NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings heading to Talladega

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After all three major series enjoyed Easter off, NASCAR is back this weekend with the Cup and Xfinity series both competing at the largest track on the circuit, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

In this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, Kyle Busch remains a unanimous No. 1. He has now been No. 1 – either solely or tied for the lead – in the last eight weeks (not counting last week’s Power Rankings, which focused on the top organizations).

Making the biggest jump in this week’s rankings is Richmond winner Martin Truex Jr. He went from outside the rankings before Richmond to fourth. The two biggest drops in the rankings are Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch. Blaney went from fifth to out of the rankings. Busch dropped from third to eighth.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): We’d be talking about wins in four races if not for a speeding penalty at Richmond. Has finished top 10 in every race this season, only driver who can say that. Also has the most playoff points. Still the top dog. Last week: 1st.

2. Denny Hamlin (35 points): Overcame penalty in inspection at Richmond that forced him to start in the rear. On a night that it was tough to pass, he finished fifth for his sixth top five of the season, tying Kyle Busch for the most this year. Last week: 2nd.

3. Joey Logano (33 points): If he would have had a couple more laps, he may have been able to overtake Truex at Richmond. Has five top fives. He arguably had the car to win at both Bristol and Richmond and will likely have one of the cars to beat in Talladega. Last week: 4th.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (25 points): Put on the drive of his career in Richmond and got win No. 1 at Joe Gibbs Racing and his first on a short track (after 80 tries). Just in time with a superspeedway (not Truex’s strong suit) looming. Last week: not ranked

5. Clint Bowyer (23 points): Driver that has maybe shown the most improvement over nine races. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh in the last four races and has been in contention to win for the last three. He’s no slouch at Talladega. Last week: 7th.

6. Kevin Harvick (20 points): Steady progress but still looking for a win. All of Harvick’s four top fives this year have been in fourth place. The 30 laps he led in Richmond were his first since Las Vegas. Last week: 8th.

7. Brad Keselowski (17 points): Has had some struggles of late, with only one top 10 (seventh, Richmond) in the three races since his Martinsville win. Typically does well at ‘Dega. Can he survive the usual carnage and be the best to adapt to tapered spacers instead of restrictor plates? Last week: 6th.

8. Kurt Busch (15 points): Remains the most consistent Chevy driver through nine races, with just one finish outside 12th this year. Returns to Talladega looking for revenge: He was one lap away from winning there last year until he ran out of gas. Last week: 3rd.

9. Ryan Newman (8 points): Quietly outrunning teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Roush Fenway Racing. Coming off season-best, back-to-back ninth-place finishes and heads to Talladega, where he’s always competitive (unless caught up in a wreck). Last week: Outside the top 10 (tied for 11th).

10. Jimmie Johnson (4 points): Team seems to have stabilized after Martinsville debacle. He’s been the top Hendrick driver in each of the past three races. But he’s still staring at a 68-race winless streak, the longest of his illustrious career. Can he finally snap it at ‘Dega, where he has two wins and seven top 10s? Last week: 10th.

Others receiving votes: None

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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.