Kevin Harvick on his hot start: ‘Now it feels like a game’

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After dominating victories earlier this season, Kevin Harvick rallied to win, deflating his competition Saturday night at Kansas Speedway and serving notice that his team seeks more wins.

Sixth on a restart with nine laps to go, Harvick charged to pass Martin Truex Jr. before they took the white flag and pulled away for the victory.

“Now it feels like a game,” Harvick said after his 42nd career Cup victory. “It really does, because of the fact that you want to see how many races you can win. You want to see how many laps you can lead. 

“We know that we’re riding a momentum wave that is hard to come by, and you need to capitalize on it as many times as you can because it may never come again. I’ve never had it in my career, and I’ve been doing this for 18 years.’’

Harvick has been a regular to Victory Lane this season, winning five of the first 12 races. The last driver to do that was Jeff Gordon in 1997.

Harvick’s five wins are the most in a season since he had as many victories in 2014 — when he won the championship. He’s never won more than five races in a season.

“I think when you look at a night like tonight, it really shows the experience of the team because I feel like this is the kind of cars that we had in 2014 but we had a lot of parts failures,’’ Harvick said. “We were all new. We made a lot of mistakes and just didn’t really know how to deal with it like we do now, and it’s ‑‑ but yeah, it’s addicting. Now it’s a game.’’

Except to the rest of the field, which saw him win three in a row earlier this year and now two consecutive races.

Even more difficult for teams is how much Harvick said his team struggled this weekend.

“The coolest thing that came out of the weekend is just the grit of the race team,’’ Harvick said. “You look at everything that we battled through in practice and not really getting all the laps that we would like to in practice and struggling to get the car where we wanted it to be in the race, but we just kept grinding on it.’’

The result was a pole Friday and the victory — one that seemed as if it wouldn’t happen.

Harvick had pitted with some of the leaders with less than 20 laps left. He worked his way to sixth and just missed being collected in a seven-car crash that brought out the red flag 13 laps from the finish.

On the final restart, Truex pulled away and led by nearly one second before Harvick, with fresher tires, closed.

“Tried all I could to hold off Kevin,’’ Truex said after the race. “He got through traffic too quick and he was too fast. I thought with five to go, we were going to be in good shape. We were running some really fast lap times and actually pulling away, and then actually the switch flipped and I got tight and started shaking the right front tire, and I knew I was in trouble. He started coming quick after that.

“They’ve got a great balanced race car and they’re doing all the right things. I feel like we’re just a step behind that. But we’ll keep digging hard and fighting, and we’ve got a good bunch, too, and we’ll figure some things out.’’

But until they do — or anyone else does — Harvick’s victory total could grow significantly.

“I love days like today because the message that it sends is we aren’t going to quit, we didn’t quit, and we won,’’ Harvick said. “That sends the message, the guys on the team, the guys in the shop, and it sent a message to our competitors.’’

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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.