Brad Keselowski: ‘You have to keep evolving at Talladega’

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Even though he’s won at Talladega Superspeedway five times in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Brad Keselowski thinks “you (don’t) ever feel comfortable at Talladega.”

Why would the active leader in Cup wins at Talladega, including his first career win, not feel at ease when racing on NASCAR’s longest oval?

The ever revolving door of rules put in place at superspeedways by NASCAR is the primary reason.

“It changes almost every two or three years to where, quite honestly, your techniques and tactics have to completely evolve,” Keselowski said in a Zoom press conference Friday. “If you go back, you look at the plate races even three years ago, it’s completely different. I think you go back and look at the plate races from 20 years ago and, my goodness, those guys wouldn’t even know what they were looking at. I watch some of those races just because I think they’re really cool and fun, and I can’t even comprehend what’s going on because the racing was so much different, and the moves that worked or didn’t work were completely different.

“You have to keep evolving at Talladega. I don’t know if there’s a track on the circuit where the tactics evolve more rapidly and drastically year over year than Talladega, so you’ve just got to really try to stay on top of that and it’s a hard thing to do. Sometimes you can stay on top of the tactics and it doesn’t matter and you end up getting wrecked anyway, but it certainly is a challenging, challenging place.”

The next stage in driver evolutions at the Alabama track arrives Sunday (3 p.m. ET on Fox). The series will debut a new rules package, a result of changes made after Ryan Newman‘s wreck on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Changes include:

  • Elimination of aero ducts at superspeedway tracks.
  • Reduction in size of throttle body from 59/64” to 57/64” (superspeedways only).
  • Slip tape must be applied along the entire length of the lower rearward facing surfaces of the rear bumper cover and extension (superspeedways only).

Keselowski said he’s “not sure what to expect” when the field takes the green Sunday, particularly without practice or qualifying beforehand.

“I think the list of changes was so big that I’m having a hard time anticipating how the cars are gonna drive,” Keselowski said. “Small variations in how the car drives can make a big difference as to how they draft, so it’s gonna be a lot of learning as we go in the race with having the stages and all that I’m sure everyone will adjust quite rapidly, but with respect to that I’m not sure what to expect enough to give it a real articulate answer. But I do know one thing, we don’t have to run over each other and wreck each other.”

When it comes to superspeedways, Keselowski is tired of wrecking. The Team Penske driver went off on teammate Joey Logano after he triggered a large wreck in February’s Busch Clash at Daytona.

At Talladega, Keselowski has finished 13th or worse in the last four races, including 33rd in 2018 and 25th last fall following wrecks.

“You hope everybody is smart and that they take chances, you have to take chances to learn,” Keselowski said. “But by the same token you hope they don’t take chances that are potentially lethal to everyone else’s day and causes big wrecks, but I can’t speak for everyone.

“Everybody has a different approach. It’s one of the great things about life is that we’re all different and on the racetrack it plays out. Everybody has different motivations, challenges, goals and they all kind of get thrown into this big pot at Talladega with no practice. We’ll see what happens.”

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.