Neither Tyler Reddick nor Kyle Busch wanted their NASCAR careers drawn up this way. Reddick found himself announcing a move to 23XI Racing last summer mere weeks after exploding onto the Cup Series scene with a victory at Road America. He was forced to jump to 23XI a year early when Busch was pushed out at Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 years that produced two championships, five straight Championship 4 appearances and 56 wins.
But just a few months into their second acts, both men are making the most of new opportunities and settling back into victory lane.
Reddick was flat out fast during Sunday's wild Circuit of the Americas race in Austin, Texas, leading a race-high 41 of 75 laps and surviving three different overtime restarts. Reddick's now won three of the last five road course events, positioning himself as the best on this track type while securing a playoff spot early with his No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota.
His closest competition down the stretch? Busch, slotting in second with the very No. 8 car Reddick abandoned for 23XI.
"It was a hard-fought battle," Busch said. "I've been trying to emulate the things [Reddick's] done in [this car] last year and try to make me better... I just didn't have enough."
It was still the best Busch performed on a road course since Sonoma Raceway in June 2019, placing him second in points with a win already achieved at Fontana last month. The speed from the 37-year-old driver earned high praise from Reddick, who saluted the future Hall of Famer after a road course finish that devolved into a game of bumper cars behind them.
"I knew he was going to give everything he had," Reddick said of Busch. "I knew that team would. But... he's one of the few drivers that really still races with that honor and integrity and wants to race fair, race hard, race clean ... when you got one of the best in the business behind you in Kyle, you know you are going to get raced really hard and you know you have to execute perfectly."
Reddick did just that, earning Toyota their first victory of 2023 as they look to climb out of an early hole. He and Christopher Bell are the only Camry drivers with multiple top-5 finishes after a plethora of bad handling and bad-luck performances left the rest of their contingent fighting for scraps.
"It was a really big point of emphasis for myself coming in here to try to help Toyota to get better on the road courses," Reddick explained. "Yeah, I'd say that was a success."
Green: William Byron -- Byron was disappointed after the race, fading to fifth after some aggressive side-by-side action out front as Reddick's top challenger. But this weekend's pole sitter posted his first career top-5 result on a road course while doing what championship contenders do: prove they're a threat at all track types.
Yellow: Ross Chastain -- The Melon Man nearly pulled off an unthinkable comeback, charging from outside the top 25 to fourth after getting involved in a wreck that forced the first overtime. Chastain's aggression was on full display, gobbling up 10 drivers in one turn during one of the final restarts to emerge with a 19-point lead in the Cup standings.
But that driving style also comes at a cost. Trackhouse Racing teammate Daniel Suarez was the latest driver fed up with Chastain, his anger with Alex Bowman (which our Steven Taranto reported) also boiling over toward the current Cup point leader.
March 26, 2023
"He's mad at me for a restart," Chastain said of the incident, unapologetic about how it all went down. "I'm getting run into and then I'm running into people... I got spun a couple of restarts before and [Suarez] got it later... Are you not entertained?!? This is what we have. I don't love doing it, but as a sport, we're not boring."
Not everyone agrees with Chastain's take. Kyle Busch gestured at Chastain while talking aggression during his post-race interview, claiming he's "somebody else that doesn't know anything about [racing] clean."
Red: Aric Almirola -- Another promising top-10 run, another late wreck for Almirola, who now owns the dubious distinction of crashing six times in the first six Cup Series events. Sitting 28th in the standings, all three penalized Hendrick Motorsports drivers are ahead of him despite being docked 100 points.
Speeding Ticket: NASCAR's Overtime Finish -- NASCAR debuted a new policy for this race, removing the automatic cautions for stage finishes on road courses. That had teams preparing for a potential caution free event, the first time in 20 years it would have happened in the Cup Series.
Instead, eight yellows littered the afternoon, including a whopping three at the finish for the "litter" NASCAR felt remained on the track after the field seemingly wadded into each other during every late restart. But after smoke cleared, it wasn't cars stalled on the track that were the problem -- it was tire debris or some piece of metal NASCAR worried would cut down a tire.
That's what local caution flags are for on a 3.41-mile course, right? It's what Formula 1 would do to preserve safety while allowing the race to continue unabated. Instead, there was an embarrassing finish filled with full course yellows as the race was extended an extra 20 minutes, creating nothing but frustrated fans, a bunch more wrecked race cars, and... the same winner.
While the overtime was sloppy, it was Bubba Wallace who earned the day's weirdest wreck, seemingly losing his brakes in a crash that left Kyle Larson an innocent victim.
BUBBA TAKES OUT LARSON!— NASCAR on TSN (@NASCARonTSN) March 26, 2023
The No. 23 locks up and goes straight into the No. 5 with @BubbaWallace suffering significant damage.@Erik_Jones was also collected, but was able to continue.#NASCAR #EchoParkGP pic.twitter.com/gI0mvre3gs
The No. 23 Toyota earned its third DNF in six races, leaving Wallace 19th in points as early-season struggles are starting to get to him.
"Trying my hardest not to go down that slippery slope of self-doubt right here. Two weeks in a row making rookie mistakes six years into Cup, may need to be replaced." - Bubba Wallace, hard on himself after incident— Tom Bowles (@NASCARBowles) March 26, 2023
Has failed to finish all 3 COTA events in Cup.#NASCAR @COTA