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First-time winners at Talladega don’t happen often

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for big packs, big crowds and big wrecks. All are fueled by the restrictor-plate racing that’s been in place at the 2.66-mile track since 1987.

It’s the packs and the wrecks that ultimately jump-start the conversations about underdogs and the unexpected, with the word “winner” related to each. These conversations happen four times a year with plate tracks and the second time in 2016 comes this weekend with the GEICO 500.

But in the 93 Sprint Cup races run at Talladega since 1969 – two a year since 1970 – the number of times a driver has earned their first Sprint Cup victory in Talladega, Alabama, is slim.

It’s happened 10 times in 46 years, but only in four races since the introduction of restrictor plates 28 years ago.

The last time was seven years ago on April 26, 2009. That’s when Brad Keselowski, then a part-time driver for Hendrick Motorsports, won the Aaron’s 499 driving for car owner James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team. The race is remembered most for how Keselowski won.

While running in second place coming to the checkered flag, Keselowski made contact with Carl Edwards as he tried to pass the race leader. The contact sent Edwards flying into the frontstretch catchfence as Keselowski, who only led the final lap, took the win.

Three years prior, Brian Vickers claimed his first win in the UAW-Ford 500. His triumph also came after starting a crash. Vickers was running third on the last lap when he made contact with Hendrick teammate Jimmie Johnson on the backstretch while attempting to pass. The contact turned Johnson into race leader Dale Earnhardt Jr. and sent both spinning toward the inside wall as Vickers took the lead.

Vickers’ win came 18 years after Phil Parsons and Ken Schrader both became first-time winners at Talladega in 1988, the year after the introduction of restrictor plates. Parson’s win was his only victory in 203 starts.

The introduction of plate racing came as a result of a crash involving Bobby Allison at Talladega in the 1987 Winston 500. Allison’s son, Davey, went on to win the race, the first of his 19 career wins in the Sprint Cup Series.

Of the 10 first-time winners at Talladega, only four have gone on to victory in another race: Davey Allison (19 wins), Keselowski (18 wins), Schrader (four wins) and Vickers (three wins).

That leaves six drivers, counting Parsons, who had lighting strike their careers at the Talladega.

Richard Brickhouse was the first, winning the inaugural race at Talladega on Sept. 14, 1969. He only competed in 39 Sprint Cup races in six seasons.

In 358 Sprint Cup starts, Dick Brooks’ only win came in the 1973 Talladega 500. He beat out Buddy Baker and David Pearson, drivers who combined for 124 wins.

Five years later, Lennie Pond joined the club when he beat Donnie Allison, a 10-time winner, for his lone victory in 234 starts.

Ron Bouchard made 160 starts, but his only win came early. In just his 11th race, Bouchard passed Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte in the tri-oval on the last lap to grab the win in the 1981 Talladega 500.

It would be until 1986 when the next first-time winner took place at Talladega. Bobby Hillin Jr., led the last nine laps of the Talladega 500 to win his only race in 334 career Sprint Cup starts.

Preliminary entry lists for playoff races at Martinsville Speedway

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It’s time for the last short track races of the NASCAR season as the playoffs roll on at Martinsville Speedway.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series will be in action this weekend at the .526-mile track in Virginia.

Here are the preliminary entry lists for the weekend.

Cup – First Data 500 (2:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 40 entries for the race.

Matt Kenseth is back in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford.

Hermie Sadler is entered in Premium Motorsports’ No. 7 Chevrolet for his first start of the year. Five of his last six Cup starts have been at Martinsville.

There is no driver listed for Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford.

Clint Bowyer won the March race at Martinsville. He beat Kyle Busch and Ryan Blaney.

Busch is the defending winner of this race. He beat Martin Truex Jr. and Bowyer.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Texas Roadhouse 200 (1 p.m. ET Saturday)

There are 35 entries for the race. Three trucks will not make the field.

Kyle Benjamin, Jeb Burton and Timothy Peters are entered in the race.

Harrison Burton is entered in Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51 Toyota.

John Hunter Nemechek won the March Martinsville race over Benjamin and Brett Moffitt. Noah Gragson won this race last year over Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter.

Click here for the entry list.

Scott Graves to be Ryan Newman’s crew chief at Roush Fenway Racing

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Roush Fenway Racing confirmed Tuesday that Scott Graves will be Ryan Newman‘s crew chief next season on the No. 6 Cup team.

Graves had been the crew chief for Daniel Suarez this season until leaving Joe Gibbs Racing Oct. 9.

Graves joined Roush Fenway Racing as an engineer in 2006. He was a crew chief there from 2012-15. He did four races as an Xfinity crew chief in 2012, working with a variety of drivers. In 2013, he served as Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s crew chief for three Cup races late in the season. Graves was Stenhouse’s crew chief in Cup for the 2013 season. Graves returned to the Xfinity Series and was the crew chief for Chris Buescher in 2014-15. They won the championship in 2015.

Graves left Roush for Joe Gibbs Racing and was Suarez’s crew chief in Xfinity in 2016 when he won the championship. Graves started 2017 with JGR’s Xfintiy program before moving up to be Suarez’s Cup crew chief early in the season.

“We are very pleased to bring Scott back to the fold,” said team co-owner Jack Roush in a statement from the team. “Scott is an exceptional talent atop the pit box and he has done an outstanding job throughout his career – with multiple championship campaigns attesting to that.

“He brings a strong engineering background to the table and we are excited about the opportunity to pair him with Ryan Newman going into the 2019 season.”

Roush Fenway Racing announced Sept. 22 that Newman would join the team in 2019.

Matt Puccia is the crew chief on the No. 6 car this season. Roush Fenway Racing stated that details on Puccia’s role are being worked out.

 

 

Bump & Run: Martinsville hot dogs, looking ahead to Round 3

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What’s your career high of Martinsville hot dogs in a weekend?

Nate Ryan: Maybe one or two? It’s been roughly 18 years since I consumed one. My career high of turkey sandwiches from the Sheetz near the 58/220 intersection is about six, though.

Dustin Long: One. Not my thing.

Daniel McFadin: In my four visits I’ve never had more than two in a race day.

Dan Beaver: I’m ashamed to say only two.

What percentage do you put it that the Big 3 all advance to the championship race in Miami?

Nate Ryan: More than 80 percent. Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch likely are safe on playoff points, and Martin Truex Jr. could either win at Texas or be consistent enough over the next three races to advance. The only scenario in which one of the trio won’t race for the championship involves two other playoff drivers winning in this round; Busch, Harvick and Truex will post the finishes to garner the necessary points.

Dustin Long: 95 percent. Forget recent struggles, they will be there in Miami racing for a championship.

Daniel McFadin: 60 percent. I think Martin Truex Jr. is going to be in danger once Phoenix rolls around. The 78 team has lost its fire over the last four races, despite finishing fifth in Kansas. Kyle Busch can be expected to be a threat in all three races and Harvick should be the man to beat at Texas and Phoenix, if he can keep from making mistakes.

Dan Beaver: 50 percent: One of the non-Big 3 will win a race in this round and that means Martin Truex Jr. is going to need to seriously improve his performance to advance.

What’s stood out to you so far with the Cup playoffs?

Nate Ryan: The emergence of Chase Elliott and the cohesiveness, the competitiveness of Stewart-Haas Racing and the lone win among Busch, Harvick and Truex. It’s difficult to pin down an overall narrative.

Dustin Long: There there have been no upsets or surprises so far in who has been eliminated. Even when Brad Keselowski won three in a row he was saying they needed more speed. They won by execution. Running out of fuel at Talladega hurt him and then they didn’t have the speed at Kansas to make up for all those lost points at Talladega. The strongest teams are left. 

Daniel McFadin: The late-race success of teams that didn’t dominate in the regular season. Ryan Blaney and Aric Almirola each earned their first wins of the year in the playoffs and Chase Elliott earned wins No. 2 and 3. The competition has finally evened out, though some of that has been through help from late mistakes and cars running out of gas.

Dan Beaver: Chase Elliott with his pair of victories in Round 2. Along with his Watkins Glen win in August, he has won on three very distinct tracks.

What track in this round — Martinsville, Texas or Phoenix — do you think will have the most impact in the playoffs?

Nate Ryan: Phoenix because of the fresh layout and because the points scenarios always lend themselves to the Round of 8 cutoff race playing a major factor on the championship.

Dustin Long: Phoenix. Last chance to advance to Miami. Desperate times call for desperate actions.

Daniel McFadin: Martinsville. Teams will view it as the biggest equalizer in the round and with the possibility of a wild race, a non-playoff driver could win putting even more emphasis on the next two races for non-Big 3 drivers.

Dan Beaver: Every playoff driver will be trying to get off to a strong start at Martinsville and that will create some chaos.

NASCAR America: Will Martin Truex Jr. make the championship race?

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There are just three races left to decide who will compete for the Cup title.

On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton discussed Martin Truex Jr.‘s chances of getting a shot to repeat as champion.

Letarte believes Furniture Row Racing is hurt by the fact that it will close down at the end of the season.

“The way I look at it is there’s going to be four drivers that race for a championship in Miami and two heavyweights are already in,” said Letarte, referring to Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. “I don’t think Martin Truex makes it. I just don’t. I think that they’ve done a great job of trying to protect their team from the news, but the simple fact is we are four weeks from a championship and we are four weeks from an entire shop of people losing their job. That’s fact. That’s life. That’s what they’re trying to deal with out there in Colorado.”

Burton believe’s “no one’s a lock” for the championship four but admits it would “take special circumstances” for Harvick and Busch to not make it. He also thinks Truex is in a better position to advance compared to those he’s fighting for the final two spots in Miami.

“Who is trying to take him out of the Big 3?” Burton asked. “I haven’t seen it from (Clint) Bowyer. (Aric) Almirola’s been running pretty well lately. But you’re going to have to be better than just run with him. He has more points than you have.”

Watch the above video for more. Below is the playoff standings entering Martinsville and the Round of 8.