A familiar feeling for Xfinity title contender Justin Allgaier

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Justin Allgaier has been here before. Several times, in fact.

Saturday night at Martinsville Speedway (6 p.m. ET, NBCSN), the JR Motorsports veteran will seek to clinch his fifth NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 appearance in the past six seasons.

But for the first time in the Xfinity Series since 2017, no one is locked into the championship race going into the Round of 8 eliminator.

While Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger (both +47 above the cutline) are in good shape, Allgaier (+9) and Daniel Hemric (+7) hold the last two transfer spots by single-digit margins.

Justin Haley (-7) is on the outside looking in, but still has a real shot of making the Championship 4 on points if necessary.

Then there’s the bottom three – Noah Gragson (-24), Brandon Jones (-40), and Harrison Burton (-51) – who are all capable of winning and putting Allgaier’s hopes to make the Nov. 6 title race at Phoenix Raceway in jeopardy.

Allgaier must consider all of that as he races Saturday night. But again, he’s been here before.

He entered last year’s Martinsville eliminator eight points above the cutline. During the race, he found himself battling Haley for the last transfer spot. But Allgaier made a steady climb in the final stage to finish second, which was enough to send him to Phoenix.

As he looked back on that race Thursday in a media teleconference, Allgaier said that keeping calm when the points situation was constantly in flux was important. He figures it will be important again here.

“You’ve gotta look at all the pieces of the puzzle and say, ‘OK, is it time to panic? Is it not?’,” he said. “And I think that for us, as a race team, on our 7 team, the times that we’ve panicked and we try to throw those Hail Marys and go for broke, usually that’s whenever it all goes wrong.

“I think for us, the races where we stay within ourselves and stay calm – I’ve got a great spotter, Eddie d’Hondt, and a great crew chief in Jason Burdett, both of which are extremely calming people – so for me, even at a race track like Martinsville, where it can get amped up and excited, if I’m able to stay calm and we just do our thing and we run the same way that I feel like we’ve run week in and week out, we’re not gonna have any problems with this.”

Allgaier is also heartened by his JR Motorsports team’s continued success on short tracks. JRM has claimed five of the eight Xfinity short track races run since the start of the 2020 season.

The organization has had two short track wins in 2021. One of them came in April at Martinsville, where Josh Berry and Gragson finished 1-2. Gragson won the next short track race in September at Richmond.

In that April race at Martinsville, Allgaier finished ninth after some changes his No. 7 team wanted to try on their car didn’t quite pan out as hoped. But he was confident the notebook built up from the race, particularly from Berry and Gragson, can help him Saturday.

“Our organization really feeds on the fact that we have four cars,” he said. “It’s strength in numbers. It’s strength in people. And so, even though we may not have the same driving styles, we kind of have a good understanding of, ‘Okay, if they run this, we can alter a few things here to match my driving style’ – or Sam (Mayer)’s driving style, or match Michael (Annett)’s driving style and feel like we’re making educated decisions.”

But for all the educated decisions a team can make, Martinsville is a place that can make them null and void at a moment’s notice.

All the perils of short track racing will be present and likely lead to attrition that can strike any of the eight remaining playoff contenders. No one is safe – not even Cindric and Allmendinger, and certainly not a driver on the cutline like Allgaier.

Thursday, Allgaier sounded certain that none of the playoff drivers would be getting away clean from Martinsville. The goal is to manage whatever contact is sustained and carry on.

“Pit road is extremely tight. The style of racing that we have there is extremely tight. Restarts are always hairy. You have to really keep all of that in the back of your mind,” he said.

“You have to race the race track and really not focus on the other competitors. You have to really put yourself in the best position you can, and if you do that all day, I think not only will you have a shot at winning the race, but you’ll have a shot at maybe being one of the guys that finishes.

“I think we’re going to see some attrition. Whether that be from our playoff eight or not, I don’t know. But I think there’s definitely gonna be some attrition throughout the course of the day, and not putting yourself in those positions is going to be super important.”

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.