Upon Further Review: Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Is it time to recognize Brad Keselowski as one of the best restrictor-plate drivers in recent years?

Sunday’s victory at Talladega Superspeedway was Keselowski’s fourth restrictor-plate win since his last-lap victory against Carl Edwards in the track’s spring 2009 race.

No driver has won as many Sprint Cup restrictor-plate races since. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has three wins during that time. So does Jimmie Johnson. And Matt Kenseth. And Jamie McMurray. With two wins each during that time are Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Joey Logano and Tony Stewart.

Of course, some of those drivers have more overall restrictor-plate wins than Keselowski because they’ve been competing longer, but Keselowski is becoming a driver one can’t ignore when discussing favorites at plate races.

“I’d rather be the guy that nobody talks about who has won here 10 times than the guy that everybody talks about who won here twice,’’ Keselowski said after his 19th career Sprint Cup victory, which tied him with Buddy Baker, Davey Allison, Fonty Flock and Greg Biffle in career series victories.

“I never got into racing just to have somebody say my name real loud or the billboards or lights or anything like that. I got into it because I love it, I love the challenge. I love the reward of success, the reward internally.

“Look, I’m not out here trying to toot my own horn or showcase my own press clippings. I just want to win. Winning four times means a lot here. It doesn’t mean as much as winning another championship would be. That’s my main goal at the end of the day.’’

Keselowski was in contention after avoiding the numerous incidents Sunday. He led a race-high 46 laps and stayed near the front much of the race with strong moves.

“We had good enough speed where we could make those moves,’’ Keselowski said. “Today was a day where my spotter and I worked together very well and we were able to do just that.’’

— Thirty-five of the 40 cars in Sunday’s race were involved in accidents, according to NASCAR.

That isn’t even the most number of Cup cars in accidents in restrictor-plate races since 2014.

Six times in the last 10 plate races there have been at least 20 cars involved in accidents, according to NASCAR statistics.

The most during that time came in the rain-shortened Daytona race in July 2014 when 37 of the 43 cars were listed as in accidents.

Sunday’s race was run under the threat of the rain but went the full distance. While that contributed to the race’s intensity it wasn’t the only factor in the accidents.

“I think guys get a little bit aggressive when you get toward the end,’’ said Jamie McMurray, who finished fourth and was listed as being a part of two incidents. “It’s like slamming like we used to do. With the little amount of downforce that we have, it’s so easy for the car to get up on you.

“When we got down to the end there, I was like death-gripping the wheel and trying to hold it straight because every time you get hit, it gets turned a little bit in a different direction and you have to be a little bit lucky there. It’s not all ability.’’

Said Kyle Busch: “It’s just Talladega. These cars, you try to get a little bit aggressive, start bumping people and pushing people, they’re real easy to get out of control.’’

Of the 35 cars involved in accidents Sunday, 16 were listed as being part of one or both accidents within the last 10 laps.

“We all kind of raced to halfway, then all raced to the rain that was coming and all raced to the end,’’ said Danica Patrick, who was eliminated in a crash that included Matt Kenseth’s car getting airborne.

“The whole race we were racing like we were racing to the end. There were no moments to relax. I’m sure that expanded peoples’ comfort zone at the end of the race because we were used to running close. Then some people just took it to the edge.”

— Let’s review Hendrick Motorsports’ restrictor-plate performance this season:

At the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt Jr., crashed and finished 36th. Chase Elliott spun and damaged his car when it dug into the grass. He finished 37th. Jimmie Johnson placed 16th and Kasey Kahne was 13th.

Sunday, Earnhardt was involved in two accidents and finished last in the 40-car field. Kahne was collected by Earnhardt and then spun in another incident before placing 39th. Johnson was involved in a wreck after contact from behind from Kurt Busch and finished 22nd. Elliott was fifth.

That’s one top-10 finish and four finishes of 35th or worse in two restrictor-plate races this season.

Last year, Hendrick Motorsports placed two cars in the top five in each plate race with Earnhardt winning the spring Talladega race and the July Daytona race and Johnson second both times.

— Only three drivers have finished in the top 10 in both restrictor-plate races this season.

Kyle Busch was third in the Daytona 500 and second at Talladega. Austin Dillon was ninth in the Daytona 500 and third at Talladega. Kurt Busch was 10th in the Daytona 500 and eighth at Talladega.

— The 37 lead changes in Sunday’s race were the most in a restrictor-plate race since there were 38 at Talladega in Oct. 2014.

— After NASCAR met with the Sprint Cup Drivers Council on Friday, series officials are scheduled to meet with team owners/representatives Wednesday in their quarterly meeting.

Brennan Poole parked his car at the start/finish line and waited. He waited to see if he had won his first NASCAR Xfinity race. The 25-year-old who had never finished better than ninth in a series race waited to see if his dreams would come true.

After waiting about five minutes, Poole was told that Elliott Sadler was declared the winner by NASCAR and that Poole had finished third.

It would have been easy to have argued about NASCAR’s decision, confront officials or something else. As a series regular, had Poole won, he would have all but qualified for playoffs.

Instead, he handled the disappointment with a grace and class not all athletes show in such situations.

“I’m happy that NASCAR was able to get it right,’’ Poole said, standing by his car on pit road.

“I really wanted to take a picture this afternoon in victory lane at Talladega. What an awesome track. So much history. A lot of my heroes have been to victory lane there.’’

Poole admits a win would have been “really awesome for my career, but we were just short. We’ll get one. We’ve been in the hunt the last two weeks.’’

Rodney Childers fined $100,000, suspended for four races

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NASCAR has suspended Rodney Childers, Kevin Harvick‘s crew chief, for four races and fined him $100,000 for what the sanctioning body called modification of a part supplied by a vendor.

Harvick, who is out of the Cup Series playoffs, and the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team were docked 100 points.

Harvick’s car and that of Martin Truex Jr. were taken to NASCAR’s Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C. after last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway. There were no penalties assessed to the Truex team.

Harvick has been particularly critical of the Next Gen car in recent months, once referring to the “crappy-ass parts” provided by suppliers.

Harvick’s car erupted in flames during the Southern 500 Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway. After he climbed from the smoking car, Harvick blamed the fire on “just crappy parts on the race car like we’ve seen so many times. They haven’t fixed anything. It’s kind of like the safety stuff. We just let it keep going and keep going.

“The car started burning and as it burned the flames started coming through the dash. I ran a couple laps and then as the flame got bigger it started burning stuff up and I think right there you see all the brake fluid that was probably coming out the brakes and part of the brake line, but the fire was coming through the dash.

“What a disaster for no reason. We didn’t touch the wall. We didn’t touch a car, and here we are in the pits with a burned-up car, and we can’t finish the race during the playoffs because of crappy-ass parts.”

MORE: AJ Allmendinger to return to Cup Series in 2023

Unless the team appeals, Childers would miss races at Charlotte, Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville and would return for the season finale at Phoenix.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps told the Associated Press that officials have not targeted Harvick. “I would say that’s ridiculous,” he said. “No one has a vendetta against Kevin Harvick or Rodney or anyone at Stewart-Haas Racing.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Harvick tweeted, “Seems strange…” A Childers tweet called the penalty “Shocker…..”.

NASCAR also announced Wednesday it has suspended Young’s Motorsports crew chief Andrew Abbott indefinitely for a behavioral violation during pre-race inspection. He must undergo anger-management training to be reinstated. The team races in the Camping World Truck Series.

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Charlotte Roval

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The lineup for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs Round of 8 will be decided in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

Entering the race, the final event in the Round of 12, Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman are below the cutline. Bowman will miss the race — and thus the cutoff — as he continues to battle concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson is scheduled to drive the No. 48 Chevrolet Sunday.

Cindric is tied with Chase Briscoe for the eighth playoff spot, but Briscoe would claim it on the tiebreaker. Byron is 11 points back, and Bell is 33. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty to Byron that dropped him below the cutline. That appeal is scheduled to be heard Thursday.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Any playoff driver who wins Sunday’s race and isn’t already qualified — Chase Elliott qualified for the Round of 8 by winning last week at Talladega Superspeedway — automatically advances to the Round of 8.

Drivers to watch Sunday at the Roval (2 p.m., ET, NBC), the final road-course race of the season:

FRONTRUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 1st
  • Last three races: Won at Talladega, 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2019 and 2020

Elliott is the clear favorite to win a second championship. He won Sunday at Talladega to advance to the Round of 8 and can relax Sunday at Charlotte having punched his ticket. Relaxing isn’t likely, however, as Elliott will be among the favorites to win.

Ryan Blaney

  • Points position: 2nd
  • Last three races: 2nd at Talladega, 4th at Texas, 30th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2018.

Blaney continues along a path that could result in him winning the Cup championship without winning a race. He came within an eyelash of winning Sunday at Talladega but fell victim to Chase Elliott’s last-lap charge. He should be a threat Sunday at the Roval, where he has four straight top 10s.

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 18th at Talladega, 9th at Texas, 5th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Won in 2021

Larson’s last win — and his last top-four finish — came at Watkins Glen seven races ago. He is 18 points over the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 9th
  • Last three races: 9th at Talladega, 15th at Texas, 20th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Sunday will mark his first Cup race. Has three top threes in four Xfinity starts.

Cindric hasn’t won since the season-opening Daytona 500 and is one of five drivers still in the playoffs who own only one victory this year. His ninth-place run at Talladega ended a streak of four straight finishes of 12th or worse.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 7th
  • Last three races: 8th at Talladega, 12th at Texas, 19th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Best finish in four starts is 13th

Suarez is 12 points above the cutline entering Sunday’s race. He has never led a lap at the Roval and has never finished in the top 10.

Chase Briscoe

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 10th at Talladega, 5th at Texas, 14th at Bristol
  • Past at CMS Roval: Finished 22nd last year in his only Cup start

Briscoe is teetering on top of the cutline in search of a spot in the Round of 8. He hasn’t won since the fourth race of the year at Phoenix and had a poor performance at the Roval last year.

 

 

AJ Allmendinger to return to NASCAR Cup Series in 2023

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AJ Allmendinger is getting another shot at success in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Kaulig Racing announced Wednesday that Allmendinger, currently chasing the Xfinity Series championship, will drive full-time in Kaulig entries in the Cup Series next season.

Allmendinger raced in Cup from 2007 to 2018 but won only one time — at Watkins Glen International — across those years. He moved to the Xfinity Series part-time with Kaulig in 2019, winning on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. He won twice in 2020 and five times in 2021 and is a favorite to win the Xfinity championship this year. He has won four Xfinity races this season, including last Sunday at Talladega.

MORE: Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

Allmendinger, 40, will drive Kaulig’s No. 16 car in Cup next year. Justin Haley will drive the team’s No. 31.

Chandler Smith will replace Allmendinger in the Xfinity Series next year.

“It’s crazy how the last five years of my life have gone,” Allmendinger said. “More than anything, I love this organization. I know the fans get tired of me talking about all the men and women of Kaulig Racing. This is not a race team. This is a huge family.

“There will be tough times and growing pains, for sure. But I love what they’re about, and they believe in me. I’ll be OK whether it’s good or bad.”

MORE: Chase Elliott atop NASCAR Power Rankings

Team owner Matt Kaulig said Allmendinger is “one of the best in the world at every type of track. He’s done so much for Kaulig Racing and our program. He’s a gigantic part of what we’re building.”

Team officials said Allmendinger has a multi-year contract.

 

 

 

 

 

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Charlotte Roval

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Sunday provides a final chance for drivers to advance to the Round of 8 and keep their Cup championship hopes alive.

Talladega winner Chase Elliott is the only driver who has advanced to the next round. That leaves seven spots available going into Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe holds the final transfer spot by a tiebreaker over Austin Cindric. At least for now.

William Byron is 11 points behind both drivers, but Hendrick Motorsports will appeal Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas on Thursday. Should Hendrick win and Byron get those points back, he would move into a transfer spot.

There’s just part of what to watch for in Sunday’s race.

Favorites to be No. 20

This season remains tied for the most different winners in series history at 19, but there are a few candidates who could become the 20th different winner this year on Sunday.

Among the favorites to do so:

Ryan Blaney, who came close to winning last week at Talladega, won the inaugural Cup race at the Roval in 2018.

Martin Truex Jr., who has four career Cup wins on road courses, still seeks his first victory of the season.

Michael McDowell, who is coming off a third-place finish at Talladega, has had a career-high 12 top-10 finishes this season, including top 10s in each of the last four road course events this year.

Will history repeat?

Last year, the four drivers eliminated after the Roval were Kevin Harvick, Alex Bowman, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Harvick was eliminated in the first round this year, but Byron (-11 to the cutline) and Bell (-33) are in jeopardy of being eliminated in this round again. Bowman stated Tuesday that he will miss his second consecutive race because of continued concussion symptoms. He will be among the four eliminated from title contention.

Bowman missed last weekend’s race because of concussion-like symptoms suffered at Texas. A decision on if he’ll be able to race at the Roval will come later this week.

Will chaos continue?

Consider what some of the former Roval winners have endured on their way to the checkered flag:

In 2019, Chase Elliott drove into the Turn 1 wall on a restart while the leader. He recovered to win.

In 2020, Elliott overcame a loose wheel to win for the second year in a row.

In 2021, Kyle Larson won after his team changed batteries and put the alternator belt back on.

Could a similar fate be in store for this year’s winner? Or will they have a cleaner day?

Entry lists

Thirty-nine drivers are entered including IndyCar driver Conor Daly, former Formula 1 driver Daniil Kvyat, former 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Mike Rockenfeller and former 24 Hours of Daytona winner Joey Hand. JJ Yeley will drive the No. 51 for Cody Ware, who stated that he would skip this event because of his ankle injury at Texas the footwork needed on a road course.

Charlotte Roval Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are IndyCar driver Marco Andretti and former F1 driver Daniil Kvyat.

Charlotte Roval Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, Oct. 8

Forecast: Partly cloudy with a high of 66 degrees. No chance of rain during the Xfinity race.

  • 10 – 10:30 a.m. — Xfinity practice (NBC Sports App)
  • 10:30 – 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (NBC Sports App)
  • 12 – 1 p.m. — Cup practice (NBC Sports App, USA Network coverage begins at 12:30 p.m.)
  • 1 – 2 p.m. — Cup qualifying (USA Network, NBC Sports App)
  • 3 p.m. — Xfinity race (67 laps, 155.44 miles; NBC, Peacock, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 9

Forecast: Sunny with a high of 64 degrees. No chance of rain during the race.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup race (109 laps, 252.88 miles; NBC, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)