Kyle Busch faces challenging path to win back-to-back titles

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Kyle Busch faces a challenge to reach the championship race for a record-extending sixth consecutive year and win back-to-back titles.

No Cup driver winless at the end of July has made it to the championship race since stages were introduced in 2017.

Since the playoffs began in 2014, two drivers winless after July advanced to the title race. Neither won the championship.

Busch heads into August without a Cup victory this season.

MORE: Brad Daugherty joins NBC Sports NASCAR broadcast team

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty said on this week’s “Splash and Go” that Busch is someone who could still challenge for the title despite not winning a race to this point.

“Kyle Busch, that we haven’t heard from, that we haven’t heard from all year long, may get hot, and we all know that Cup racing can come and go,” Petty said. “Hot streaks. Cold streaks. Hot streaks. Cold streaks. Kyle is in a cold streak. When he gets hot, everybody better watch out because as cold as he is, when he gets hot, he’s going to melt a racetrack. He’s going to burn it down.”

Busch has three runner-up finishes this season. He also has eight top-five results but only one such finish in the last five races.

Busch is one of four former Cup champs winless at this point of the year. 

Former champs Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth also do not have a Cup victory this season. Of those four, only Kyle and Kurt Busch are in a playoff spot heading into Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Busch has two wins at New Hampshire since 2015 and has six top-10 finishes in the last eight races there.

“It’s definitely a challenging racetrack – not one of my best racetracks, I’ll admit that,” Busch said in a media release this week. “I’ve won there twice so, if we get a good car – I guess I’ll need to have a really good car, apparently – then we might have a shot to win there.”

New Hampshire is one of seven races remaining in the regular season before the 16-driver playoff field is set. Between New Hampshire and the playoffs are doubleheader weekends at Michigan and Dover, the inaugural Cup race on Daytona’s road course and the regular-season finale on Daytona’s oval.

Advancing deep into the playoffs and reaching the title race in Phoenix could prove difficult for Kyle Busch and other former champions if they don’t score more playoff points by winning stages or races. The Busch brothers and Jimmie Johnson have one playoff point each. Kenseth has none.

With so few playoff points, those drivers would have little margin for error in the playoffs to advance provided they did not win in the postseason.

Combined, the Busch brothers, Johnson and Kenseth have won three of the last 20 playoff races. All three of those wins were by Kyle Busch, including last year’s title race in Miami.

Kenseth’s last win in the playoffs came in 2017. Johnson’s last playoff win came in 2016. Kurt Busch’s last victory in the playoffs was in 2011.

Ryan Newman (2014) and Jeff Gordon (2015) are the only drivers who were winless after July to advance to the championship race. Newman finished second to Kevin Harvick for the series crown.

“It does become more difficult as you get to this point in the season if you haven’t been successful to play catch-up,” Newman said. “It doesn’t mean it’s impossible. I do believe that the math is there to do what we did in 2014. Now keep in mind, we did that with quite a bit of drama among the rest of our peers to get to that point. There was some crashing, there was some fighting and a little bit of laying low and playing it safe that helped progress us to that point to where we were in the final four.”

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.