Potential milestones for 2021 NASCAR Cup drivers, teams

0 Comments

Even in times of great change, it’s all about the numbers.

So it goes with NASCAR, which comes off its most unique season to date and is preparing for another one that could be equally as compelling.

The championship remains the ultimate goal for the sport’s top drivers, but many of them can also put some important numbers on their resumes in 2021.

Here is a look at select milestones that may be reached…

DRIVER MILESTONES

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick can crack 60 career Cup wins with two more victories in 2021. That would appear to be a reachable goal, as he has earned multiple wins in eight consecutive seasons.

He also enters this season on a run of 676 consecutive starts, which dates back to April 21, 2002 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The weekend before at Martinsville Speedway, Harvick was parked for the Cup race after being penalized for rough driving against Coy Gibbs in that weekend’s Truck Series race.

Provided he doesn’t miss any races, Harvick can reach 700 consecutive starts at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on Aug. 15.

Additionally, with 13 more starts, he can reach 1,200 career starts across the three NASCAR national series.

Kyle Busch

Like Harvick, Kyle Busch can also get to 60 Cup wins – but he needs three more to get there.

A win this season would extend his ongoing streak to 17 consecutive seasons with a Cup victory. That would match David Pearson (1964-80) for the second-longest run. Richard Petty (1960-77) holds the longest run at 18 winning seasons.

Provided he doesn’t miss any races, Busch can reach 600 career Cup starts at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway during the playoffs on Sept. 26.

Finally, Busch can reach 100 Xfinity Series wins with three more victories, and 60 career Camping World Truck Series with one more victory.

Denny Hamlin

Denny Hamlin has an opportunity to become the first driver to claim three consecutive Daytona 500 wins. He became the fourth back-to-back winner in “500” history last February, joining Petty, Cale Yarborough and Sterling Marlin.

Hamlin enters the season with 44 Cup wins and is on target to reach 50 if he maintains his recent run. He has claimed 13 victories over the last two seasons.

Martin Truex Jr.

Martin Truex Jr. is in striking distance of reaching 30 Cup wins this season, coming in with 27 victories. He earned just one win in 2020, which was his first one-win campaign since 2015. The following year, in 2016, he won four times.

Truex Jr. also is poised to reach 10,000 career laps led in Cup. He needs to pace 144 laps to hit the mark. Last season, he led 950 laps and hasn’t led less than 567 since the 2015 season.

Joey Logano

Also close to entering the 30-win club is Joey Logano, who has 26 victories to his credit. He’s earned multiple wins in three consecutive seasons. However, he hasn’t earned at least four wins in a season since 2015, when he got six.

Kurt Busch

10,000 career laps led in Cup are in sight for Kurt Busch. He needs to lead 98 more laps to hit the mark. Last year, he led 169 laps.

Chase Elliott

Reigning Cup champion Chase Elliott is two wins away from tying Jeff Gordon’s record of six consecutive Cup road course victories.

The first two road races of the year come Feb. 21 at Daytona International Speedway and May 23 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Ryan Newman

With just 11 more starts, Ryan Newman can reach 700 for his Cup career. Provided he doesn’t miss any races, he can get to 700 on May 2 at Kansas Speedway.

He’s also two wins shy of 20 in his Cup career, but hasn’t gone to Victory Lane since 2017.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Eight more starts will bring Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to 300 in his Cup career. Provided he doesn’t miss any races, he’ll hit this milestone on April 10 at Martinsville.

Austin Dillon

Austin Dillon is at 264 career Cup starts, but can reach 300 by running the entire 36-race schedule this season.

Last season, he missed the inaugural Cup race at the Daytona road course after testing positive for COVID-19; Kaz Grala made his Cup debut in his place.

TEAM MILESTONES

Joe Gibbs Racing

JGR’s previous driver stable of Kyle Busch, Truex, Hamlin and Erik Jones blitzed the field for a combined 19 wins and a championship in 2019. Last year, Hamlin was the clear number one as the organization took a collective step back, earning just nine wins. With Christopher Bell replacing Jones in the No. 20 Toyota, can they regain their form from two years ago? If so, they can make a proper pursuit of 200 Cup wins; they enter the season at 185 victories.

Wood Brothers Racing

NASCAR’s oldest team has been stuck on 99 Cup wins since Ryan Blaney‘s victory at Pocono Raceway in June 2017. Since that day, the team has posted just five top-five finishes – but three of them came last season with Matt DiBenedetto. The Californian is still seeking his first Cup win, and with Austin Cindric replacing him in the No. 21 Ford in 2022, a victory would be important for his future.

NOTABLE FULL-TIMERS WITHOUT A CUP WIN (Entering 2021 Season)

Michael McDowell – 357 starts

Michael McDowell enters his fourth full season in the No. 34 Ford for Front Row Motorsports. His best finish in the entry is a pair of fifths in 2019 at the Daytona 500 and the fall race at Talladega Superspeedway.

His career-best Cup finish was a fourth-place showing at Daytona for Leavine Family Racing in July 2017.

Matt DiBenedetto – 212 starts

Matt DiBenedetto’s two runner-up finishes last season, both at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, tied his career-best result in Cup, which he first accomplished in the 2019 Bristol race.

Daniel Suarez – 143 starts

Daniel Suarez gets a fresh start in 2021 with Trackhouse Racing, led by co-owners Justin Marks and Pitbull. The former Xfinity Series champion’s best finish in Cup is a runner-up result at Pocono Raceway in July 2018 for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Corey LaJoie – 129 starts

Joining a growing operation at Spire Motorsports, Corey LaJoie is still seeking his first top-five finish in Cup. He finished eighth in last year’s Daytona 500 for Go Fas Racing, which has scaled back to a part-time schedule.

Timmy Hill – 128 starts

Timmy Hill is among those hoping to race their way into this year’s Daytona 500. His best finish in Cup is 14th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 2017 Brickyard 400.

Bubba Wallace – 112 starts

Many eyes, both in and out of NASCAR, will be on Bubba Wallace and the new 23XI Racing team this season. Two of Wallace’s three career top-five finishes in Cup have come at Daytona, including his runner-up performance at the 2018 Daytona 500.

Talladega Xfinity starting lineup: Austin Hill wins pole

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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

0 Comments

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?

0 Comments

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.