Ryan: Don’t know Christopher Bell and Bobby Pierce yet? You will

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ROSSBURG, Ohio – Just a couple of kids playing in the dirt.

That was the simplest way to describe the spectacle that unfolded in the third annual Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway, where Christopher Bell, 20, won by outdueling Bobby Pierce, 18.

It hardly would do justice to what the top two finishers in Tony Stewart’s rapidly emerging dirt-track classic accomplished Wednesday night – and the unbelievable ways in which they did it.

This was a spectacular coming-out party for two stellar prospects who might have been well-known to dirt-track fans but virtually unknown in NASCAR circles.

They now are on everybody’s radar after delivering a scintillating show on the half-mile oval that is known for producing what Stewart calls “defining moments.”

Those seemed innumerable Wednesday night.

Pierce, who hadn’t raced a NASCAR truck before qualifying on the pole position Wednesday, slammed into the concrete so many times, the rear end of his No. 63 Chevrolet was being held together by pins and tethers – just as he’d expected it would be after taking his cue from watching Kyle Larson nearly win last year with a style just as brutish.

“It was awesome,” said Pierce, a dirt Late Model ace from tiny Oakwood, Ill. “I know a lot of people were telling me before the race, I was going to be the Kyle Larson. Beating down the wall is something I’m pretty good at. I didn’t want to be the guy in second, but Bell did a great job of doing everything right to win the race.”

Bell, a USAC open-wheel prodigy who scored his first Camping World Truck Series victory in only his third career start, drove his No. 54 Toyota into the wall about a half-dozen times in wrestling leading the final eight laps.

“This is just unbelievable,” Bell said. “It’s pretty cool that a couple of dirt guys can run 1-2.”

It’s pretty unbelievable, actually.

In a field filled with the likes of NASCAR veterans such as Ken Schrader, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Matt Crafton and Brad Keselowski, Bell and Pierce combined to lead 145 of 154 laps.

How unexpected was Bell’s win? The Norman, Okla., native didn’t know he would be racing until a week earlier – and he doesn’t have another truck event scheduled this year.

“Whatever opportunities come my way, I’d be thrilled to take advantage of them,” said Bell, who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports with sponsorship from Toyota (whose motorsports executives have been staunch supporters). “I never would have thought I’d get the opportunity to do it.”

The NASCAR future is just as uncertain for Pierce, who just recently began running on asphalt in the hopes of jump-starting a stock-car career.

He already seems on the right track considering he posted a career-best finish for team owner Mike Mittler, who had only one top 10 in 212 previous starts of fielding trucks for a roster that includes Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray before they became Sprint Cup winners.

“Almost any racer who gets this far always has (NASCAR) in the back of their mind,” Pierce said. “Racing dirt late models has been my life, but if it comes to it, NASCAR is definitely something that I’d look to go forward to.”

“You’re perfectly fine to stay here,” Eldora general manager Roger Slack playfully interrupted.

Too late.

A cursory check of social media showed that some major players in the NASCAR world already were taking notice.

They might have been playing in the dirt Wednesday.

But when it comes to playing in racing’s big leagues, Bell and Pierce are just getting started.

 

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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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

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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

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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?

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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.