What Sprint Cup drivers said after the Chase race at Talladega

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Joey Logano won the Hellmann’s 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, advancing to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Here’s what the field of drivers had to say about their results at Talladega:

JOEY LOGANO – Winner:  “It’s never a layup here at Talladega. It’s always close. You never get a big lead … (Crew chief) Todd (Gordon) made some good adjustments during the race and found some speed in the car, so that was pretty neat to see some of that. We got that track position and just hung onto it. I was able to stay on the bottom and try to run the bottom and keep everyone in line, and that worked out really well. Kevin (Harvick) did a good job with that, which ultimately got us all a great finish. It was fun racing there at the end. I was really confused. I didn’t know what lane to pick coming to the last restart, but I knew Kevin had a lot of experience in these situations and is great at speedway racing, so he did a good job of pushing me out. And then had to defend the top lane with Brian Scott. So a couple of Fords out front here at Talladega is pretty cool.”

BRIAN SCOTT – Finished 2nd: “A good finish always helps. It helps with the team. It helps with the guys at the shop, the morale. Just trying to get any bit of a bright spot in this year has been difficult. I think that this is by far the brightest spot that we’ve had in a really challenging 2016 for Richard Petty Motorsports. I don’t know. I guess the results and what this does for us going forward is yet to be determined. But just proud. I mean, the guys have worked hard all year. They’ve deserved a lot better finishes than we’ve given them. Just proud to deliver a good, solid top five, to do my job behind the wheel to give us a shot at the win. Just have a good day for Richard Petty Motorsports.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We needed some things to fall our way if we didn’t win the race. Today things fell our way. The last lap, we went out and earned it. I think back all the years that I’ve been doing this, honestly, 11 years. Of course, you remember all the bad beats that you have … But for me I really truly believe this is the first really great fortune that we had in a Chase in my 11‑year career. Things just happened well for us. We went out there and we did our jobs. It was very tough to be able to run against guys that had a lot of teammates up front. I knew that was going to be a problem for us all day. But we were able to have just enough there at the end to get past the 41 and get in.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 4th: “We were battling hard and had a great run. Our car just wanted to go to the front today. There were a few times I made a mistake and got shuffled back about 15th or so. We just worked our way back up and had good pit stops. This effort today just felt like that total team effort. The pressure is here, but we are going to get stronger and better as this Chase goes on. I’m really excited about this restrictor-plate car heading to Daytona next spring.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 5th: “Our Zest Ford was fast all weekend and qualified well. We lost some track position and it took us really all race to get it back, which was a struggle. We got in position there at the end. I really wanted to restart on the top. I thought if I could restart on the top we may have had a shot at winning the race, but being on the bottom our car wasn’t as good. I’m definitely thankful to get a top five out of it. It’s cool to see a Ford move on to the next round with Joey (Logano). It was a bummer for Brad (Keselowski), but, all in all, it was a really good weekend. We’ll try to keep gaining on it on these speedways.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 7th: “Yeah, the final laps everybody is just pushing and shoving and then (Kurt Busch) cleaned the side of our car out after the checkered flag. I don’t really understand that, but all in all the Jimmy John’s Chevrolet team did a great job and didn’t have a scratch on it until then. That is pretty good for Talladega.”

Austin Dillon – Finished 9th: “Yeah, it’s really close. I guess it wasn’t our day to (advance in the Chase). It wasn’t planned for us to do that. We tried. We didn’t really have enough speed all day to do much. I’m proud of my guys and all my teammates helped me as much as they could. We just couldn’t get another spot. We got a couple there at the end on the last little straight, but the No. 43 (Aric Almirola) was the car we needed and it didn’t work out.”

A.J. Allmendinger: Finished 10th: “The car is going to roll back onto the hauler so that is probably our best superspeedway effort so far this year. Just kind of sat in the back there and bided our time. When it was time to go, got a good line on the bottom there and it kind of got us back up to the lead pack there. From there it was just trying to hold the guys off. I thought we were going to be pretty good there coming to the checkered and I think the No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) got kind of left out and lost all of his momentum, so I had to check up just a little bit. It cost us a couple of spots, but it rolls and a top 10 that is what we can do here.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 11th: “We had a strong Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion all day. I could have made better decisions in lane selection there toward the end but you never know how that’s going to work out. It’s too bad Brad didn’t get to finish. We tried to give him as much help as we could there when he was leading.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 12th: “We were trying to be as aggressive we could and try to make stuff happen. It’s tough to do as you get back in the pack and try to make your way through the pack. It just takes time. There’s definitely a lot of power in numbers. We’re disappointed that we came up short. The NAPA team has been fighting hard the past few weeks. We’ve had some awesome racecars. It’s unfortunate to come up short.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 17th: “We just couldn’t get any help when we needed it. I was doing all I can to move forward but we just needed some drafting help. Our AdvoCare Ford felt good today but we just didn’t get a chance to go race for the win there in the end.”

Chris Buescher – Finished 22nd: “It feels great to finish at one of these places. It’s what we wanted to do, just finish one of these things and come out with a decent finish. We were just jammed up there and the track wasn’t as racy as a lot of people were hoping, and we weren’t able to gain any speed. It was a good attempt and I’m proud of the effort that everybody put in. It felt good to be able to drive under the checkered flag at the end.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 23rd: “Yeah, excited about the three tracks that are coming up. They are great for us historically. I hope they continue to be great tracks for us as we look for our seventh championship. Not the day we wanted here, we were certainly trying to work with the No. 24 (Chase Elliott) and help them. Didn’t get the finish that we were really after, but big picture we are going to a great race track next weekend and just have some fun.”

Ryan Reed – Finished 26th in Sprint Cup debut: “Today meant so much to me. I truly hope I was able to earn some respect out there. We always want a better finish than 26th, but with no mistakes and not a scratch on the car, we’ll take that here at Talladega.”

Matt Kenseth – Finished 28th: “It goes against everything you ever want to do as a race car driver. You want to go try to win races, so I think it’s just kind of an unintended consequence of the way – being the cutoff race and the way the Chase works. You can’t afford to go up there and get wrecked and not have a chance to race for a championship, so it was just kind of the cards we were dealt and we had to play them. I don’t think any of us had any fun and none of us enjoyed, but it was just what we had to do to make sure we got to Martinsville and trying to race four more weeks and hopefully have a shot at the four of us trying to race for a championship.”

Carl Edwards – Finished 29th: “Stressful, stressful, stressful – that was the other word of the day. We don’t like to race like that, but it’s like Matt (Kenseth) said, it’s the hand you’re dealt. You don’t want to give it up and we played it right. I’m going to go get a rotisserie chicken sandwich and move on to Martinsville. I’m really excited to go there. Awesome that Denny (Hamlin) made it in too, he really raced his guts out too. I don’t know if he’ll give me as much advice as he did last time, but hopefully we can talk with him and I really want to get that win at Martinsville and advance.”

Kyle Busch – Finished 30th: “It’s frustrating, but to have a dull day today it’s certainly going to make for a heck of a lot more exciting days down the road. You have to look at it as you have to take the good with the bad sometimes, no different in that sort of scenario. Today was one of those having to ride around bad type days, but the reward is being able to race on and go into the next round and have a chance to race for another championship.”

Brad KeselowskiFinished 38th (DNF, engine):  “Something let go. I’m not sure exactly what, but it’s unfortunate. We had a really fast Miller Lite Ford and that kind of ended our day. It was a lot of fun to be leading at Talladega. I really like this track. It’s been good to us and there are a lot of great fans here today. We were doing the best we could to make a show of it and have some fun and lead some laps and just happy and proud to have a fast car.”

Casey Mears – Finished 39th (DNF, crash): “I think we were probably about five (laps) away from pitting I think it was. At that point we just kind of move down to the bottom and were waiting for the cycle of pit stops to come around and something happened with the No. 16 (Greg Biffle). I couldn’t tell out of the corner of my eye, I thought maybe he got clipped on the outside and then it swung him back into whoever was below him. We were just cruising along there and all of a sudden just got taken out; a pretty hard hit to the inside wall. I felt like I had a car that had pretty good speed. It was a matter of kind of being up there inside that top 10 or 15 when it really counted to make a move.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 40th (DNF, engine): “It’s been a roller coaster (Chase) that’s for sure. I wish we could have done a better job at Kansas and Charlotte and maybe had a free pass coming here. That certainly would have been big knowing the circumstances, but we did the best we could. We have a great team and we’ve had a great season and we’re going to go out and try to win the rest of the races and see what we can do.”

Alex Bowman to miss Talladega due to concussion-like symptoms

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Alex Bowman will miss Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms following his accident last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports stated Thursday afternoon.

Bowman is the second Cup driver to miss a race because of concussion-like symptoms after a crash. Kurt Busch has not returned to racing since he crashed July 23 at Pocono. Busch said this week that he remains “hopeful” he can return this season. Six races remain in the season, including Sunday’s race at Talladega.

Noah Gragson will fill in for Bowman.

Hendrick Motorsports stated that Bowman, who is last in the playoff standings, was evaluated by physicians Thursday in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Provided Bowman returns, he likely will need to win the Oct. 9 race at the Charlotte Roval to avoid playoff elimination.

Bowman brought out the caution on Lap 98 of the 334-lap race at Texas when a tire blew and backed into the wall in Turn 4. The car then hit the SAFER barrier with the right side. Bowman continued, finishing the race 29th, five laps behind winner Tyler Reddick.

Drivers have stated that rear impacts have felt worse than they looked with the new car.

From the get-go, everybody could see that this car was way too stiff,” Kevin Harvick said earlier this summer. “When I crashed it (at Auto Club Speedway in practice), I thought the car was destroyed and it barely backed the bumper off. It just felt like somebody hit you with a hammer.”

Christopher Bell said in June that he had a headache after he backed into the wall in the All-Star Race at Texas Motor Speedway in May.

Denny Hamlin said earlier this month he feels better about what NASCAR is looking to do with the car after conversations with series officials.

“I certainly feel that they’re working to help us with the hits on the chassis,” Hamlin aid. “All that stuff does take time. They can’t just knee-jerk reaction and start cutting bars out of the chassis, that’s very irresponsible.

“I think they’re doing things methodically to make sure that the next revision of car that comes out is one that is improved in the areas that we need improving on, but that does take time through design and testing.”

Gragson was to have driven the No. 62 car for Beard Motorsports in Sunday’s Cup race. Justin Allgaier will drive the car with Gragson moving to the No. 48 car.

 

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.