Chevrolet teams make plans to work together at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It was a sight not seen before. At least in the Chevrolet camp.

About 10 Chevrolet cars ran together in Friday’s final Cup practice at Talladega Superspeedway, a sign that Chevrolet wants its teams to work more closely together after some partnered with Toyotas during the Daytona 500.

To reaffirm the message, Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. Vice President of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, met with Chevrolet drivers Saturday.

“The benefit of working together is too great versus the penalty of not working together,” Campbell told NBC Sports.

“We have to work together as a team but also be adaptive. That’s what we’re trying to balance.”

Talladega pole-sitter Austin Dillon said “we’re just unified as a group now.”

While Chevrolet teams work on projects together off the track, they haven’t always been so cooperative on the track, whether it was because of philosophy or disparity in performance. That contributed to Chevrolet’s decline at Daytona and Talladega — the manufacturer has won one of the last 15 races at those tracks.

Toyota originated the strategy of cars within the same manufacturer working together and dominated the 2016 Daytona 500. Denny Hamlin won, leading a 1-2-3 Toyota finish. Fords began working together and dominated last year’s playoff race at Talladega —  its seventh consecutive at NASCAR’s longest track. Aric Almirola won and Ford cars led nearly 95% of the race.

To combat Ford’s strength, Toyota and the Chevrolet team of Hendrick Motorsports worked together in the Daytona 500. During the second stage, a six-car train of Toyotas and Hendrick cars controlled the pace. Crashes later in the race lessened the maneuver’s effectiveness but a strategy against the Fords had been created.

That particular pairing of Chevrolet and Toyota teams, though, will not be repeated.

“I think some of the other Chevys probably griped about the Hendrick guys working with us,” Hamlin said.

There have been multiple meetings about Chevrolet teams about working together since February.

“They’re laying the law down,” Bubba Wallace told NBC Sports.

The result was 10 Chevrolets went on track together Friday in practice. They ran about 15 laps, came to pit road together and exited together to simulate a green-flag pit stop.

That could be critical Sunday. Teams have found this weekend that the more cars in a line, the faster it goes. Last fall, Stewart-Haas Racing’s four cars ran single-file and pulled away from the pack. That’s not expected to happen Sunday with rule changes that include teams having another 100 horsepower to 550 and the larger rear spoiler (with the wicker added to the spoiler Friday).

“At tracks like this, numbers win,” Jimmie Johnson told NBC Sports. “So the more organized we can be, and if we can ever get more quality cars, more quality Chevrolets working together, we can hopefully have that upper hand in those rare situations of pitting under green.”

When Almirola saw the Chevrolets run together in practice Friday, he said “it’s about time.

“What’s that old saying … fool me once, shame on you,. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times, that’s not going to happen. They’ve been fooled a lot of times by the manufactures teaming up and working together.

“To see that, it speaks volumes of what we did at Ford years ago to organize our race teams to get together and make sure that we work together to put a blue oval out front and that’s what this kind of racing has turned into. I think they’ve finally taken notice.”

Kyle Larson said everything has gone well with the teams working together so far.

“We’ve been pretty disciplined about it,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes in the race. Hopefully we can do what those other teams have done, but even better. I’m excited to work together and hopefully we’ll learn throughout it and tweak on it in the future and get even better.”

That’s a challenge Dillon noted. Toyota and Ford teams know how to work together during the race. This will be Chevrolet’s first attempt at going all in.

“These guys have been working at it for a couple of races now, and they’ve kind of done a good job of perfecting how to get to the front and work together,” Dillon said. “We’ve got a young group of Chevy drivers, a little less experience. We, as a group, I feel like have done a good job over the weekend.”

If Chevrolet cars do work together Sunday, it could impact the Toyota teams. Toyota has the fewest cars in the 39-car field with seven — that includes two part-time teams.

“I knew it was coming,” Hamlin said of losing the partnership with Hendrick Motorsports. “I’m friends with a couple of (Chevrolet drivers), so I knew about meetings that have been going on for the last month or so. I knew that we were going to kind of be on our own.”

But this edict by Chevrolet doesn’t mean a Chevy driver can’t work with another manufacturer during the race. It will happen. The pack will get jumbled. But the point is to work together when one can.

“Chevy is a huge part of our success,” Daniel Hemric told NBC Sports. “Whether we have it or not, they’ve given us all a route to have it. At the end of the day, one of us needs to be in victory lane. That’s why we’ve got to come together to make that happen.”

If they can’t Sunday, it will mark the first time since 1971 that Chevrolet has not won in the first 10 races of a season.

“The focus is on winning,” Campbell told NBC Sports. “Also, we want to see as many Chevys finish well with the stage points and at the end of the race. It’s a long season. Our goal is to get as many Chevy drivers in the playoffs, whether it is through wins or points or both.

“Cleary, the goal is to get some wins on the board. The one benefit of having our key partners is we continue to learn from one another how to gain more speed and improve the performance.”

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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.