Sometimes the best move a driver can make is to change teams

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The announcement was stunning, but it was just the beginning.

When Matt Kenseth decided in June 2012 that he would leave Roush Fenway Racing after that season, it marked the beginning of a tidal wave that shifted the power in the sport.

A confluence of expiring driver contracts, a search for sponsorship dollars and the chance for new beginnings led to a driver movement from 2012-14 that saw two former champions move – and a third driver become a champion after changing rides. Seven of the remaining 12 drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup changed rides during that time, including five of the top six in points heading into today’s race at Kansas Speedway.

The group’s success is not surprising to Carl Edwards, who left Roush Fenway Racing after last season for Joe Gibbs Racing and has won two races this year.

“I can tell you one thing, when you make a change like the change I made, it’s such a big change and everything is so new, it made me really question everything and in some ways it probably spurred me to be a little more self-critical and try harder just to prove myself to a new group of people,’’ Edwards said.

Drivers who have switched teams since 2013 have combined to win 17 of 30 races this season.

Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth has won 12 races, and the organization has scored the most victories in a season twice. Kenseth didn’t win that many races in his final six seasons combined at Roush Fenway Racing.

“If you didn’t think you could do better and be in a better situation and more competitive, successful, happier – all those things — you probably wouldn’t do it,’’ Kenseth said of changing teams.

Kenseth’s move forced Joey Logano out of a ride at JGR when the team could not find sponsorship to expand to four cars. Logano, nearly buried by expectations of unfulfilled greatness, didn’t know where he would go.

“You start thinking in your mind, ‘What’s the backup on this whole thing? What else are you going to do?’ ’’ he said. “I didn’t have a backup. I put all my eggs in one basket to be a race car driver, so this had to work.’’

Car owner Roger Penske had no doubts where Logano would go. Penske had been impressed by Logano’s success in the Xfinity Series even if Logano’s Cup career had not matched that. With Brad Keselowski also advocating for Logano, Penske had his guy.

Logano landed with Team Penske for the 2013 season. He’s won nine races since the move, including last weekend’s race at Charlotte to advance to the third round of the Chase.

“As I’ve gotten older and learned more about life, challenges are opportunities to do something great, and you should look forward to challenges in your life,’’ Logano said. “Sometimes they may not go the way you want them to, but that’s why it’s a challenge. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called that.’’

The moves have worked remarkably well for both Kenseth and Logano. Kenseth got a chance to be a title contender again, and Logano regained his lost confidence and blossomed into one of the sport’s emerging stars.

Moves also have worked for others. Kevin Harvick announced in Nov. 2012 that he would join Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and won the championship in his first season there. Harvick again is a title contender this season with three victories and 12 runner-up finishes.

Harvick’s arrival, though, forced Ryan Newman out at Stewart-Haas Racing. Newman moved to Richard Childress Racing in what became a driver-for-driver swap. While Harvick has had the greater success, Newman has made the Chase both years and finished second to Harvick last year in the title race.

The 2013 season also featured the surprise news that Stewart-Haas Racing would expand to four cars by adding Kurt Busch in 2014 with backing from co-owner Gene Haas’ company. Busch has made the Chase in each of his two years there.

Busch’s departure from Furniture Row Racing provided a place for Martin Truex Jr. to land. Truex was out of a ride after sponsor NAPA vacated its contract days after NASCAR penalized Michael Waltrip Racing for seeking to manipulate the finish of the fall Richmond race in 2013.

“A lot of this sport is about timing,’’ Truex said.

That timing proved right for him and many others who have switched teams in recent years.

DRIVER RECORDS SINCE THEIR MOVES

Since 2013

Matt Kenseth … 12 wins, 37 top fives, 61 top 10s in 102 starts

Joey Logano … 10 wins, 45 top fives, 65 top 10s in 102 starts

Since 2014

Kevin Harvick … 8 wins, 34 top fives, 44 top 10s in 66 starts

Kurt Busch … 3 wins, 16 top fives, 27 top 10s in 66 starts

Martin Truex Jr. … 1 win, 9 top fives, 24 top 10s in 66 starts

Ryan Newman … 0 wins, 10 top fives, 30 top 10s in 66 starts

Since 2015

Carl Edwards … 2 wins, 5 top fives, 12 top 10s in 30 starts

 

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.