Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick adapting to new teams during NASCAR offseason
Kyle Busch got an early start working with his new Richard Childress Racing team as he got some time over the weekend racing an RCR-prepared car at Circuit of the Americas.
The car, an old Cup car repurposed to compete in the World Racing League, won't teach him much about anything RCR has learned with the current NASCAR Cup Series car. But co-driving with his Cup teammate, Austin Dillon, was an opportunity for Busch to learn about how RCR goes about its business.
"They were just kind of giving me the lay of the land [with this trip]," Busch said Thursday prior to the NASCAR awards ceremony in Nashville.
Busch is one of two Cup playoff drivers who will race for new teams next year, and he's obviously the most high profile as the two-time Cup champion's divorce from Joe Gibbs Racing after 15 years was one of the sport's biggest storylines.
The driver he replaced, Tyler Reddick, moves to 23XI Racing, replacing Busch's brother, Kurt, who missed the last four months of the 2022 season because of a concussion and still is not cleared to race.
For Busch and Reddick, the offseason includes some work for the next season they wouldn't normally have.
"It's been a learning experience," Busch said. "I've been trying to pick up on some of the stuff and the culture of how they go about it and do some things. I've been trying to kind of instill some of my ideas and things like that.
"Offseason is a relative term. It's more busy this time of year getting everything in order and planning and ideas and [putting] stuff out on the table so that when you get into the season, it just seems like a seamless time in which you just kind of know when things happen."
Reddick's team at RCR, with crew chief Randall Burnett, will work with Busch next season. Burnett was at COTA to work with Busch.
Busch already has been to the RCR shop a few times.
"I've got some seats in the cars ... and looking at how their leg boards are different, their knee knockers are different, just things are different," Busch said.
"We're trying to get the driver comfort stuff set inside the race car so we can be all ready to go as soon as we can."
While Burnett and Busch have never worked at the same organization, Reddick's new crew chief, Billy Scott, left RCR after 2021 to go to 23XI Racing. Scott spearheaded the RCR research and development department and worked with the implementation of the Next Gen car, so Reddick knows a little bit about his new crew chief.
"Me and Billy know each other from when he was at RCR and spent those two years in kind of the R&D role and getting us all the information for postrace [meetings] and getting things ready for testing and whatnot," Reddick said.
"Me and Billy already have that relationship from that. So that's certainly going to help things get going because pretty much from the top down, I'm working with all new people."
Reddick has had to contractually wait a little longer than Busch as far as making the transition of going to the shop and working with the team.
"It's going to be a big change — the way that they go about doing things is quite a bit different from RCR," Reddick said about a team that relies on data and analytics a little more than other teams.
"It's really exciting, their approach. I think it's the right approach."
With no organizational tests open to all teams currently scheduled for the offseason, Reddick and Busch won't get much time to work with their new teams in the Cup car.
Both are scheduled to do a tire test in January.
Often, when a star driver changes teams, the driver brings his spotter with him. But that won't be the case for Busch and Reddick.
Derek Kneeland, who was Reddick's spotter at RCR, will remain to work with Busch. Kneeland worked in the truck series for Kyle Busch Motorsports and its No. 51 truck, which had multiple drivers, including Busch, last season.
Reddick has selected Nick Payne, a spotter for David Gilliland Racing in 2022, to be his Cup spotter for 2023.
"He's young and he's got a lot of drive and desire," Reddick said about Payne. "I'm excited to be going through that process and us being able to spend time this winter and get to know one another. ... We're going to sit down and spend that time together and watch races back and get on the same page."
Even with tests, that doesn't do much to help the spotter-driver relationship because those are all single-car runs instead of racing conditions.
"We've been looking at the calendar and trying to figure out a date where he comes down," Busch said about upcoming meetings with Kneeland. "And we just kind of spend a couple days just talking and going over film and listening to sound bites and things like that.
"But we worked together for some truck races this year. And I felt comfortable with the things that he was doing and saying."
Two other playoff drivers are also dealing with a little bit of transition. Dillon has a new crew chief in Keith Rodden, a former Hendrick crew chief who has worked for Chevrolet in recent years. Rodden replaces Justin Alexander, who took another job in the RCR organization.
"The good part is Randall and Justin are going to still be at the shop, and we're going to be able to continue to build off what we did last year," Dillon said.
"Bringing in Kyle and Keith is just two more racers. You can't have enough racers."
Alex Bowman also has started the transition to crew chief Blake Harris, who comes to Hendrick Motorsports after a successful one-year stint as crew chief for Front Row Motorsports driver Michael McDowell that followed a stint as a car chief at Joe Gibbs Racing.
Harris replaces Greg Ives, who opted for a new role at Hendrick in order to have a position with less travel.
Harris and Bowman will actually be competitors at one point during the offseason. Bowman will compete in the Chili Bowl midget nationals, while Harris, who has a shock-building business, will work with his family's team that has competed in the event for several years.
"I'm not running his shocks at Chili Bowl," Bowman said with a laugh. "I already had my program set what we're doing. ... But I'm sure we'll compare information."
Thinking Out Loud
This is the time of year when NASCAR reviews rules and policies, and one that likely will get a review is the four-race suspension for the crew chief and two crew members for a wheel coming off during a race. Why the change? There were 20 crew chiefs suspended this year, with the majority of them for loose wheels.
Among the ideas have been parking the car for the remainder of the race. Or maybe a five-lap penalty, possibly with no free pass available, which would allow the car to continue to be on-track so sponsors and guests of the team would still be able to watch their car.
The first option removes pivotal crew members — and we're not talking about the crew chief, who can often do much of the work from the shop and by monitoring events, typically from a room in the shop with engineers and screens to see more data than the crew chief could see at once during the race.
The second option costs points in the moment — although if a wheel falls off during a race, the driver likely loses a lap and often doesn't have a great finish. But it totally ruins the race for that day.
The best idea is parking the car. Most of the wheel-coming-off penalties come late in a race when the teams are under the most pressure, so there shouldn't be many times when a team will have disappointed guests. Everyone going to a race knows that sometimes a crash or mechanical failure can end the day early. This is just one of those days.
NASCAR can't have wheels coming off because of the danger of the situation. But compared to when the four-race suspensions were instituted, it's not like teams are not trying to tighten all the lug nuts. When there were five lug nuts, three or four tight were good enough and teams often didn't even bother tightening the fifth lug nut. With one lug nut (NASCAR went to a single-lug in the center of the wheel for Cup cars in 2022), teams are going to do their best to get it tight.
Drivers still will go as fast as possible. But if they leave with a loose wheel, they know they will have to pit again.
Parking a car for a race ends an already bad day but sends a message. Suspending crew members just keeps the storyline going for another four weeks and penalizes those who are just trying to do their jobs quickly, not bend any rules.
Stat of the Day
Only once in 2022 did a Cup driver win a race after starting the event outside the top 20: Austin Dillon started 21st at Daytona.
They Said It
"I just want to say to everybody out there, thank you so much for the way you've reached out in these last few weeks for our family." —Joe Gibbs, referring to the recent death of his son, Coy
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Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.