Austin Dillon charges to another top-five finish

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Austin Dillon left Richmond excited about scoring back-to-back top-five finishes for the first time in his career. But he also left wondering what could have been.

Dillon finished fourth in Saturday night’s Cup playoff race despite a pit road speeding penalty and missing pit road another time.

“I wish I wouldn’t have had that speeding penalty,” Dillon said of his sixth speeding penalty of the season. “But we overcame that. … What a night for our team. I’ve been pretty confident in this team all year and now it’s starting to show more and more.”

MORE: Brad Keselowski wins playoff race at Richmond

Dillon and Joey Logano are the only drivers to score top-five finishes in each of the first two playoff races.

Dillon was strong throughout the 400-lap race. He had never led a lap in 13 previous Cup races at the track. He led 55 Saturday. It is the most laps the No. 3 car has led in a Cup race since Dale Earnhardt led 58 laps at Charlotte in October 2000.

“Richmond used to be my least favorite track,” Dillon said. “I hated it. I couldn’t do good in it in Xfinity. … I literally hated this place. Now, it is my favorite.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver took the lead from Kevin Harvick on Lap 21 and was near the front until his pit road speeding penalty on Lap 84. Both he and Denny Hamlin, a three-time Richmond winner, were penalized for speeding during their pit stops at the end of stage 1.

While Hamlin struggled to move up through the field, Dillon marched from 29th on Lap 89 to 11th on Lap 125.

Dillon returned to the lead on Lap 182 and held it for 36 circuits until Brad Keselowski, who was on fresher tires, went by. Dillon finished second in Stage 2, matching his result in the first stage.

With those 18 stage points, Dillon scored 51 points for the race. Only Keselowski had more points, scoring 57 with his victory.

Dillon’s point total puts him sixth in the standings. He’s 36 points ahead of William Byron, the first driver outside a transfer spot heading into next weekend’s cutoff race at Bristol.

The only other hiccup for Dillon on Saturday was missing pit road on Lap 335, forcing him to make another trip about the three-quarter mile track before pitting.

“The biggest thing is when we came to pit road for our second green-flag stop in Stage 3, we were trying to bring everybody down,” Dillon said. “The No. 1 car (of Kurt Busch) was in my mirror on (fresher) tires. I overdrove that entry just a little bit thinking that I needed to avoid getting rear-ended, and then it was like ‘Oh no, I’m going to hit the red (commitment line) box’ so I had to make another lap around the track. That cost us three seconds.”

He had a good enough car to finish in the top five and put him a good position to transfer to the second round. He has failed to advance out of the first round the last two times he’s been in the playoffs.

But this year looks to be different.

“I felt our team has really turned the corner the last couple of weeks,” Dillon said. “I felt like Richard Childress Racing as a whole has had speed all year. … We’ve got a really good team.”

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.