Long: Hollow Phoenix finish just part of Chase that has toyed with us all


AVONDALE, Ariz. – NASCAR still has its sentimental favorite. It has its underdog. It has its reigning champion back, and it has its comeback story.

But, man, the finish to Sunday’s third round of the Chase at Phoenix International Raceway just felt so hollow.

A rain-shortened race? In the desert? Come on.

That’s how this Chase has been. It’s given and taken. It’s toyed with our emotions and then just as the intensity rises, as we are ready for a special moment that will top all that we’ve seen, we are left deflated.

It happened at Talladega in the final race of the second round. The cutoff race many anticipated soon left sour feelings. A restart that wasn’t, then turned into a controversial crash that impacted who advanced in the Chase.

Sunday’s ending in Phoenix was a letdown when rain ended the event after 219 of 312 scheduled laps. You wanted a race that would determine the final three spots in next weekend’s championship round to go the distance to see if the drama that has built in this Chase would lead to desperate actions and disgruntled drivers.

We never got the chance to see how far a driver would go on this day to make it to Miami.

For as much as one wants to blame NASCAR, this wasn’t on series officials. Mother Nature proved that when it wants, it can overmatch Air Titans, jet dryers and typical climatic conditions.

As it took longer to dry the track after each rain shower Sunday, it was apparent that the downpour after the cars had been parked yet again on pit road likely would delay this event another two hours.

Of course, it rained again during that timeframe and would have pushed the event deeper into the night/morning.

No doubt it is frustrating that a series that can start a race just before midnight (Daytona in July) can’t wait longer or go further into the night. The fact is this race was to have started nine hours before it was called. Further delays would have taxed not only competitors but the track, police and others who had been at the track shortly after sunrise.

Many of you will say, “Who cares? It should be all about the competitors.” In a perfect world, yes. This ain’t it.

So what we’re left with is the feeling of, “That’s it?’’ After spending all day waiting, all night watching, this was it? We got to watch drivers stand under umbrellas or run to shelter, not racing for that last transfer spot.

That’s the rule. Once a race has gone past halfway, and NASCAR determines it can’t reasonably restart the event, it is declared official.

Would it make sense to change that rule? Sure, but how would you change it? That the final race of a round must go the distance no matter how many hours or days it takes? What’s acceptable? What’s reasonable?

Although drivers didn’t get their full chance to win and advance to the title round, they had two other races they could have won or scored enough points to have advanced. At some point, NASCAR has to set the rule.

They did the right thing Sunday in calling the race.

Now the sport is left with a final four that includes Jeff Gordon (the sentimental favorite), Martin Truex Jr. (underdog), Kevin Harvick (reigning champ) and Kyle Busch (comeback).

No, this finale doesn’t include the three winningest drivers this season  – Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson and Matt Kenseth – but maybe this finale will deliver more because some will expect less.

Maybe this finale will offer the gusto Harvick showed before the Chase when he said in Chicago about Joe Gibbs Racing: “I think we’re going to pound them into the ground.’’

Maybe this finale will feature redemption for Busch, whose injuries at Daytona kept him out of a car for three months before he wowed many by his dominant summer run to qualify for this Chase.

Maybe this finale will reward Truex, who lost his ride two years ago through no fault of his own, struggled last season on the track and then experienced the pain of his girlfriend’s cancer diagnosis and treatment last year.

Maybe this finale will be a repeat of Martinsville’s victory lane, where fans didn’t want to leave as they watched Gordon celebrate his first win of the season three weeks ago. They serenaded him with chants, and he responded with arm pumps and then running into the crowd to high-five them.

While the last two rounds have ended with a thud, maybe this upcoming weekend will make up for it.

We sure could use it.

Christopher Bell wins Cup Series pole at Talladega Superspeedway


Playoff driver Christopher Bell won the pole position Saturday for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Bell, 11th in the playoff standings and below the cutline entering Sunday’s race, ran 180.591 mph to edge second-place Kyle Larson at 180.516.

Playoff drivers took six of the top-10 starting spots.

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

The race is the second in the second round of the playoffs. Any playoff driver who wins the race will automatically advance to the next round.

Joey Logano leads the playoff standings.

Noah Gragson, replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms, qualified seventh.

The race (2 p.m., ET) will be broadcast by NBC.



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


Sunday will mark a difficult crossroads for NASCAR. As several of its top drivers express serious concerns about safety, the Cup Series is at Talladega Superspeedway, the circuit’s biggest track and site of many massive wrecks over its 53 years of existence.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Sunday’s 188-lap, 500-mile race is the middle event in the second round of the playoffs. With a win automatically advancing any of the 12 playoff drivers to the next round, the final laps are likely to be frantic.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) will begin with Joey Logano atop the playoff point standings. Following him in the top eight are Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe.

Below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron fell below the line this week when NASCAR penalized him for bumping Hamlin under caution during last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty.

Bowman will miss Sunday’s race because of concussion-like symptoms he has experienced after a crash at Texas. Noah Gragson will replace him.

Bell won the pole Saturday with a speed of 180.591 mph.

Details for Sunday’s race:

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jimmy Rane, president of Great Southern Wood Preserving, at 1:52 p.m. (ET). … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:04 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Barbara Embry, chaplin of Citizens Baptist Medical Center, at 1:43 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by the 313th U.S. Army Band at 1:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 60. Stage 2 ends at Lap 120.

STARTING LINEUP: Talladega Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 1 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 1 p.m. … SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. High of 78. 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Bubba Wallace won last October’s race, which was shortened to 117 laps by rain. Brad Keselowski was second.


Could in-car cameras change NASCAR officiating?

Wide-open Talladega could produce 20th different seasonal winner

Alex Bowman sitting out Talladega because of concussion-like symptoms

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really a playoff wildcard?


Saturday NASCAR schedule at Talladega Superspeedway


Both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup cars will start the day’s action by qualifying for Sunday’s playoff race, followed by the Truck playoff race and then the Xfinity playoff race.

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday, Oct. 1

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole


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.