Five things to watch for in today’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth face scenarios where they likely need to win today’s race at Talladega Superspeedway to advance to the next round of the Chase.

In the last three elimination races, a driver needing to win to advance did. Brad Keselowski won at Talladega last fall to make it to the third round. Kevin Harvick won at Phoenix to make it to the championship round at Homestead (where he won that race to win the title). And Harvick won at Dover this year to advance to the second round.

If winning a Sprint Cup race is so difficult, then how have some drivers managed to win when they had to do so?

“The only real reference that I have from personal experience is last fall and I certainly made riskier and bolder moves than I would have made otherwise because at this point the penalty for a bad day is really nothing and the reward for a great day,’’ Keselowski said. “So I think the risk vs. reward changes dramatically. The teams take more chances.

“In the situation I was in last fall racing with Ryan Newman, he didn’t have to win the race. I put him in several positions where he was either going to let me win the race or we were both going to wreck. My thought process on that, and it’s not fair for me to answer for Ryan, but my thought process was he knew his situation and knew he didn’t have to win and knew I was going to wreck all of us if I had to.”

Who will feel the need to do so today? How far will they go?

That’s among the storylines for today’s race.

ONE CHANCE: NASCAR instituted a new rule for this weekend, reducing the number of green-white-checkered finishes from three to one.

Saturday’s Camping World Truck race went to a green-white-checkered but a crash on the first lap of the restart caused the race to end under caution.

Will a green-white-checkered finish be needed today? If so, how desperate will people being those final two laps?

MAKING A MOVE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the spring Talladega race by leading the final 27 laps.

That’s a rarity. The race winner at Talladega took the lead with two laps or less in nine of the last 11 races.

SAY IT AIN’T SO JOE: Since Denny Hamlin’s March 29 victory at Martinsville Speedway, Joe Gibbs Racing has not gone more than three races without a victory.

JGR enters today’s Talladega race winless in the last three races. Its last victory was by Matt Kenseth last month at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Since then, Kevin Harvick won at Dover (JGR’s Kyle Busch was second), Joey Logano won at Charlotte (JGR’s Hamlin was fourth) and Logano won at Kansas (JGR’s Hamlin was second).

Will a Gibbs car win today to end this winless drought?

ANYBODY’S RACE: Only 55 percent of the Talladega Chase races have been won by Chase competitors, the lowest percentage of any Chase track.

The most recent Talladega Chase race won by a non-Chase driver was by Jamie McMurray in 2013.

 

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.

Sunday Texas Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The first race in the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is scheduled Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

Twelve drivers are racing for eight spots in the next round. Chase Elliott leads the standings by 15 over Joey Logano entering Sunday’s 500-mile event, the only Cup points race at TMS this year. Ryan Blaney, who is in the playoff group, won the All-Star Race at the track in May.

Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline entering the 3:30 p.m. ET (USA Network) race.

MORE: Big race celebration? Try Waffle House

The playoffs will continue at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9).

Details for Sunday’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway:

START: The command to start engines will be given by “Top Gun: Maverick” actors Jay Ellis and Lewis Pullman at 3:38 p.m. (ET) … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 3:49 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 12:30 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Bret Shisler of Texas Alliance Raceway Ministries at 3:30 p.m. … The 1st Cavalry Division Band will perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 334 laps (501 miles) on the 1.5-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 105. Stage 2 ends at Lap 210.

MORE: Ryan Blaney’s team to appeal penalty

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 3:30 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 2:30 p.m. on USA Network. The post-race show will air on USA Network. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. and also will stream at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Partly cloudy skies. High of 96 with a 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Kyle Larson won by .459 of a second over William Byron last October. Larson led 256 of the race’s 334 laps.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS COVERAGE

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