Former Roush Fenway Racing teammates Jamie McMurray (left) and Greg Biffle in 2007. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray prepare for 500th Sprint Cup starts

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When the green flag drops on Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, Greg Biffle and Jamie McMurray will mark an achievement together with their 500th starts in the Sprint Cup Series.

The last time two drivers made their 500th starts in the same race was Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Terry Labonte at Watkins Glen International in 1995.

“I’m really excited about making my 500th start,” said Biffle in a team release. “It’s been a great ride and it’s amazing how fast the time goes by. I’ve got a lot of memories, wins, close races and fun times. I’ve won a lot of great races and look forward to running for that third championship.”

Biffle and McMurray did not make their first starts together, but their careers are intertwined.

The oldest full-time driver on the Cup circuit at 46, Biffle broke into the series on April 28, 2002, in the NAPA Auto Parts 500 at Auto Club Speedway. After three seasons and one title (2000) in the Camping World Truck Series and one Xfinity season, Biffle started in the No. 16 for Roush Fenway Racing.

The native of Vancouver, Washington, qualified 29th and finished 13th in the first of six starts that season.

McMurray’s debut, 20 races later, is much memorable.

A native of Joplin, Missouri, McMurray had 21 truck starts and a season and a half of Xfinity starts with no wins when Chip Ganassi called. On Sept. 29, Sterling Marlin suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck in a crash at Kansas Speedway. The injury forced Marlin from Ganassi’s No. 40 for the rest of the season.

McMurray, then 26, stepped into the car the next week at Talladega Superspeedway, where he would start fifth and finish 26th, a lap down.

McMurray would start fifth again a week later at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the UAW-GM Quality 500. He would lead three times that night for 96 laps. He assumed the lead for the last time with 31 laps to go en route to his first Sprint Cup victory.

Both Biffle and McMurray would be full-time rookies in 2003, with Biffle driving the No. 16 for Roush and McMurray the No. 42 for Ganassi. Since that season, only Biffle has failed to make a start, when he did not qualify for the third race of the 2002 season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“If I wouldn’t have missed the Las Vegas race I would have won Rookie of the Year, except he did,” Biffle said last month at the unveiling of his car for the Southern 500.

Since 2002, Biffle has driven only for Roush, earning 19 victories (the first coming in the 2004 Pepsi 400) 92 top fives and 175 top 10s. Biffle will be the second driver to make his 500th Cup start at Roush. Mark Martin made his in March 2002.

Biffle hasn’t won since the spring Michigan race in 2013.

McMurray, now 40, is in his second stint with Chip Ganassi Racing after competing with Biffle at Roush from 2006 – 2009. The two remain good friends from their days as teammates, often vacationing together and sharing plane rides to races.

“More of a friendship of any other driver, a colleague at work that you respect their talent and ability,” Biffle said. “A lot of times friendships kind of stay intact … you can usually get over, ‘Hey I cut you off or you ran into you on accident.’ Typically you can put those behind you. We haven’t had too many of those.’’

While McMurray has only seven wins on his record – and none since 2013 – his victories tend to come on NASCAR’s biggest stages.

Nicknamed the “Big Game Hunter” by Ganassi, McMurray won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and fall Charlotte race in 2010. His second Cup win was the 2007 Pepsi 400. He also has two wins at Talladega (2009, 2013). His last trip to victory lane was the 2014 All-Star Race.

Heading into Saturday’s race, McMurray holds the final provisional spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup and is 22 points ahead of Ryan Newman.

Biffle needs to win in order to qualify for the Chase.

Team Penske looks to extend Talladega dominance amid 2020 woes

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If there’s one thing Talladega Superspeedway is known for, it’s chaos.

But for as much chaos as the 2.66-mile track can provide, Talladega has another quality it produces: consistency in Victory Lane.

In the 2010s and up through the June Cup race, the consistency has been produced by Team Penske.

Since May 2012, Penske drivers have won nine of 17 races. Brad Keselowski has four of his five Talladega wins, Joey Logano has three and Ryan Blaney has won each of the last two races by .007 seconds.

The other eight races were won by Roush Fenway Racing (two wins), Hendrick Motorsports (two), Front Row Motorsports (one), Chip Ganassi Racing (one), Stewart-Haas Racing (one) and Joe Gibbs Racing (one).

When it comes to races like this weekend’s playoff event (2 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC), one would expect even more chaos and less consistency among winners.

You’d be wrong on the latter.

Penske’s three drivers have combined to win five of the last six Talladega playoff races. The winner of the sixth race was Aric Almirola in the 2018 playoff race.

Last week Keselowski observed how races at superspeedways have “ebbs and flows” with them currently resembling “a MAVTV demo derby just a little faster.”

On Thursday, the 2012 Cup champion credited Team Penske having a “great” driver lineup with its ability to win in a form of racing that’s constantly evolving.

“I think we have the strongest driver lineup in Cup right now,” Keselowski said. “I know that’s probably arguable and it’s completely subjective. That’s played to our favorite tracks like the plate tracks and we’re going to continue to try and leverage it.”

While Blaney has enjoyed recent success at Talladega with his two victories, Keselowski looks to re-establish his winning ways at the track he has five victories, the most among active drivers.

After winning the 2017 playoff race, he has five consecutive finishes of 13th or worse, including two DNFs for wrecks.

“It’s been up and down for me,” Keselowski said. “The last few races have probably been down. Last fall I thought we were going to win the race with two or three (laps) to go. We were making the pass for the lead and the next thing I know we’re all wrecked. It’s a love-hate affair with that track for sure and hopefully we’ll love it. I feel like we’re due for a good finish there.”

Keselowski enters Sunday’s race after miserable outings in the last two playoff races. He finished 34th at Bristol (power steering problems) and 13th at Las Vegas.

Talladega could be the relief Keselowski’s teammates are looking for as well.

Blaney, who was eliminated from the playoffs after the Round of 16, hasn’t had a top-five finish in the last nine races. Logano, while he has two top fives in the playoffs (third at Darlington and Richmond), hasn’t won since the March race at Phoenix. That was the last race before the COVID-19 shutdown.

Keselowski said “it is a bit strange” that Team Penske can view Talladega as a track where it can turn its season around.

“We haven’t been where we want to be on the mile-and-a-halfs, there’s no doubt about that,” Keselowski said. “The mile-and-a-halfs and road courses have been a weak spot for us. The superspeedways and short tracks have been a strong spot for us. Thankfully we have the superspeedway this weekend and couple of short tracks coming up in the next round (Martinsville).

“We need to kind of maximize out strengths and minimize our weaknesses. This weekend is certainly looking like a strength for us. We have high expectations.”

Kaz Grala subs for Natalie Decker in Talladega Truck race

Kaz Grala
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Natalie Decker has not been medically cleared to compete in Saturday’s Truck Series race at Talladega (1 p.m. ET on FS1) and will be replaced by Kaz Grala in Niece Motorsports’ No. 44 Chevrolet the team announced Thursday.

Decker withdrew from last weekend’s race at Las Vegas after she was not medically cleared shortly before the race. She was credited with a last-place finish.

Decker tweeted Saturday that she was flying home where “more tests (would be) run so they can further evaluate and diagnose.”

No further details about Decker’s condition have been announced.

“We are thankful that Kaz is able to fill in for Natalie this weekend and appreciate him working with our team,” team general manager Cody Efaw said in a press release. “We wish Natalie the best as she works to be as healthy as possible to return to racing.”

Grala will make his first Truck Series start since 2017. He has 32 career starts in the series, including one win in the 2017 season-opening race at Daytona.

He drove in Austin Dillon’s place earlier this year in the Cup race on the Daytona road course after Dillon tested positive for COVID-19.

“My thoughts will be with Natalie this weekend as I wish her a quick recovery,” Grala said in a press release. “I know she loves the restrictor-plate races, so I feel bad that she’ll have to miss this one, but I hope I can give her something to cheer for on Saturday. 

“It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a Truck, but the superspeedway races have been very good to me in the past, so I’m really hoping to be able to go grab a win for Niece Motorsports at Talladega.”

FanVision closes due to impact of COVID-19 pandemic

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FanVision Entertainment, the company that produces video devices used by race fans at NASCAR events, has ceased operations due to the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The news was announced in a statement from Racing Electronics, the company which sold and supported FanVision devices at NASCAR tracks through a license with FanVision Entertainment.

Racing Electronics, which is owned by NASCAR, can no longer sell or support the devices.

“We recognize this news will be met with disappointment by motorsports fans across the country who utilized FanVision’s products as part of their at-track experience,” Racing Electronics president Chad Willis said in a statement.

“To help fans and industry members transition to Racing Electronics products, we are working with existing FanVision device owners to solve their race day needs. When Racing Electronics returns to the track, fans and industry members will have access to all the sounds that make racing so special.”

RCR, Hendrick to collaborate on Chevy engine

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Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing will team up on research and development of a common Chevrolet engine after the conclusion of the 2020 season, the teams announced Thursday.

The two organizations will continue to function independently as they “fully leverage the knowledge and intellectual property of our two successful programs to advance Chevrolet’s engine for NASCAR,” they said in a joint statement.

Engines produced by Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Racing (via ECR Engines) have earned a combined 20 Cup titles and the two teams have totaled 369 Cup wins.

Jeff Andrews, the new executive vice president at Hendrick Motorsports, told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” Thursday that discussions about the venture between his team and RCR began two years ago.

“The day was going to come when we really needed to figure out how to get these two programs together,” Andrews said. “A tremendous amount of talent, people and a tremendous amount of equipment and resources between the two programs. How could we do this? How could we take the longstanding heritage between these two companies and get that together to start working on an alliance that truly would produce the ultimate powertrain for Chevrolet NASCAR?”

RCR is headquartered in Welcome, North Carolina and Hendrick’s campus is in Concord, North Carolina.

“I think when you step back and look at it, ultimately you have to get to a point to where, when you have these resources and you have these people, we have to do what’s best for Chevrolet, first and foremost, to continue to push their performance and get them back to the front of the field and get them wins and championships,” Andrews said. “Really, we work together in a very similar fashion. We started two years ago on the aerodynamic side with our groups working very close together and we’re kind of taking somewhat of that template and applying to the engine side in starting this joint alliance.”

Chevrolet last won a Cup title in 2016 when Jimmie Johnson earned his record-tying seventh championship. Since then, Chevy has not had a car reach the championship four.

The Cup Series is in the middle of the Round of 12. The series races Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Of the 12 cars that remain, four are Chevrolets: Richard Childress Racing’s Austin Dillon, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch.

Chevrolet cars have won six times through 30 races this season. That’s compared to seven wins in all of 2019, four in 2018 and and 10 in 2017.