Matt DiBenedetto, Ryan Blaney seek NASCAR history to advance

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Matt DiBenedetto and Ryan Blaney need to make NASCAR history Saturday night to move on to the second round of the playoffs.

It’s that simple.

Never has a Cup driver advanced after being as far back from a transfer spot entering a cutoff race as either.

DiBenedetto goes into Bristol 25 points behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the final transfer spot. Blaney trails Bowyer by 27 points.

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings 

“It definitely stinks going to Bristol being so far back and probably having to win the race,” Blaney told NBCSN after last weekend’s Richmond race.

But there is hope for Blaney and DiBenedetto heading into this weekend’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Three times since the elimination-style format debuted in 2014 a driver at least 20 points behind entering a cutoff race advanced.

Kevin Harvick went into the 2015 first-round elimination race at Dover 23 points out of a transfer spot. He won. Harvick went on to make it to the championship race.

Chase Elliott entered last year’s second-round elimination race at Kansas 22 points behind the last transfer spot. He finished second. Aided by 15 stage points, he advanced. Elliott’s playoffs, though, ended in the following round.

Denny Hamlin entered last year’s third-round elimination race at Phoenix 20 points behind the last transfer spot. He won to advance to the championship race.

 

Blaney has a checkered past at Bristol Motor Speedway. He’s led 439 laps there, most of any track. But his average finish is 20.7, worse than every track but Richmond and the Daytona road course.

Blaney has led more than 100 laps in three of the last five Bristol races. He’s scored three top 10s in that stretch.

In April 2018, Blaney led 100 of the first 117 laps before he was collected in a crash. He led 121 laps and won stage 1 in the 2018 night race, but his chances of winning ended with a loose wheel in the last stage. He led 158 laps before finishing fourth in the 2019 spring race there.

Blaney led 60 laps in May and was second to teammate Brad Keselowski when Blaney’s car got out of the high groove and bounced off the wall. His car spun and came to stop. Ty Dillon couldn’t avoid him and hit Blaney’s car, ripping off the nose. Blaney finished last.

“I don’t really think that he is going to be able to point himself in, but I think he can win himself in,” NASCAR on NBC analyst Jeff Burton said on this week’s Splash and Go (video above). “Of everybody that we’re talking about, he is the guy that I think has enough speed and has shown me at Bristol to have enough speed where he can win this race and advance into the next round. … I think this is an opportunity for Ryan and his team to step up to the plate and find a way in a big moment on a big stage to move themselves forward.”

NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty raises questions about if Blaney can overcome his deficit.

“What concerns me about Ryan Blaney and that team is exactly some of the points you brought up,” Petty told Burton. “They’ve had speed. They’ve led races. They’ve run up front and they’ve given it away in stage three almost every time. They should be sitting here, I feel, with at least three to four wins on regular race tracks. … And they won a (superspeedway race) by about a half inch and that’s all they have to show for their regular season.”

DiBenedetto seeks his first career Cup win. It nearly came at Bristol last year when he finished second to Hamlin that night.

“If there is one track to be in a must-win situation that I would choose it would definitely be Bristol,” DiBenedetto said after Richmond. “I think we have a good shot at it.”

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.