The Michael Jordan effect cast its spell on Kansas Speedway on an idyllic Sunday afternoon.
Tyler Reddick, driver of the 23XII No. 45 Toyota, emerged from an overtime shootout with six other cars and won the NASCAR Cup Hollywood Casino 400, giving the car co-owned by Jordan its third win in its last four starts at Kansas Speedway.
Basketball legend Jordan’s partner in 23XII, Denny Hamlin, won the spring race at Kansas Speedway and finished second to Reddick in a pulsating finish: Reddick sneaked through five other cars and beat Hamlin to the checkered flag by 0.327 seconds.
“I don’t even remember the restart,” a shocked Reddick said. “It just kind of happened. “A lap went by, and I was in the lead, and I said, ‘Oh, I have one lap left. … Everything happened so fast.”
When the two-lap shootout began after a late caution, non-playoff drivers Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who chose not to pit, were in the lead, ahead of five other drivers — including Hamlin and Reddick, who were on fresh tires.
“We had really good pace, but just couldn’t get ahead of Denny there, but chaos ensued, people stayed out, some took two tires, and the bottom lane opened up,” said Reddick, who led just two laps in the race — the final two. “Four fresh tires and sitting in there and slide up. “
The 23XII team swept both races at Kansas Speedway last year when Kurt Busch posted the final win of his career in the No. 45 in May, and Bubba Wallace, won in that car in the fall after Busch went out with a concussion.
“We joked last week that Tyler was the only driver who sits in our competition debriefs without a win here,” said Billy Scott, crew chief of the No. 45. “So we got it for him finally.
“Tyler just had a good package. Toyotas have been strong on mile-and-a-half tracks for a long time. Kurt started it off driving us in the direction we needed, and it’s just carried over.”
With the win, Reddick, 27, automatically advanced to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR playoffs, joining Kyle Larson, who won last week at Darlington. That leaves the other 14 playoff qualifiers needing to win next week at Bristol to ensure passage to the Round of 12.
The win was the fifth of Reddick’s career and second this season. He qualified for the postseason with a win at Austin, and as he challenged Hamlin for the lead, his team figured to remain in playoff contention with a top five finish Sunday.
The overtime changed everything.
“Honestly,” Scott said, “we got that long green run going at the end and, tires being a concern, we were in second and just trying to run laps and take care of it and not cause ourselves any issues and have a solid day with points on our mind.
“The yellow came out, gave us a shot, we didn’t know what to think when we came off pit road seventh. But Tyler made the most of it, three-wide most of the time, stayed wide open, and it was a welcome surprise.”
Hamlin, who led 63 laps during the final stage of the race in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota, was surprised by the finish, too.
“Well, (Larson) was just laying back so much, I was trying to back up to him,” Hamlin said. “I should have just kind of focused forward probably. It gave the 45 an opportunity to get up there in front of us. Just kind of sleeping on the restart, looking in the rear view instead of looking in the front.”
Jones finished third in the No. 43 Chevrolet; Larson, who dominated early and led 99 laps, was fourth and Joey Logano was fifth.
The big losers in the race were former Cup champion Martin Truex Jr., whose Toyota broke down on the third lap, sending him seven points behind the cutline to advance in the playoffs; and Reddick’s teammate Bubba Wallace, who was 32nd and fell 19 points below the cutline.