NASCAR executive on 29-lap caution: ‘It took longer than it should have’

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NASCAR officials say they have to do a better job after a 29-lap caution left fans and competitors confused and frustrated Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

Officials plan to meet today to dissect why it took so long to get the running order set.

“We acknowledge that we need to do a better job in those circumstances,’’ said Scott Miller, NASCAR vice president of competition, Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive.’’

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, tweeted after Sunday’s race that “if we knew amount of time-would have gone red flag.’’

As to why the race wasn’t stopped to sort out the running order, Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio: “We didn’t think it would take as long as it ultimately did. There was a point in there where a red flag may have been appropriate. We kind of got past that and had what we had and managed it the best we could from there.’’

Instead of the field being stopped, cars circled the .526-mile track at about 35 mph. Officials worked to determine the order after the caution flag waved on Lap 358 in the middle of green-flag pit stops.

Among the issues, Miller and Richard Buck, Cup series director, who talked to the media after the race, cited:

— The caution came during a green-flag pit cycle where some cars had pitted and some had not.

— Compounding the situation is that a car typically loses at least one lap on a green-flag pit stop.

— Leader AJ Allmendinger, who had not pitted, ran out of fuel and had to pit when pit road still was closed.

— Determining which car was eligible for the free pass (it was Jeff Gordon)

— Determining which cars were eligible to pass the pace car and fall in line behind the leader.

“It was such a unique situation that we almost had to look at each car to make sure we were doing right by each and every car in the field,’’ Miller told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It took longer than it should have.’’

NASCAR officials said they used timing and scoring data with video.

“Usually in those circumstances, a group of cars will fall into a block … but this had so many elements to it and us having the responsibility we had to make sure we got it right, it took longer than it should have, but in the end I think we got it right and feel good about that,’’ Miller said.

As series officials tried to sort out all the issues, teams were confused. Crew chief Chad Knaus was in disbelief that Kyle Busch was on the lead lap, saying on the team’s radio that this was “the biggest freebie in history.’’

Denny Hamlin, who became the leader, was upset that cars passed him under caution, including Chase contender Kevin Harvick. Hamlin directed his anger on the radio toward O’Donnell, saying: “It’s not right. They can’t go green. O’Donnell, I told you to get this (expletive) right!’’

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, said Harvick was in front of Hamlin and that Hamlin drove by Harvick. Childers said they were directed by NASCAR to pass Hamlin and the pace car.

Miller and Buck did not address why specific cars were aligned where they were.

Buck said NASCAR officials would explain to teams what happened and why cars were placed where they were.

“I’m looking forward to this week to have an opportunity to talk to Richard or Steve or Scott, the guys at NASCAR, to understand what went on there,’’ Knaus said after the race, won by Jimmie Johnson.

“It’s a challenge, man. When you have 40 cars going around a half‑mile racetrack, people start to pit, one guy is 12 seconds back, the other guy is three seconds back. It’s still very, very confusing to me right now.’’

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Austin Hill will lead the field to the green flag Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway after scoring his first career Xfinity Series pole.

Hill won the pole Friday with a lap of 182.036 mph. He will be joined on the front row by fellow playoff contender Ty Gibbs (181.981 mph).

MORE: Talladega Xfinity starting lineup

Playoff drivers will start in seven of the top eight spots. The exception is Sheldon Creed, who will start third after a lap of 181.870 mph. Hill and Creed give Richard Childress Racing the first and third starting spots.

Justin Allgaier (181.529) qualified fourth and Brandon Jones (181.305) completed the top five. Noah Gragson, who has won four races in a row, starts sixth after a lap of 181.134 mph and is followed by playoff drivers Josh Berry (181.052) and AJ Allmendinger (180.932).

The Xfinity Series race is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET Saturday on USA Network.

Talladega Truck starting lineup: John Hunter Nemechek wins pole

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — John Hunter Nemechek will start on the pole for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race.

Nemechek earned the pole with a lap of 178.767 mph.

Nemechek is one of four playoff drivers starting in the top six: Chandler Smith (second, 177.732 mph), Zane Smith (fourth, 177.061) and Ty Majeski (sixth, 176.744). Majeski clinched a spot in next month’s championship race at Phoenix with his Bristol win.

MORE: Talladega Truck starting lineup

Also qualifying in the top five were Carson Hocevar (177.068) in third and Matt Crafton (176.960) in fifth.

Failing to qualify are Tim Viens, Spencer Boyd, Jason White and Natalie Decker.

Saturday Talladega Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather

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The second race of the opening round of the Xfinity playoffs takes drivers to Talladega Superspeedway.

Noah Gragson secured his spot in the next round by winning last weekend at Texas. Ryan Sieg holds the final transfer spot. Riley Herbst is the first driver below the cutline, one point behind Sieg. Also below the cutline are reigning series champion Daniel Hemric (-8 points), Brandon Jones (-12) and Jeremy Clements (-28).

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 4:09 p.m. … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 4:21 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Driver introductions are at 3:30 p.m. … The invocation will be given at 4 p.m. … The Brookwood High School choir will perform the anthem at 4:02 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 113 laps (300.58 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 25. Stage 2 ends at Lap 50.

TV/RADIO: USA Network will broadcast the race at 4 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 3:30 p.m. on USA Network. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. and also will stream at mrn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Sunny with a high of 78 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Noah Gragson won and was followed by Jeffrey Earnhardt and AJ Allmendinger.

 

Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.