Although Talladega Superspeedway can be unpredictable, here are five drivers you should not keep an eye off of this weekend.
With Dale Earnhardt Jr. absent, Keselowski has taken the mantle of top restrictor-plate racer in the Sprint Cup Series. His five plate wins since 2009 are the most of any driver, and he’s won the last two plate races. And who can forget his clutch victory in the 2014 Talladega Chase race when he was 19 points below the cut line? He’s only seven points back this time around.
His advancement out of the Round of 16 was a surprise to some. But an advance out of the Round of 12 wouldn’t be. He’s still looking for his first Sprint Cup win, but Dillon’s been a solid competitor on plate tracks. Not only is he one of two Chasers with top-10 finishes in all 3 plate races this season, his career average finish on plate tracks (14.46) is second all-time only to Dale Earnhardt.
The other Chaser with top 10s in all three plate races this season? That would be Busch, who’s posted finishes of third, second, and second in those events. Additionally, his 4.8 average finish in the Chase is the best among the 12 remaining drivers. But we all remember what happened to him at Talladega in 2014 when he seemingly was set to advance to the next round and didn’t after getting collected in a crash. Nothing is a given.
Not far behind Busch on Chase performance is his teammate Kenseth, who’s posted an average finish of 5.4 during the playoffs. He’s a past winner at Talladega (2012 Chase race), but he hasn’t finished better than 14th in a plate race since the start of the 2015 season. Like Busch, Kenseth stands a good chance of making the Championship at Miami – if he can survive this weekend.
Martin Truex Jr.
Truex comes to Talladega with a 13-point cushion, but gremlins have hurt him so far in the Round of 12 (clutch problems at Charlotte, fuel system issues at Kansas). He can ill afford to have another setback. He’s one of five Chase drivers who have never won a plate race in the Sprint Cup Series.
Only two drivers are safely in the third round of the NASCAR Cup playoffs. Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski secured spots through their wins at Charlotte and Talladega.
That leaves six spots to be decided Sunday at Kansas Speedway.
NASCAR America analysts Parker Kligerman and Kyle Petty broke down the drivers competing for spots. Both of them agreed that Chase Elliott, who has finished in second in three of the five playoff races, has a great chance to make it all the way to the championship race in Miami.
“If Talladega had played out, he was either going to be in victory lane or in the top two or three,” Petty said. “When you look at that, he has had the most solid playoffs of any driver out there. We keep talking about the big three: Larson, Busch and Truex. This guy is a sleeper. But he’s my No. 4.”
Said Kligerman: “He’s been the biggest surprise. That 24 team has been incredible through the playoffs. One thing I’ve noticed about that team, just speaking to (crew chief) Alan Gustafson, speaking to Chase, it’s almost as if they want that first win more than they care about the playoffs.”
Watch the above video for more on the playoff drivers.
Things get started today for the pivotal weekend at Kansas Speedway.
The NASCAR Cup Series will have its elimination race in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, where four of the 12 remaining playoff drivers will not advance to the Round of 8.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series begins its Round of 8 with Saturday’s Kansas 300.
But it all begins today, as Cup has its first practice (the other two are Saturday) and qualifying, while the Xfinity Series will have its two practice sessions.
Here’s how today’s schedule shapes up:
(All times are Eastern)
10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open
12 – 8:30 p.m. — Xfinity garage open
1 – 2:25 p.m. — First Cup practice (NBCSN, Motor Racing Network)
2:30 – 3:25 p.m. First Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
5 – 5:55 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)
6:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, 3 rounds) (NBCSN, MRN)
The last two drivers to win NASCAR Cup titles are in precarious positions ahead of the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.
Kyle Busch, the 2015 champion, is outside the top eight in ninth. He sits seven points behind defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR America analysts Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman debated who they think had the best chance to advance to the Third round after Sunday.
Petty put his money behind Busch, who has finished in the top five in each of his last five starts at the 1.5-mile track.
“He’s one of the big three: Truex, Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson,” Petty said. “I don’t see where these (last) two races (Charlotte, Talladega) have changed anything. The one thing Kyle Busch brings into Kansas City … he brings speed. These guys have had speed all year-long.”
Johnson on the other hand has produced only four top fives all season and just one since he won at Dover in June.
But Kligerman explained why he thinks the seven-time champion will prevail on Sunday.
“Jimmie Johnson knows how to pass and that is what has become evident throughout this season,” Kligerman said. “No, they have not had the fastest cars at Hendrick Motorsports. No, they have not qualified well. They’ve actually been sort of abysmal at qualifying of late.
“… He has three wins this year. Two of those he started at the back.”
Watch the video for more.
Today’s episode of NASCAR America begins at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to preview the Round of 12 elimination race at Kansas Speedway.
Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty and Parker Kligerman from Stamford, Connecticut.
On the show:
- We’ll debate which past Cup Series champion will advance to the Round of 8. Defending champion Jimmie Johnson currently leads 2015 champ Kyle Busch by only seven points for the final transfer spot. Who has the edge going into Kansas this Sunday? This elimination race will be a heated competition just to finish above the cut line. Log on to NBCSports.com/NASCARVote and weigh in!
- Xfinity Series playoff driver Daniel Hemric calls into the show to talk about his chances of advancing to the championship four in Miami. He’ll also describe his experience being one of the four drivers to participate in the recent tire test at the Charlotte Motor Speedway “Roval.”
- We take a look at the Daniel Suarez’s Racing Roots and discuss his transition from Xfinity Series champion to Monster Energy Cup Series rookie.
- Parker Kligerman hops into the iRacing simulator to preview Sunday’s elimination race at Kansas, as well as the Formula 1 race in Austin, Texas.
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.
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Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.