Power Rankings: Las Vegas alters top 10

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Denny Hamlin returns to the No. 1 spot in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings after last weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Hamlin was No. 1 after the Daytona road course race, the second event of the Cup season. He fell to third after the Miami race and moves back to No. 1 with Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick each dropping in the rankings after both finished outside the top 15 at Las Vegas.

Power Rankings after Las Vegas

1. Denny Hamlin (Last week: No. 3) — Fourth-place result at Las Vegas gives him three top-five finishes in the first four races. He’s not placed worse than 11th this season. He also leads the season standings, holding a 38-point lead on second place. Hamlin has a series-high 62 stage points. Those points alone would rank 23rd in the season standings, ahead of Tyler Reddick, Erik Jones, Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola and Matt DiBenedetto, among others.

2. William Byron (Last week: No. 4) — Followed his Miami win with an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas. He has scored 28 of his 32 stage points in the last two races.

3. Michael McDowell (Last week: No. 1) — Daytona 500 winner placed 17th at Las Vegas, marking his first finish outside the top 10 this season. Still, he’s had four consecutive top-20 finishes this year. He did that only once last year. 

4. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 7) — Las Vegas winner has three top 10s in the first four races of the year. Has had an average running position in the top five each of the past two races. He ranked No. 1 in green flag speed at Las Vegas.

5. Kevin Harvick (Last week: No. 2) — His streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes to open the season ended at Las Vegas. He placed 20th there.

6. Christopher Bell (Last week: No. 6) — Seventh-place finish at Las Vegas is the second top 10 of the season for the Daytona road course winner.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 10) — Finished sixth at Las Vegas to extend his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes at 1.5-mile tracks to six. That’s the best active streak in the series on such tracks.

8. Brad Keselowski (Last week: Unranked) — Placed second at Las Vegas for his second top five of the year.

9. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 8) — Finished ninth at Las Vegas for his second top 10 of the season.

10. Kyle Busch (Last week: Unranked) — Third-place finish at Las Vegas gives him back-to-back top 10s.

Dropped out: Kurt Busch (No. 5 last week), Alex Bowman (No. 9 last week).

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.