous to running the “cushion” on dirt, and there’s a particular level of skill in running the wall and running it well.
Explaining the line right up against the wall, Reddick said that it starts with an understanding of where the right side of the car is, and also involves understanding the sounds the car is making — As the exhaust pipes get closer to the wall, an echo develops, the pitch of the engine changes, and a driver can hear the rocks of loose particles (known as marbles) get picked up and thrown around by the tire.
From there, running the wall becomes a proximity game with an aerodynamic advantage. A driver can trap a pocket of air between the right side of his car and the wall, gaining extra side force and downforce while also gaining greater momentum than drivers running lower lines and even putting less load on the tires and reducing wear.
Reddick is more than capable of offering a technical explanation of what he does and how he does it. But by his own admission, there’s a part of him that is simply able to do it without a complete understanding of exactly what he’s doing.
“I don’t even know if I truly understand what I do or what I’m doing to the car or the tires with the line that I run” Reddick admitted. “I just have a system or a way of knowing how to work up to what I think is 100 percent, and then finding that extra five, ten percent when it’s time to go and how do I do it, how do I approach it without getting in the fence, that type of thing. I wouldn’t say I really understand it either.
“I’ve done it a lot racing asphalt, it’s somewhat similar to racing on dirt in some ways when you run over right up on the cushion or right up on the wall. I guess I’ve hit the wall enough racing on asphalt to kind of know why that happened or how that happened and learn from the mistake.”
On the surface, NASCAR’s Next Gen car seems tailor-made for Reddick’s driving style. The car’s composite body — the same that Reddick drove to two championships in the Xfinity Series — offers greater durability, which gives a driver a greater margin of risk to run up against and even brush the wall without damaging the body and causing a driver to either cut a tire or lose aerodynamic performance.
The problem is, there’s no guarantee that the Next Gen car will be able to run the wall, particularly given that the new suspension and its toe links that hold the wheels at the correct angle may not be able to withstand as much wall contact as the previous generation of car.
Certainly from the crashes that I was a part of and saw at Daytona, it doesn’t take a lot of contact to bend that toe link,” Reddick said. “And then from there, you have a huge handling issue if you knock the toe of the right rear tire out or break that toe link. … That wall contact now becomes a much bigger concern again because of that.”
As he seeks his first Cup Series win — he’s had three second-place finishes — Reddick is trying not to count on his mastery of the high line to get him there. As as the early portion of the 2022 season progresses, there is still much for drivers to learn about the Next Gen car. And for as much as Reddick has become one of the best at balancing the risk of running the wall with the reward it offers, there are no guarantees that this new generation of car will bring him that reward.
“I think pretty much anywhere we go this year, anything that’s worked for you with the old car or whatever it might be, you can remember it but you don’t want that to kind of overpower your thought process and your approach. Because until you get there and do it for the first time, we’re just kind of speculating on what it’s gonna be,” Reddick said.
“This car may hate running the fence. I don’t know. It’d be nice if it does play out that way, but to an extent you just kind of have to keep your slate as clean as possible going into it and just be ready to learn as fast as you can in that warmup that we will have.”