NASCAR’s longest year of 32 races in 71 days

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A NASCAR Christmas celebrated in South Florida?

In the direst of several dozen contingency schedules mapped out for the 2020 Cup Series season during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NASCAR’s premier series would have raced Dec. 24-25 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

And the season wouldn’t have ended there.

The series immediately would have traveled four hours north on I-95 to Daytona Beach for a Dec. 26-27 doubleheader and then west to Phoenix Raceway for a trio of races Jan. 1-3, 2021.

BEHIND THE SCENES: How NASCAR restarted its season

The worst-case scenario presumed a 31-week layoff for NASCAR because of COVID-19 and plotted how to run the remaining 32 Cup races in a 71-day window that would have included four doubleheaders (Miami, Pocono, Dover, Daytona), five tripleheaders (Darlington, Richmond, Martinsville, Atlanta, Phoenix) and two quardupleheaders (Bristol, Charlotte).

It was among at least a dozen schedules that would have ended the 2020 season Jan. 3 during the first (partial) week of 2021.

Fortunately for NASCAR, none of those versions of the longest year was needed as the Cup season began May 17 after a nine-week layoff. With a handful of doubleheaders and midweek races, NASCAR caught up to its original schedule when its 10-week playoffs began Sept. 6 with the Southern 500.

Vice president of racing development Ben Kennedy, who slaved over NASCAR’s doomsday game-planning for nearly 12 hours daily for six weeks, didn’t mind putting in a lot of work for scenarios that went unrealized. Kennedy has been an integral part of plotting NASCAR’s schedules the past few seasons with executive vice president Steve O’Donnell.

“I enjoy it, and it’s cool because it touches so many different areas of our company,” Kennedy told NBC Sports. “It’s been a really good process to just be part of from working with the broadcast partners and making sure we lock in the right TV windows.”

O’Donnell held daily calls with Kennedy, NASCAR managing director of broadcaster Ben Baker and director of competition Scott Miller about schedule contingencies and said they made the best of it.

“We’d sit there with a shared drive and ask, ‘What do you think? What do you do?’ ” O’Donnell told NBC Sports. “It actually was some of the most fun I’ve had in a few years because it meant something. Even though you knew we were in a difficult situation, you’re like, ‘This matters, man. Getting back to racing is the most important thing.’”

Here’s what the plan was for the longest year in NASCAR: If the Cup Series season had restarted after a 31-week delay:

Oct. 25 – Indianapolis

Oct. 31 – Pocono

Nov. 1 – Pocono

Nov. 6 – Darlington

Nov. 7 – Darlington

Nov. 8 – Darlington

Nov. 12 – Bristol

Nov. 13 – Bristol

Nov. 14 – Bristol

Nov. 15 – Bristol

Nov. 21 – Dover

Nov. 22 – Dover

Nov. 27 – Richmond

Nov. 28 – Richmond

Nov. 29 – Richmond

Dec. 4 – Martinsville

Dec. 5 – Martinsville

Dec. 6 – Martinsville

Dec. 11 – Atlanta

Dec. 12 – Atlanta

Dec. 13 – Atlanta

Dec. 17 – Charlotte Roval

Dec. 18 – Charlotte Roval

Dec. 19 – Charlotte Oval

Dec. 20 – Charlotte Oval

Dec. 24 – Miami

Dec. 25 – Miami

Dec. 26 – Daytona

Dec. 27 – Daytona

Jan. 1 – Phoenix

Jan. 2 – Phoenix

Jan. 3 – Phoenix

Christopher Bell wins Cup Series pole at Talladega Superspeedway

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Playoff driver Christopher Bell won the pole position Saturday for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Bell, 11th in the playoff standings and below the cutline entering Sunday’s race, ran 180.591 mph to edge second-place Kyle Larson at 180.516.

Playoff drivers took six of the top-10 starting spots.

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

The race is the second in the second round of the playoffs. Any playoff driver who wins the race will automatically advance to the next round.

Joey Logano leads the playoff standings.

Noah Gragson, replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms, qualified seventh.

The race (2 p.m., ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

 

 

Sunday Talladega Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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Sunday will mark a difficult crossroads for NASCAR. As several of its top drivers express serious concerns about safety, the Cup Series is at Talladega Superspeedway, the circuit’s biggest track and site of many massive wrecks over its 53 years of existence.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Sunday’s 188-lap, 500-mile race is the middle event in the second round of the playoffs. With a win automatically advancing any of the 12 playoff drivers to the next round, the final laps are likely to be frantic.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) will begin with Joey Logano atop the playoff point standings. Following him in the top eight are Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe.

Below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron fell below the line this week when NASCAR penalized him for bumping Hamlin under caution during last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty.

Bowman will miss Sunday’s race because of concussion-like symptoms he has experienced after a crash at Texas. Noah Gragson will replace him.

Bell won the pole Saturday with a speed of 180.591 mph.

Details for Sunday’s race:

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jimmy Rane, president of Great Southern Wood Preserving, at 1:52 p.m. (ET). … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:04 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Barbara Embry, chaplin of Citizens Baptist Medical Center, at 1:43 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by the 313th U.S. Army Band at 1:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 60. Stage 2 ends at Lap 120.

STARTING LINEUP: Talladega Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 1 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 1 p.m. … SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. High of 78. 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Bubba Wallace won last October’s race, which was shortened to 117 laps by rain. Brad Keselowski was second.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS COVERAGE

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Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really a playoff wildcard?

 

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.