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Nowhere to run – Talladega provides few safe havens for drivers

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — At a track where a NASCAR driver once claimed a voice told him to park his car during a race, is there really anyplace safe to run at Talladega Superspeedway?

That’s a question many Chase drivers wonder with the field of title contenders cut from 12 to eight after Sunday’s race at NASCAR’s fastest, longest and quite possibly scariest racetrack.

“I have wrecked racing up front, I’ve wrecked in the back and I’ve wrecked in the middle, and I can tell you it just feels better to be up front,’’ Carl Edwards said.

While many drivers agree that the front provides the safest place, NBC Sports’ study of incidents in the last five Talladega races raises questions about that assumption.

In more than half of the incidents (11 of 20) in the last five Cup races at Talladega, the first car involved was running in the top 10.

Of those 11 incidents, nearly half (five) started with a car in the top five, including the leader once.

The May race proved that running at the front was not as safe as drivers figured. Six of the eight accidents started with a car in the top 10. NASCAR’s race report listed 36 of the 40 cars as being involved in at least one incident.

Chase Elliott, one of four drivers not listed in an incident in that race, said that threat of rain increased the intensity and led to the chaotic pace.

“I think we were all pretty antsy because we felt like that rain could be there anytime,’’ said Elliott, who finished fifth in that race. “To me, the entire race looked like the last 20 laps of a typical weekend. To me, it didn’t have the same feel as the Daytona 500 did or the Fourth of July Daytona race did.’’

Twice in the May race at Talladega, a car running fourth was involved in an incident.

Michael Waltrip was running fourth when a shove from Martin Truex Jr, who was being pushed by Joey Logano, forced Waltrip off the track on the backstretch. He tried to run back up the track in Turn 3 but two other cars were collected.

In the other incident, Jimmie Johnson was fourth at the time when he lost control after being pushed by Kurt Busch. Three other drivers running in the top 10 at the time — Paul Menard, Regan Smith and Truex — were collected in the 21-car incident.

That incident was one of six since 2014 that saw at least 10 cars involved, according to NASCAR’s race statistics.

There was a 12-car incident also in last spring’s race. That started when Michael McDowell’s car hit Danica Patrick’s car, sending it into Matt Kenseth. Kenseth’s car then got airborne.

Even a normal race isn’t easy at Talladega.

“This is no doubt one of the toughest races there is just to stay mentally focused,’’ Truex said. “It’s not a physically demanding race, but the mental side is pretty insane to be three or four wide all day long, especially if you decide you’re going to try to stay up front all day and try to race all day and not ever go to the back and try to be in a safe spot.’’

If there is such a thing.

For those who think running at the back is better, Kyle Busch will likely disagree. Busch entered this race two years ago with a 26-point lead on the first car out. Busch was running 36th when he slowed for a crash in front of him and he was hit from behind by Austin Dillon.

Logano, who won this race last year, defines his safe place not by position but by his surroundings.

“When you’re around other cars it may not be who you’re driving against, it may just be the way their car handles,’’ he said. “You might say, ‘His car looks loose, or he looks out of control for some reason,’ and understanding that scenario and what position you’re in. There are times in the race that you can back out of it and say, ‘OK, let’s wait for this to calm down a little bit and then we’ll try to work our way back up.’ 

“The whole race you weigh out in your mind risk vs. reward.  That’s what you think about, ‘Am I willing to take this risk and if I do, what do I gain?’ You think about that when you’re trying to make a move and say, ‘Am I gonna make this move to take the lead and am I gonna go back to 20th if it doesn’t work?’ You weigh that out. Is it making a move that’s going to put you in a really tight spot and you could possibly crash to gain three or four spots? You’ve got to weight that out. Does that make sense? 

“A lot of that changes throughout the race. When it’s early in the race a lot more people are conservative and say, ‘It’s not really worth it at this point in the race.’ But at the end of the race everyone is trying to get every spot they can and depending on your point situation you’re going to have to make decisions.”

Preliminary entry lists for Kansas Speedway

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NASCAR’s top two series will be in action this weekend at Kansas Speedway as they hold two different stages of their playoff races.

The Cup Series has its second round elimination race with the Hollywood Casino 400. The Xfinity Series begins its second round with the Kansas Lottery 300 after an off week.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for both races:

Cup – Hollywood Casino 400

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

StarCom Racing is set to make its debut with Derrike Cope driving the No. 00 Chevrolet. Tony Furr will serve as Cope’s crew chief.

There are four cars without drivers attached to them yet: BK Racing’s No. 23 and No. 83 Toyotas, Premium Motorsports’ No. 15 Chevrolet and Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Chevrolet.

Gray Gaulding will driving Premium Motorsports’ No. 55 Chevrolet.

Martin Truex Jr. won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick after passing Ryan Blaney with 19 laps to go.

Harvick is the defending winner of the playoff race.

Click here for the entry list.

Xfinity – Kansas Lottery 300

There are 41 cars entered into the race.

Cup drivers entered into the race include Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Erik Jones and Ryan Blaney.

Christopher Bell will driver the No. 18 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kyle Busch is the defending winner of this race. He has won the last three Xfinity races at the track.

Click here for the entry list.

Bump & Run: Who makes the cut at Kansas, who doesn’t?

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Which four drivers will fail to advance in the playoffs after Kansas?

Kyle Petty: Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr (points deficit too great to make up in one race), Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson (for these two I think it comes down to stage points).

Dale Jarrett: Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson. Even though Kenseth has the capabilities of qualifying well and getting the stage points, they haven’t been able to finish off races. I think Ryan Blaney is fast enough to get stage points and can manage a top-10 finish and keep him ahead of Jimmie Johnson.

Nate Ryan: Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. I think Blaney and Kenseth have shown the speed to be worthy of advancing, but the consistency has been absent.

Dustin Long: Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Jamie McMurray. While Blaney has finished no worse than 11th in the last three 1.5-mile tracks, he’s scored two stage points in those races combined. Doesn’t give much confidence he’ll score enough to stay ahead of those behind him Sunday.

Why do you think or don’t think Kyle Busch will advance?

Kyle Petty: Kyle Busch makes it! Two reasons: 1. He has speed, others that are ahead of him have struggled on 1.5-mile tracks. 2. He can score stage points and ultimately win! He’s proved that all year.

Dale Jarrett: Kyle Busch runs up front all day and might even get somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 stage points and then is going to finish in the top three, if not win the race. I think that is enough to get him in there.

Nate Ryan: I think he could win Kansas, and at the very least, I think he will amass enough stage points to propel him back over the cutoff line.

Dustin Long: Wouldn’t surprise me if he won or scored another top five at Kansas to advance. I think the odds are much greater he advances even with his deficit.

What is the best place for Talladega in regards to the playoffs? Regular-season finale? Beginning of a round? Middle of a round? Last race in a round?

Kyle Petty: I like where it is in the middle of a round as a fan. It can help your driver or at least give you hope your driver can come back from a bad Talladega. As a driver I would want it as the first race in a round. So no matter what happened I had two races to recover. As a fan or driver, I hate it as a cut race because, as we saw Sunday, so much that happened is because of plain old luck, good or bad.

Dale Jarrett: I wish we would pose this to the drivers and see where they might want it. I honestly think it’s in the perfect spot right now. I don’t like the idea of it being the first race in a round. I think there is more attention to it and more pressure put on it by being right there in the middle. I think it gives a driver and a team opportunities to look at that first race, which this year was Charlotte, and try to see about getting something done as Martin Truex Jr. did and not have to worry about the consequences of Talladega. Then it also gives you an opportunity on the back end to see where you are and what you need to do. My crazy self as a fan and a media person would love to see it at some point in time be either one of two things — the final regular-season race or the final race of the season to determine the champion.

Nate Ryan: I think Denny Hamlin and the Drivers Council are correct in moving it to the regular-season finale. That seems the best of all worlds – offering protection for drivers already with victories while providing an opportunity for a long shot hoping to snatch a spot. And for winless drivers trying to earn a berth on points, no one likely would be safe – which also feels right.

Dustin Long: I like where it is, but if people want to move it, make it the opening race of the playoffs when then are 16 playoff contenders. That could enhance the next two races as those with bad finishes at Talladega scramble to make it to the next round.

Martin Truex Jr., Sherry Pollex receive National Motorsports Press Association Spirit Award

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Furniture Row Racing driver Martin Truex Jr. and long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex have been voted the third quarter winners of the National Motorsports Press Association’s Pocono Spirit Award.

The Spirit Award recognizes character and achievement in the face of adversity, sportsmanship and contributions to motorsports.

The couple was nominated for their “Drive for Teal & Gold” campaign to raise awareness and funds for ovarian and childhood cancer. They received 45 percent of the vote. Also receiving votes were the NASCAR Foundation, Joey Logano and nominated as a group were Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.

In its second year, Truex and Pollex’s campaign included 29 NASCAR drivers participating by using custom teal and gold steering wheels produced by Max Papis Innovations (MPI) and driving gloves. The autographed steering wheels and gloves were auctioned off at the end of September.

Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2014 and was in remission by early 2016. But she underwent a procedure for a recurrence last July. Pollex was not present for Truex’s win at Charlotte Motor Speedway two weeks ago as she recovered from a chemotherapy session.

Artist Sam Bass and The Kyle Petty Charity Ride Across America won the Spirit Award earlier this year.

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Landon Cassill, wife Katie welcome baby girl

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Landon Cassill and his wife Katie welcomed their second child Monday night.

Cassill, 28, announced the birth of their daughter, Daphne Plum Mayola Cassill, Tuesday morning on Instagram.

Daphne joins their son, Beckham, who was born in 2015.

“She had a very peaceful first night, but does have the voice to keep us honest,” Cassill said in his Instagram post. “This is the good news we’ve been waiting for!”

The birth of Daphne came the week after Front Row Motorsports announced Cassill will not be returning to drive the No. 34 Ford next season.

MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Amy Earnhardt expecting first child