At age 62, Derrike Cope relishes one more Daytona 500

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Thirty years after his shocking Daytona 500 triumph, 62-year-old Derrike Cope looks forward to next weekend’s season-opening race and what he admits likely will be his final Cup start.

And for those who think he’s too old to compete in the Daytona 500 — he’ll be more than 15 years older than any other competitor in the field — or concerned that he’ll be running his first NASCAR race since 2018, he has a message:

“I really don’t care what other people think,” Cope said Friday in a Zoom session with reporters. “If I did, I probably wouldn’t be in this position. So, honestly, it’s really about what I want.”

He wants to race.

And will.

MORE: Drivers prepare for challenging season

Cope’s ride has a charter, guaranteeing him a spot in the Feb. 14 race.

He’s set to become the second-oldest driver to compete in the Daytona 500. Mark Thompson was 66 years old when he drove in the 2018 Daytona 500. He finished 22nd.

The only other driver age 60 or older to start the Daytona 500 is Dave Marcis. He was 60 when he made his record 33rd Daytona 500 start in 2002. Marcis finished 42nd after an engine issue.

Morgan Shepherd failed to qualify for the 2014 Daytona 500 at age 72. He later ran two Cup races that season.

Cope said age is not a concern for him.

“Going to a place like Daytona, certainly I think is a lot more mental and understanding the air and what type of runs, what type of surges the car will get, assessing your car, making good conscious decisions, driving within yourself,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I think we obviously have a lot of guys that don’t do that.

“I don’t have to prove anything. I don’t have to go down there and worry about anything. I will just go down there and have fun and race the car and hopefully get to 180 laps (of the 200-lap race) before I have to go to battle.”

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series
Derrike Cope scored his first career Cup win in the 1990 Daytona 500. (Photo by ISC Archives/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images)

Cope won a dramatic Daytona 500 in 1990. Dale Earnhardt led when he cut a tire in Turn 3, allowing Cope to race by for his first career Cup win.

“Afterwards we spoke,” Cope said of a conversation with Earnhardt sometime later. “I said, ‘Look, I hope you do win this thing because it was life-changing. You’ve obviously done so much in the sport, but I really want you to experience it and hope that you can.’ He said, ‘I hope I do.’ ’’

That victory continues to resonate for Cope, who will make his 15th Daytona 500 start but first since 2004.

“After you win it, you feel you can go back and win it again,” he said. “Every time you go there, you feel that way. I still feel that way.”

Cope followed his Daytona 500 win with a victory later in that 1990 season at Dover. Those are his only two Cup wins in 427 career starts.

Next weekend, he says, likely will put a bow on his NASCAR driving career. It began in 1982 when he made his Cup debut at Riverside International Raceway. He finished 36th in a race that had eight future NASCAR Hall of Fame members and four more who are among those nominated.

Cope, team manager for StarCom Racing, is getting this last chance because StarCom Racing’s owners and his wife put the deal together, he said, that “I wasn’t privy to. … It was a gift. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve loved Daytona. I felt like that if I was going to end things I’d like to be doing it there.”

Cope said he understands how much the sport has changed through the years and is confident he can match how drivers race now.

“This sport is very aggressive right now,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of young kids who really have no regard for pretty much anything, except getting to the finish line and winning. You know what? The way I feel like is I’m not really going to worry about pretty much anything. I feel like that I understand the air as good as anyone.

“I will go to Daytona and if I do make it to the end … and be in a position to race hard, they’ll know I’m there. The one thing I have always done is I’m not afraid of anything. I’m not afraid of mixing it up. I’m not afraid of pushing and shoving. I’m not afraid of wrecking.

“Bottom line is if they want to play, we’ll play. That’s just the way I look at. I’ve got one shot at this thing. When it’s all said and done, you know what, I can walk away and get to the airplane and say ‘I had a lot of fun today and sorry you guys got wrecked.’”

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.