NASCAR Power Rankings: Austin Cindric starts out tops

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The Daytona 500 always has the ability to deliver a surprise.

It delivered again Sunday, giving us 23-year-old Austin Cindric as the next driver to hoist the Harley J. Earl Trophy.

For winning the biggest race of the year, Cindric starts the year as No. 1 in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

NASCAR Power Rankings After Daytona 500

1.  Austin Cindric: He continues Team Penske’s run of dominance on the superspeedways. The organization has won three of the past four races on the big tracks. And that streak could easily be five in a row: Brad Keselowski (now at RFK Racing) and Joey Logano wrecked each other out of a win in last year’s Daytona 500, and they finished second and third behind Bubba Wallace last fall at Talladega.

2. Brad Keselowski: His first Daytona 500 as a driver/owner had its ups and downs. On two occasions, his pushes ended in crashes; one driver he pushed, rookie Harrison Burton, ended up on his roof. But Keselowski also led a race-high 67 laps and had a shot to win on the final lap. It wasn’t to be. Between Sunday’s performance and a Duel victory Thursday, Keselowski has much to feel good about his Speedweek, incidents notwithstanding. But a “500” victory remains elusive.

3. Martin Truex Jr.: Damage from a crash with 50 laps to go kept Truex from contending for a win. Before then, he swept both stages, which helped put him third in Cup points behind Cindric and Keselowski leaving Daytona. His move to win Stage 2 was particularly good: As Logano pushed Chase Briscoe, Truex got a big run off Turn 4. He tacked inside of Logano and beat him through the tri-oval to the line.

4. Ryan Blaney: After Penske teammate Cindric blocked him off Turn 4 on the final lap, Blaney said he wasn’t sure if that was fair or foul but noted that you have to block in that situation. Fair play to Blaney, who knows how the game is played. He ended up falling to fourth at the finish after leading 36 laps, second-most among all drivers. However, Blaney failed to score any stage points.

5. Kyle Busch: He was among those collected in the Harrison Burton wreck that ended Stage 1. Despite taking damage, Busch stayed in the hunt before finishing sixth. He led 28 laps Sunday, which puts him at 324 laps led all-time at the Daytona 500 – the most of any driver who hasn’t won the race. Will his 18th time in this race be the charm in 2023?

6. Bubba Wallace: A steady drive for Wallace, who got a push from fourth on the final lap and nearly took it all the way to Victory Lane. His second career runner-up at the Daytona 500 hits different from the first he had in 2018. Instead of jubilation, there was frustration. But one can argue that just shows how far Wallace has come as a driver. For him, and for 23XI Racing, there’s still more to go.

7. Chase Briscoe: Sunday started poorly for Briscoe, whose car failed pre-race inspection twice. That sent him to the rear for the green flag and sent one of his team’s engineers home. But at the end of the day, he had a third-place finish – his best in Cup. “I wish it was Talladega because I felt like if the start-finish line was a little further down, I may have had a shot at that thing,” he said. “But really cool to start our year off … with a third-place finish in the Daytona 500.”

8. Aric AlmirolaWas this Almirola’s last Daytona 500? If so, he went out swinging with a fifth-place finish, putting two Stewart-Haas Racing entries in the top five alongside Briscoe. 

9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Always one to watch on superspeedways, Stenhouse emerged late as a threat to win. But it all came undone on a restart at Lap 195 – losing the lead and then spinning off Keselowski’s nose into the wall off Turn 4. He scored points in both stages and led 16 laps.

10. Michael McDowell: The 2021 Daytona 500 winner came home seventh, picking up his fourth top-10 finish in his last five Daytona 500s. Special mention to McDowell’s Front Row Motorsports teammate, rookie Todd Gilliland, who showed well before being eliminated in the Lap 191 crash that brought out the red flag.

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.