Runner-up finish elicits different emotion for Bubba Wallace from 2018

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — There were no tears Sunday night for Bubba Wallace, unlike the first time he finished second in the Daytona 500.

This time, he hung his head after finishing 36-thousandths of a second behind Austin Cindric for the Daytona 500 win.

“2018 was awesome,” Wallace said of his runner-up result in this race as a rookie. “2022 was not awesome.

“I didn’t have a fighting chance the first time in 2018. This one being that close, it’s like a gut punch.”

Wallace’s mood improved the more he talked Sunday to the media on pit road after the race, but he admitted that it will take “maybe two days, maybe three, probably a freaking week before I’ll get over this.”

As the field roared through Turn 3 on the final lap, Wallace, running fourth, got a big push from Aric Almirola. That carried Wallace to the back of Ryan Blaney’s car on the bottom lane, as Cindric led.

NASCAR Cup Series 64th Annual Daytona 500
Bubba Wallace congratulates Daytona 500 winner Austin Cindric in victory lane. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Wallace got past Brad Keselowski for third as they exited Turn 4. Blaney made his move and Cindric blocked, sending Blaney into the wall. Wallace moved underneath Blaney to take second place. Suddenly, Wallace, who won at Talladega last fall, was in position to win a second consecutive speedway race.

Wallace clipped the left rear of Cindric’s car, but Cindric held on to earn his first career Cup victory.

When Wallace got to pit road, he sat on the door of his car and hung his head. He stayed there momentarily before slowly climbing from his car. Team members hugged and consoled him.

In 2018, Wallace got emotional after his mother interrupted his runner-up press conference to congratulate him on the finish. When Wallace told his mom she was acting as if he won that night, she told him: “We did. We did. We did win that race.”

His sister embraced him and Wallace then broke down crying that night four years ago.

There was no such jubilation in the aftermath of Sunday’s race. 

While he’ll go back and contemplate the moves he might have made, his performance reaffirmed what he can do in the car. Making it stand out more is that he nearly won despite being the only the only Toyota in a top five that featured four Fords. That’s significant in speedway racing, where manufacturers emphasize working together.

Mike Wheeler, competition director for 23XI Racing, said how Wallace handled himself throughout the race stood out to him the most Sunday.

“I thought we’ve had good speedway cars as a group for a while,” Wheeler told NBC Sports of the previous car. “I thought he got in them and made the most of them.

“This one is more a common car, so to see him still excel amongst the group was impressive.”

At some point Wallace may see that, but after the race, coming so close left him gasping for what could have been.

“Damn,” he simply said.

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.