Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon off to better 2020 starts than Cup champions

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We’re only two races into the the NASCAR Cup Series season and we’re already writing sentences that make us do a double take or spit takes depending on if we’re drinking liquids.

When the green flag dropped on the Daytona 500 last weekend, we were not expecting the following stat to be staring back at us after Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway:

Through two races, Bubba Wallace, Ty Dillon, Corey LaJoie, the retired David Ragan and part-time driver Brendan Gaughan each have more top-10 finishes than defending champion Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, former champion Martin Truex Jr., Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and William Byron.

Put simply, the second batch of drivers – which includes 3/4ths of Joe Gibbs Racing – has none, while a group of typically midpack cars and partially retired drivers have at least one apiece.

That’s due to a combination of DNFs, poor performances and wrecks among the latter group.

Busch hasn’t finished better than 15th. Elliott’s best finish was 17th in the Daytona 500. Truex’s best was 20th Sunday while Jones’ is 18th (Daytona) and Almirola’s is 21st (Las Vegas).

Not counting the 2015 season when he missed 11 races due to injury, Busch has failed to finish in the top 10 in the first two races five times in his full-time career (since 2005). The latest he’s earned a top 10 was in 2010 (Bristol, race No. 5).

Last year, Busch started the season with 11 straight top 10s.

He now heads to Auto Club Speedway, where he’s won three of the last six races – including last year – and he’s finished outside the top 10 just once in his last eight races there.

This is the sixth time Truex hasn’t earned a top 10 in the first two races of the season in his full-time career (since 2007). He goes to Auto Club Speedway having finished eighth or better in four of his last five starts at the 2-mile track (including one win).

After the chaos produced by the final round of pit stops and restart, Wallace placed sixth Sunday, earning his best finish on a 1.5-mile track and his fifth career top-10 finish. He was among the drivers who did not pit under the final caution.

“We had a shot at a good finish and we capitalized on that,” Wallace said. “All-in-all, it was a good day and a win for us. It was just a good gamble call. We were terrible on restarts. It would take us 10 or 15 laps just to get going and get the car underneath us. Then, we could start fighting our way up there.”

Wallace also credited new crew chief Jerry Baxter for the result. Baxter was Wallace’s crew chief in the Truck Series when he won multiple races.

“There were frustrating moments over the radio, just trying to make this Coke Energy Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE better,” Wallace said. “I know how I lose my cool a little bit, but one of the main reasons I brought Jerry Baxter in was to calm me down and show that light at the end of the tunnel. Every time I fired back, he said ‘I get it, you’re fine, we’re going to be fine’ and he was right. It was a good call by the team and everyone involved.”

Dillon pitted for four tires during the last caution and was able to snag a 10th-place finish after a “nuts” restart. It’s his first top 10 on a 1.5-mile track. Sunday was his 128th Cup Series start.

“I think I restarted 19th and went through the middle, and we ended up 10th,” Dillon said. “I don’t really know what happened, but we just started passing cars. You just had to find the lane, and you’re processing things at such a high rate of speed. You just had to be committed to where you were going.”

The result was Germain Racing’s first top 10 on a non-superspeedway oval.

“That’s what makes NASCAR fun,” Dillon added. “Nobody just dominates everything anymore. It was a really fun race and I hope the fans enjoyed it.”

and on Facebook.

Saturday NASCAR schedule at Talladega Superspeedway

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Both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup cars will start the day’s action by qualifying for Sunday’s playoff race, followed by the Truck playoff race and then the Xfinity playoff race.

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday, Oct. 1

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

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.