“Bumper cars at 190 mph” highlight another wreck-filled Sprint Unlimited

2 Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR’s wreckfest, disguised as something called the Sprint Unlimited, welcomed fans back from their winter hibernation with sparks, three-wide racing and crinkled cars.

Thirteen of the 25 cars returned to the garage battered, bruised and broken before the 75-lap exhibition race ended on a chilly night.

“We had more cars finish this year than we did last year,’’ Jeff Gordon told NASCAR Talk after placing seventh Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

He’s right.

Eight cars finished last year.

That made surviving almost as good as winning – although victor Matt Kenseth left the happiest.

“We did finish, and everybody is healthy, so we’ll take that,’’ said Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, who placed eighth.

That’s restrictor-plate racing, where crashes punctuate tight racing and just finishing is seen as a good day. Saturday’s race marked the third time in the last four years that crashes eliminated nearly half the field.

The reasoning is simple – there are no points at stake. If a daring move doesn’t work, so what if one wrecks? The race’s short length also encourages risk-taking.

“I thought it was an intense as any speedway race as we’ve seen in a long time from beginning to end,’’ said Denny Hamlin, who placed 19th after being collected in a crash. “This race last year it got single-file at some point, but this one it just never did. Everyone was just so aggressive trying to keep that track position. I don’t know if (next week’s Daytona) 500 is going to be like this since it is 500 miles, but certainly at the end you’re going to see intense racing like this.’’

Hamlin said it was tough to move through the field because there was so much side drafting and blocking.

Others found a way to the front, though.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. went from 24th to 14th on the first lap, was in the top five by the fourth lap and eventually led.

Earnhardt made his move at the start by jumping to the outside line and found a path to the front.

“It wasn’t that hard,’’ Earnhardt told NASCAR Talk.

Earnhardt also said that aggression in the race was “no more than I’ve seen in other years, no less. You like to be out front where you can get away from all that stuff. We were there for some of the race.’’

He stayed near the front until trash on his front grille forced him to pit. He said the engine never ran the same after that, leading to a ninth-place finish.

Earnhardt’s teammate, Gordon, said the final 10 laps were “literally bumper cars at 190 miles an hour, which is pretty wild and crazy.”

Kyle Larson, who started last and finished fifth, said this wild race proved valuable.

“Everyone raced hard that whole time,’’ he told NASCAR Talk. “It was able to help me learn because I could be more aggressive myself where before I was never really aggressive on superspeedways because I wanted to get to the checkered flag.’’

While he made it, Tony Stewart failed to finish after crashing within the final 10 laps. For him it was a typical restrictor-plate race.

“I just pushed trying to get back in line there,’’ said Stewart, who finished 13th. “I just wasn’t clear. It is kind of what we all have to do. You have to push, especially this close to the end, you have to fight to get into a spot there. I either wasn’t all the way clear, or didn’t get there quick enough. It’s just part of it. You have got to do what everybody else is doing. You have to do the same thing. I have to do what everybody else is doing.”

He ended the night like everyone else, walking away, looking ahead to a week of racing at Daytona, and hoping for better results.

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

0 Comments

The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

0 Comments

Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.