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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 Road America, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

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The Cup Series is enjoying its final off-week of the 2018 season. That leaves the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series to enjoy the spotlight.

Both series will be on their own, competing on different road courses. Xfinity teams return to Road America near Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The Truck Series travels to Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada, to race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both races.

Xfinity – Johnsonville 180 (3 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 41 entries for the race, including Hall of Fame Bill Elliott, who will drive GMS Racing’s No. 23 Chevrolet in his first NASCAR start since 2012.

James Davison is entered in Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota, making his second consecutive start for the team at Road America.

IndyCar driver Conor Daly will attempt to make his NASCAR debut in Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 6 Ford.

Last year, Jeremy Clements was the surprise upset, scoring his first career NASCAR win.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Silverado 250

There are 31 entries for the race.

Alex Tagliani is entered in Young’s Motorsports’ No. 12 Chevrolet.

Jesse Iwuji will make his national NASCAR series debut in Reaume Brothers Racing’s No. 34 Chevrolet.

Last year, Austin Cindric won his first career NASCAR race after spinning Kaz Grala on the last lap.

Click here for the entry list.

What the world was like when Kurt Busch last won at Bristol

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The jokes and observations began flying in the Bristol Motor Speedway media center not long after Kurt Busch won Saturday night’s Cup race.

It had been how long since Busch visited Victory Lane at the half-mile track?

Some media members had covered that race. Others – specifically this writer – had been *checks notes* a freshman in high school when Busch won the Food City 500 on March 26, 2006.

Oh, that long.

Twelve years have passed between Busch’s Bristol wins, the latest bringing him six career wins in “Thunder Valley.”

That fifth win, in Team Penske’s No. 2 Dodge, came in a very different time in NASCAR.

For one, that was two versions of Bristol ago. A year after his win, the track added progressive banking in the turns. That was then retrofitted in 2012, which resulted in the top groove often being the preferred lane.

“This track has been kicking my butt since they redid the concrete, reground the outside lane, then have been throwing the traction compound on the bottom lane,” Busch said. “It’s great to win on the old one and the new one.  It’s been a while.”

What else was going on in NASCAR when Busch claimed his fifth Bristol win? Get ready to feel the kind of nostalgia that will make you feel old in all the wrong ways.

– Even if you don’t remember Busch’s win in 2006, you might remember what happened on pit road after it. Jeff Gordon showed off his temper for the first time, when he shoved Matt Kenseth after Kenseth spun him with two laps to go.

Jimmie Johnson hadn’t even claimed his first of a record-tying seven Cup championships. He would go on to do so that year, beginning his stretch of five titles in a row.

– In the field for the Bristol race were three rookies by the name of Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin and Clint Bowyer.

– Also in the field: Sterling Marlin, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield and Kyle Petty.

Ken Schrader was driving the No. 21 Ford for Wood Brothers Racing.

– Nextel was the title sponsor for the Cup Series and would be through 2007. Sprint took over in 2008.

– The much maligned Car of Tomorrow was exactly a year away. It would make its part-time debut in the Food City 500, and race winner Kyle Busch (his first of seven wins at Bristol) did not like it.

Chase Elliott, Cup’s most recent first-time winner, was 9-years-old.

Pop Culture

Music

This is what was hot in the world of pop culture on March 26, 2008.

The No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 was “So Sick” by Ne-Yo, an artist I don’t remember and a song title I couldn’t have told you. But I definitely remember hearing this on the radio.

If that doesn’t jolt your memory of the time, “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt was the previous No. 1 song for a week and two weeks later, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” would start a five-week run as at the top before being the year-end No. 1 song.

2006 was a bad year for music.

Film

– The No. 1 movie at the box office that weekend was Denzel Washington’s “Inside Man.” It made $28.9 million and beat out Natalie Portman’s “V for for Vendetta” and the video game horror film “Stay Alive.”

Books

The top book on the New York Times’ bestseller list was “The 5th Horseman” James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. The following week, “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown would start its second, two-week stretch at the No. 1 book.

 

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson earns best finish in nine races

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Jimmie Johnson showed flashes of his old self Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway, running in the top five and placing in the top 10 in each stage before earning a ninth-place finish.

It was Johnson’s best result since finishing eighth in June at Pocono Raceway, nine races ago.

Saturday’s result was his second top 10 in that span.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver is inside the cutoff for the playoffs with two races left in the regular season, but he’s still mired in the longest winless streak of his career, which is at 47 races.

On NASCAR America, Dale Jarrett and Parker Kligerman discussed what Johnson’s performance could indicate for Johnson as the season winds down.

“I thought it was a positive night for the 48 team, ” Kligerman said. “I’m going to say for a couple of reasons. … It wasn’t a stirring performance where it felt like he was going to challenge at any time for the win. But I’ll tell you this, I was down in Turn 4 for most of the first half of the race … I got to watch Jimmie drive completely sideways every lap, on the bottom trying to pass cars. No one was as exciting to watch as that 48 car. I think that’s a testament to maybe the cars aren’t that great … I just saw him do that lap after lap and thought, ‘This was a positive night for the 48.”

Jarrett said he’s “not quite as optimistic” about Johnson.

“He’s driving his tail off and his race car isn’t going anywhere right now,” Jarrett said. “I think there’s a lot of work to be done here if they think they’re even going to move out of the first round of the playoffs.”

Watch the above video for more.

 

NASCAR America: Should Kyle Busch expect payback from Martin Truex Jr.?

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Martin Truex Jr.‘s night in Bristol Saturday may have ended with Kyle Buch accidentally turning him into the inside wall and Truex angrily kicking his car, but NASCAR America’s Parker Kligerman and Dale Jarrett don’t expect any retribution from the defending series champion…maybe.

“Probably nothing is going to happen, but the possibility is there,” Jarrett said. “Not saying he’s going to go wreck Kyle Busch, he can just make life miserable. Is Kyle Busch going to drive scared around Martin Truex? No. But I will say this, if they get side-by-side at some places, he’s going to give Martin Truex a little bit more room. Just because he’s going to have that in the back of his mind, what might he do because of this incident?”

Said Kligerman: “We can’t look into the future for these two, but you definitely end up racing each other differently after an incident like that.”

Watch the above video for more.