Jeff Gordon says distractions with final Sprint Cup season aren’t slowing him

0 Comments

DARLINGTON, S.C. – Jeff Gordon missing the Chase for the Sprint Cup in his final season? The notion seems preposterous.

While it would take events aligning just right – or just wrong in Gordon’s case – it’s possible.

“We definitely feel pressure, and it’s a little bit stressful right now,’’ Gordon said Friday at Darlington Raceway.

He enters Sunday’s Southern 500, which can be seen on NBC, 17 points ahead of Clint Bowyer for the final transfer spot with two races left until the Chase field is set. Bowyer gained 15 points on Gordon at Bristol two weeks ago and has outscored Gordon by 56 points in the last five races.

Gordon understands those questioning him, suggesting that distractions surrounding his final season in Cup have impacted his performance.

He says that’s not so.

“I’ve had far more distractions than I’ve had even this year, and have performed well,’’ Gordon said. “I feel like there have definitely been some distractions this year that maybe would have affected me, but I feel like I’ve addressed them.

“You can’t help when a wheel comes loose or you have some kind of an issue that’s out of your hands. I feel like, the times when I didn’t step up and perform well enough, we didn’t get the most out of that day, but I feel like I’ve been very focused, really.’’

He had brake issues early at Watkins Glen and finished 41st. He wrecked at Indianapolis trying to avoid Bowyer’s spinning car. Gordon’s recent misfortune – average finish of 24.6 in the last five races – has dropped him in the points. Should Gordon fall to 16th, the final transfer spot, on the Chase grid next weekend at Richmond International Raceway and there’s a new winner, Gordon could miss his last chance for a fifth series title.

“We are going to fight hard to be in the Chase, and I think it would be a great way to end my career,’’ he said.

For as dire as things could be for Gordon, he also could leave Darlington clinching a Chase spot with a sixth Southern 500 victory – and first win at this track since 2007.

“I’m pretty happy with the car,’’ Gordon said after the first of two practices Friday. “I think we’ve got a shot at doing that. It’s important for us to execute really well this weekend to put a great result out there on the track to get those points we need to go to Richmond. Other than a win this weekend, Richmond is going to be stressful. But the good news is we have dealt with it before.”

Gordon also admits that even though he’s used to the pressure – from championship battles to race duels – it doesn’t go away.

“There’s always stress and pressure in this sport, certainly with the new Chase format; it’s added to it in a big way,’’ Gordon said. “And we’ve been in a situation before where we’ve gone to Richmond and we had to perform, and I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job with that over the years.

“So, this weekend is not that kind of pressure, but certainly we realize that we’ve got two more races to go and that we’re not in a comfortable enough position to relax. And so, it makes your job a little bit more difficult. But I feel like we’re a team that can handle that.”

 

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.