Martin Truex Jr. ready to pick up where he left off at Martinsville

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If there ever was an event where Martin Truex Jr. would probably like to trade his sunglasses for working headlights on his Toyota, tonight’s race at Martinsville Speedway would be it.

The venerable .526-mile short track in southern Virginia — the shortest track on the Cup circuit — hosts its first-ever Cup night race under the lights this evening. It has been quite the anticipated event for the sport’s oldest legacy track, the only facility to host Cup Series races every year since the series was founded in 1949.

“It’s definitely going to be different, but I think it’s exciting to have our first night race there,” Truex said in a media teleconference. “Doing it mid-week, it should be fun so hopefully it goes over well. We’re all looking forward to it.”

Whether in the daylight or night time, Martinsville has been, is and always will be Martinsville. In other words, the racing will still be ultra-tight, tire wear will be ultra-significant and tempers are likely to flare up as much as brakes routinely overheat there.

“I think the biggest question for us right now is just the tires,” Truex said. “The tires are different and that can have such a huge impact at Martinsville.

“So, with no practice, kind of going back and building off of the things that we’ve learned there with our car and being able to win last fall, are those things going to work still?

“And, how is the tire going to change the way the car drives and what it needs to do to be fast? Definitely a lot of question marks there as far as that goes I think more so than just being at night.”

Tonight’s race – weather permitting (there’s a nearly 50% chance of rain in the forecast at race time, per wunderground.com) – marks the third mid-week race NASCAR has held since returning from the COVID-19 pandemic hiatus. It’s something Truex would like to see continue once things become more normalized as the virus is brought further under control.

“From a driver’s perspective, for me, I think it’s been good, I’ve enjoyed it,” Truex said. “The fact that we’ve had all one day shows and no practice, no qualifying has made it a little bit easier on the teams. I think I would be all for it.

“Everybody has always talked about how long our season is and it would certainly be a way to shorten up the schedule timeline wise. I think it falls more on the teams and what they are capable of. It’s a lot of work to prepare race cars and do all the things you need to do to show up to the race track and race.

“There’s a lot going on behind the scenes. I think for the drivers, it’s easy. You show up and you race. I think you have to ask the teams more about how they feel about it and how many races could they do in a short amount of time like that.”

Truex is adapting to the new normal, per se, in NASCAR – namely, no practice and in most cases, no qualifying before races. But he likes the get in and drive routine.

“I feel that I can get in and fire off and go just as hard as I need to,” he said. “It’s different from the perspective that you really don’t know what you have, and you have to kind of fly by the seat of your pants feel and just react and make adjustments on the fly.

“There is no, ‘Well, I’m going to go in the garage and make a few adjustments.’ You kind of just have to deal with what you have and wait for a pit stop to work on it. So, it’s been a little bit different from there. I definitely feel like I’m confident in being able to fire it off into turn 1 as hard as I need to each week.”

After a series-leading seven wins last season, the driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has yet to visit victory lane this season. But the odds look optimistic tonight: his most recent Cup Series win was last fall’s playoff race at Martinsville.

“I feel real close, I feel we were in position to win three or four already,” Truex said. “It’s just one of those things where we haven’t had everything come together.

“This past weekend at Atlanta, I felt like we had a dominant car through the first two stages, and just lost the handling a little bit there in stage three. Track cooled off a little bit. The car changed a little bit and you find yourself not able to track down the leader again.

“We’ve been right there. I feel like we had a shot at winning Darlington and the Coke 600. Those are the past couple races. I feel like we are right there, and we are working to get better each week.”

Some may point to Truex’s failure to win thus far this season being tied to still getting used to new crew chief James Small, who replaced the now retired Cole Pearn after last season.

“As far as the things with James, it’s a learning process,” Truex said.

But at the same time, the Mayetta, New Jersey native believes the transition from Pearn to Small has “been pretty seamless, really.

“We know each other and we’ve worked together long enough (Small was previously Truex’s chief engineer) to know that, and I don’t think that’s anything that is holding us up. It’s just a matter of putting all the little details together and executing.”

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NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

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)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.