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Inside the ‘cat and mouse’ NASCAR battle between Kyle Larson and Tyler Reddick at Las Vegas

"Get the lead and got to hold onto it."

NASCAR: Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube
Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

That’s just the NextGen racing game, right?

That’s ultimately how Tyler Reddick chalked up his inability to pass Kyle Larson over the final 15 laps of the NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Reddick spent the first 10 laps of the final green flag run methodically catching Larson, was there with 10 laps to go, but ultimately couldn’t find a way around the Hendrick Motorsports No. 5

Simply put, the 23XI Racing No. 45 got air blocked … a lot.

Reddick made up all his ground running the bottom but knew he would have to run against the wall, because that’s where Larson was not. Understand, that to make maximum speed, a Cup car needs clean air on its nose to generate downforce.

If a trailing car gets trapped in the wake of its leading counterpart, the dirty turbulence, unsettles the car and disrupts speed.

Reddick took the wall while Larson committed to the bottom in 3 and 4, up a lane from the bottom in 1 and 2. That middle lane gave him the option to create dirty air down the middle of the track, but also the flexibility to block low or high.

The No. 5 wasn’t as good off the bottom and it nearly cost him the race. He only felt compelled to get off the bottom on Sunday because his commitment to it last fall nearly cost him a win in a similar situation against Christopher Bell.

“The bottom was good, but he was making some time up top in 3 and 4,” Larson said. “I felt like going back to the fall, Bell was catching me around the top and I didn’t quite move up early enough or thought at the time that I could have maybe not had that last-lap battle if I moved around a bit more.”

So, he moved up.

“I thought I had a decent gap with eight-ish laps left, and I was like, ‘I need to get going up top in 3 and 4 to try and build some momentum.’

“That was the wrong move, and it really allowed him to get much closer to me. And then I was like, crap, all right, now I’ve got to block, air block him.”

Reddick said Larson did everything he was supposed to do.

“Kyle did a really good job there taking away pretty much every option I had there to close the gap,” Reddick said. “He seemed pretty good in the middle and I was obviously really good on the bottom, and he just never let me have it, right?

“I kept trying to run higher and higher and you know, he’s kind of running in the middle of the race track, which is pretty efficient to block both lanes. Every time I sort of got close, I mean, we’re running just wide open enough in turn one and two, you can kind of defend pretty well.”

Larson said that was exactly what he was doing.

“With three or four laps left, he was running a little bit higher line than me in (Turns) 1 and 2 so I was trying to take his air away and really mess his angle up off 2,” Larson said. “It didn’t hurt him that bad and he was close to me in (Turns) 3 and 4 or down the backstretch through 3 and 4.”

The best shot Reddick had was into Turn 1, nose to tail, where Reddick tried to catch Larson off guard by diving to the bottom instead of running against the wall but that was blocked too.

“But there with two to go, he expected I think me to run the middle or top or something, and I was able to do kind of a nice lazy arc to the bottom and take his air away in the center of 3 and 4 and got him tight,” Larson said.

“That killed his run down the frontstretch, and thankfully that was the white flag. I knew as long as I hit my marks I was going to be safe to the checkered. Seemed like blocked him maybe once earlier it took him a lap and a half to get that run built back to me to where I was going to have to block again.”

That’s NextGen racing.

Larson made it look effortless but he said watching both his mirror and windshield was a really challenging thing — and he nearly screwed up.

“As you turn off into 1 you kind of have — at least for me, I don’t know about other people — you’re looking where you’re going. The mirror is kind of out of your peripheral (vision) and you can see his angle, and then once I get the car loaded, I can look again and add wheel if I need to block or release wheel to let it wash up or whatever.

“Same thing down the backstretch.

“It’s fun when you do it right. It’s tough. I almost kind of messed up a couple times. There’s some guys that are really good at mirror driving. I felt like I did an okay job of it there at the end.”

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter. 

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