What drivers said and did backstage at the Sprint Cup Awards

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LAS VEGAS – Even if you saw Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards or have watched videos of some of the special moments during the event, you didn’t see or hear everything.

More happened backstage. Here’s a glimpse of what took place and what was said when the drivers walked off the stage:

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Jeff Gordon says that now that he’s not a driver, he doesn’t know if he should be on the group text list of drivers. He says he’s offered to get off it but no one has kicked him off it. So will anyone do that?

“I don’t think our driver group text is all that elite of a group,’’ Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch joked. “We are all quite happy to leave Jeff within our group text. We feel him as a driver.’’

Said Clint Bowyer: “You need a guy like that on the driver group text whether he’s on the track or off the track. His experience, his education he’s had in this sport is second to none, and we need him in every kind of conversation we can have.’’

Told that no one had said he should be off the list, Gordon said: “I’m happy to contribute. Let’s get through the Daytona 500 and see how I talk about them (on the Fox broadcast as an analyst). Not that I’m going to talk bad, but I’m going to be honest. I would love to continue to be a part of  it because I am passionate for the sport. I’m always going to be a driver whether I’m driving a car or not.”

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Carl Edwards has talked this season about how much pressure he put on himself at the start of the year with joining Joe Gibbs Racing, but Friday night he related a story about the Las Vegas race and contact with Kasey Kahne that day.

“I didn’t realize until we got going how much pressure I was putting on myself and how hard I was trying,’’ said Edwards, who finished 42nd in that race. “Vegas stands out. I don’t know why, racing for fourth or fifth, just door-slammed Kasey Kahne and screwed up both of our races. Afterwards, I talked to Kasey and Kasey was puzzled: “Carl, that wasn’t even close.’’ I realized, man, I’m trying way too damn hard. I feel lot more comfortable now.’’

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Martin Truex Jr.’s speech came before Jeff Gordon’s and meant that Truex then had to have photos taken with his fourth-place trophy and talk to the media. He left the room quickly so he could return to the ballroom and listen to Gordon’s speech.

During his speech, Truex had joked that he has happy to know he was the only driver Gordon ever called after wrecking them.

Gordon responded during his speech: “I’m just glad to know he got the phone call. That’s the first I heard about that and that was five years ago.’’

Truex, standing just inside the room near a group of photographers, smiled and laughed at Gordon’s comment.

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Friday was special for Kurt Busch, who saw his little brother crowned champion. After his speech, Busch was asked about hugging his brother on stage.

“I’m just blown away,’’ Busch said. “It’s little Kyle. Now he’s big Kyle.’’

Busch said he had more he wanted to say to his younger brother during his speech but couldn’t because “I got choked up at the beginning.”

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. won his 13th consecutive Most Popular Driver Award and while many take it for granted that he’ll win the fan vote each year, he said he does not.

“I got to thank my father for how he carried himself and presented himself and what he did for the sport and the family and the name,’’ Earnhardt said “I came into the sport with a huge fan base due to their loyalty to him.

“I’ve learned a lot. I’ve made some mistakes. I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been as a race car driver and outside the car as I’ve ever been and don’t take any of this for granted. I certainly appreciate every race and every lap and look forward to a couple more good seasons and having some fun and see where it goes from there.’’

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.