NASCAR drivers taking active role in fight against social injustice

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Ryan Blaney said he took part in peaceful protests this week in Charlotte “just seeing and talking and learning.”

That’s just something that you want to get involved with and support your fellow human being. We all have to treat each other equally. It kind of disgusts me when the race thing comes up and people hate a person for being a different pigment and not judging them by their character.

“That’s just something that I can never understand, but it’s nice that I think a lot of people are really supporting it and it has a lot of traction behind it, and I thought today what they did on the frontstretch was a really good gesture to show how much we support them.”

Series officials stopped the field on the frontstretch before Sunday’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway and NASCAR President Steve Phelps read a message that included: “The time is now to listen, to understand and to stand against racism and racial injustice. We ask our drivers, our competitors and all our fans to join us in this mission.”

A video of NASCAR drivers condemning racial inequality and racism was then played. Blaney was among those featured in the video.

Many communities have had protests since George Floyd was killed on Memorial Day while in custody of Minneapolis police. One officer, Derek Chauvin, kept his knee on the back of Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes and has since been charged with second-degree murder.

The three other officers who did not stop Chauvin from kneeling on Floyd’s neck were charged with aiding and abetting murder. All four officers were fired.

Rookie Cup driver Tyler Reddick, whose girlfriend Alexa De Leon is a person of color, shared his thoughts on Phelps’ address Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track.”

“It’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to say,” Reddick said. “We have a platform in front of us where we’re able to push out and let everyone know where we stand, where NASCAR stands, where we stand as a sport. So it was a great opportunity … as we were sitting there on the frontstretch, there’s been very few moments where I’ve felt so excited, fulfilled and anxious … very fulfilling to be in that position.”

Kevin Harvick, who won Sunday’s race and is featured in the video by drivers condemning racism, said: “Something just has to change, and I think when you look at what happened in Minnesota, it’s just disgraceful to everyone. 

“To be able to have conversations about things, I’m definitely a person that wants to hear a plan that has actions included in it, and just try to support each other and do the things that we can do to try to help our communities and help the conversations because there’s so much that everyone doesn’t understand of what we need to do and how we need to do it. But I can tell you that we need change.”

Brad Keselowski, who also appeared in the driver video, stressed the importance of listening.

“I’m not gonna sit here and tell you I have all kinds of answers, but I think I can agree to listen and try to appreciate other perspectives and, more than anything else, just have empathy,” he said.

“I’ve been guilty and probably still am guilty a lot of times of not doing the best job of having empathy, but in these situations I think it’s really important. I can tell you that there ain’t no fun in seeing everything that’s been going on and I wish we could fix it. 

“We’ve spent the last 300 years as a country trying to fix it and we still ain’t got it right, so I guess that means we’ve got to keep working. Will I have the answer? No, but I think it starts with kind of owning your own box, your own 10 square feet so to speak. If you can’t make a problem better, certainly don’t make it worse. Sometimes I think we make it worse and don’t know we’re making it worse and that’s why it’s important to listen.”

Kyle Busch, who appears in the driver video, said he will have an interview with former Carolina Panthers Jonathan Stewart shortly.

“We wanted to put out a powerful statement and a message, and so I feel like we all did that together with NASCAR, and went well from all of our standpoints, so we’re happy to be able to do that and show our support to the black community,” Busch said of the driver video. “I also sat down this week with Jonathan Stewart, who was a former running back for the Carolina Panthers, and he and I were friends, so we had a good conversation this past week, so we recorded that, and we’re going to do some edits on that and be able to put that out, as well, from my side. Bubba Wallace did it with Ty Dillon, as well, so stuff like that has been happening, and it’s a time for us to take initiative but also to listen and learn and go from there.”

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.