Talladega Superspeedway

NASCAR connections to Monday’s college football National Championship

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The 2017-18 college football season ends tonight with the National Championship game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The game (8 p.m. ET on ESPN) pits the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs, two Southeastern Conference teams.

We decided to take a look at the two schools and their connections to the NASCAR world.

If we missed any NASCAR connections, let us know.

The paths of Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski crossed last year.

In September, the driver of the No. 2 Ford visited the school’s Tuscaloosa campus, which is located just under 110 miles west of Talladega Superspeedway.

Saban actually served as the grand marshal of the 2009 spring Cup race at the 2.66-mile speedway, when Keselowski won his first Cup race.

During the visit, the two swapped jerseys, with Keselowski receiving a No. 2 jersey with his name on it.

“I can tell you this, I hope the tide rolls us right into victory lane when we get back to Talladega,” Keselowski said. “Like Coach Saban and his teams at Alabama, there is a winning tradition at Team Penske. We hope to add to that legacy with another Talladega Superspeedway triumph, and ultimately another championship.”

Two weeks later, Keselowski claimed his fifth Talladega win.

Saban will be looking for his sixth national championship tonight.

Hendrick Motorsports has a few team members who have ties to the game.

Rowdy Harrell, a former walk-on linebacker at Alabama, is a rear tire carrier on the No. 88 team. He won three championships with the Crimson Tide, the last coming in 2013. He joined Hendrick in September of that year.

Harrell was brought to the team by Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick. Burkey is a former scouting assistant for the Miami Dolphins from Saban’s time as head coach of the team.

The colors of the Crimson Tide have made their way to the high banks of Talladega multiple times over the last 17 years.

The first Alabama-themed scheme belonged to Scott Pruett and his No. 32 Tide car in 2000.

Michael Waltrip Racing was the vessel for three more schemes in 2010, 2012 and 2013, the seasons following Alabama National Championships.

2010 – David Reutimann

(Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2012 – Clint Bowyer

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

2013 – Michael Waltrip

There are far fewer connections between NASCAR and the University of Georgia, but they’re there.

Chase Elliott, the Hendrick Motorsports driver and native of Dawsonville, Georgia, is a noted fan of the Bulldogs.

Hendrick’s strength and condition coach, Darius Dewberry, was a Georgia linebacker from 2006-09 and joined Hendrick in June 2013.

NASCAR on NBC’s own Rutledge Wood is a native of Alabama, but he moved to Georgia in 1995 and graduated from the school with a degree in marketing.

Bulldog sports teams have interacted with the NASCAR world a few times.

In 2014, the football team was part of the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, North Carolina, playing against the University of Louisville. As part of their bowl week festivities, the teams visited Charlotte Motor Speedway to participate in the Richard Petty Driving Experience.

Two years later, the Georgia baseball team visited Charlotte to play the University of North Carolina – Charlotte 49ers.

As part of their visit, they visited Hendrick Motorsports to get a taste of the life of a NASCAR pit crew.

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Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Gray Gaulding out Friday after suspected allergic reaction

Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images
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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — A Stewart-Haas Racing plane made an unscheduled stop in St. Louis on Friday after Gray Gaulding had a suspected allergic reaction.

SS Green Light Racing confirmed Gaulding had an issue en route to Kansas City. A Stewart-Haas Racing spokesperson confirmed that its plane made the unscheduled stop, and that emergency personnel came on board after the plane landed. Gaulding remained in St. Louis while the plane continued to Kansas City.

SS Green Light Racing stated that after arriving at the track, Gaulding went to the infield care center and was not cleared to drive Friday. Gaulding will be re-evaluated Saturday. J.J. Yeley drove the car for Gaulding in practice Friday.