ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — After a long, hard race on Road America’s demanding 4.048-mile course, Austin Cindric had one more task as Sunday afternoon turned into evening.
He drove the entire length of the road to get to Victory Lane – where Tyler Reddick celebrated his first career Cup victory.
When Cindric arrived, he picked up Reddick and hugged his friend.
“I think anybody in the field probably deserves this win more than anybody,” Cindric told NBC Sports. “I think he put himself in a position. He’s a really nice guy and I feel like you can see how hard he works.
“I’ve seen him mature as a driver and as a person and as a friend and as a father. It’s cool to see someone you’re close to go through that.”
What Cindric has seen up close, NASCAR fans have seen from afar.
“What a crazy ride it’s been,” Reddick, 26, said of his ride to the finish line at Road America.
Reddick is a two-time Xfinity Series champion who seemed destined to win his first Cup race, but had to watch as Cindric, Chase Briscoe, Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez scored their first Cup win this year.
Just four years ago, Reddick questioned his driving ability after an unfortunate weekend at this Xfinity Series track.
Road racing was Reddick’s biggest weakness. Road courses are where he scored his first Cup pole (Circuit of the Americas last year) and now his first Cup win.
Through it all, Redick faced another obstacle on his way to victory: Chase Elliott.
Before he could face Elliott, Reddick had to resolve the issues he had with Road America in the Xfinity Series in 2018. He drifted off course in fog during practice, had trouble in qualifying, and knew he would another qualifying effort ruined.
“Four years ago, I was so far away from here that I just questioned whether I had what it took,” Reddick said.
Less than three months later, he won the first of his Xfinity championships.
But his struggles along the way followed him to the Cup. The 2020 Charlotte Roval event proved to be a turning point for Reddick.
“I remember pretty much screwing up Kevin Harvick’s race because of where I had to stop,” Reddick said last year. “He wasn’t even thinking about (stopping) yet and he ran into my back and hit his nose and it really messed up his day.
“I was tired of being so bad that I felt like I was just getting in the way and I had to get out of everyone’s way and I wanted to change that.”
With an emphasis on road courses, Reddick won the pole last year at Circuit of the Americas, but his limited ability in the rain prevented him from winning there.
Still, this growth spurred other changes.
“It was really inspiring,” Reddick said. “It made me really look at the other tracks that I wasn’t good at and try to figure out what I can do, what we can work on to get better, what we’re missing.
“It really opened up a part of my brain that I wasn’t really even prepared to use and I was just able to not just get better at road courses, (but) get better at places like Loudon and Martinsville … just the weird songs, which I was not good at.”
Reddick goes back to that race last year and the Indianapolis road race where he thought he had a good car but had to chase stage points instead of a win as he struggled to make the points playoffs. Going for stage points, this put him out of position to take the win due to track position.
Although Reddick entered this weekend out of a playoff spot, the focus was on winning, not milestones.
That put him second to Elliott as they both headed to pit road with 20 laps to go.
Elliott, the 2020 Cup champion, is the winningest active road series driver and won this race a year ago. He controlled the race before Reddick followed him off the road. Reddick pulled ahead of Elliott with 17 laps to go and took the lead one lap later.
Elliott continued to press before Reddick eventually backed off.
“I didn’t do a very good job there,” Elliott said after his second-place finish. “I just let him stay close enough to squeeze me in there while we had decent tires and we could never get enough distance. I made a few mistakes.”
Even as Redick led in those final laps, teammate Austin Dillon gave Redick’s team a scare.
Dylan had a brake rotor. He was told to leave the course as quickly as possible to avoid creating a caution that would have eliminated Reddick’s lead.
“I’m glad it certainly didn’t trigger a warning,” Reddick said. “But hey, I’d be up for it, to be honest.”
It all came together that day, and after finishing runner-up in five previous Cup races, it was Reddick who was cheered as the checkered flag waved.
“He deserves it,” Suarez said of Redick. “He’s doing a good job. I’m not surprised. … He was kind of our situation, Team 99. It was just a matter of time.”