What drivers said at Auto Club Speedway

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Here is what NASCAR Cup Series drivers said after a wild race at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.

Kyle Larson, winner: “It’s always fun here to win in the home state. Hard work all weekend there. Didn’t feel great in practice yesterday. Cliff (Daniels, crew chief) and everybody made some good adjustments overnight, and the car handled a lot better. There were definitely some guys that were quicker than us, but they had their misfortunes. Just kept our heads in it all day. Long race. Just restarts were crazy. The whole runs were crazy. Definitely wild but cool to get a win here in California and hopefully get on a little streak.”

Austin Dillon — Finished second: “Huge credit to the Lord and our pit crew. Man, they were unbelievable all day. They kept us in this race. We had to make a bunch of adjustments. We were terrible at the beginning. Just kind of learning the car myself and then communicating with Justin (Alexander, Crew Chief), we just made it better and better.”

Erik Jones — Finished third: “It was good. It feels good to be interviewed after the race, too. It’s awesome, but it’s frustrating too. You’re that close and you have a car that you feel like can do it. The No. 43 FOCUSFactor Chevrolet definitely had it today. It was a matter of getting up front and taking advantage of clean air, and we did that a couple of times. A couple restarts just didn’t go our way. I probably could have done a better job here and there, and it just didn’t add up. I just haven’t raced up front a lot in the last year and a half. There are some things I need to be better at. Hopefully I have a lot of time to work on that. We want to keep running upfront and if we keep doing that, we’re going to win some races.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished fourth: “We’re going to win a few races very soon here. I just can’t thank everyone enough in my team. We had a fast car, but we went through a lot of adversity. We had a few issues. We hit the wall once. We had an issue with a diffuser. My pit crew, those guys are legends; it’s unbelievable. It’s the best pit crew I’ve ever had, and it’s a lot of fun to race like that. … I can tell you that I’m going to work very, very hard to go to Victory Lane very, very soon here.”

Joey Logano — Finished fifth: “The guys did a great job of getting the car fixed after I wrecked in qualifying and we were fast right off the get-go. We were okay. The short runs weren’t really our cup of tea with our Auto Club Mustang here. We had a shot there at the end though going down the backstretch two-wide and I thought it was my chance. It was a low-percentage move and it was kind of too late down the straightaway to make the move but I thought I had a big enough run that I could maybe get position going in. It was just too late and I couldn’t get my amigo Daniel Suarez there to get far enough back on my quarter.

“He was on my door and I had to start chasing it. I don’t know. I probably could have finished second or third if I didn’t make that move but you have to go for the win. We were so close. I probably would do it again but maybe checked up the entry a little bit anticipating him washing up into Larson. But hey, I tried.”

Aric Almirola — Finished sixth: “We sure had our hands full. It was a crazy day, wow. These cars are certainly a handful and we worked on it all day and made it to where it was driving better. Then we got some damage and the guys worked on it and got it fixed. It was a solid day for us to come out and have a good start to the west coast swing and keep our cars in one piece.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished seventh: “We actually had a really good car and then every time we would get close we would have something go wrong. So we just had so many things go wrong that it was hard to keep our track position but I am really proud of my team. They did a great job of battling through everything and giving us a shot out there.”

Kurt Busch — Finished eighth: “I can’t describe what we went through today with all the adversity, all of the problems – the self-inflicted things, the oddball scenarios. Wow. What a top 10. That is a statement piece for us at 23XI, to get our top 10 like this with everything we have been through. I’ve got to thank all of my guys for staying focused. They showed me the way, and I showed them on what we’ve got to do this year to keep chiseling away. I think we are the highest finishing Toyota, so we know we have some work to do, and the restart fell our way on that last one, but that was the best our car had handled since the first stage, so lots to learn. Lots to go through.”

Daniel Hemric — Finished ninth: “What a day! I felt like we had a really good car, and we were able to maintain good speed and move forward. Unfortunately, we had an issue with our shifter and lost six laps. I can’t believe we got all of them back and were even able to contend there at the end. I’m super proud of everyone on this No. 16 Poppy Bank Chevy team, My crew chief, Matt Swiderski, and everyone else at Kaulig Racing put together an incredible race car. It was really good and super fast – it was just a matter of being back on the lead lap.”

Cole Custer — Finished 11th: “I was really happy with the progress our team made. We made really good adjustments all day and got our car better. We got a little off there at the end and I wish I did a few things different on the restarts but overall it was a solid day and we got some stage points and we can take that into the next one.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 12th: “It was a really solid day in our Menards Quaker State Ford Mustang getting points in both stages and being a contender in the top-10 the entire race. I felt like I was a bit married to the top lane. I will have to understand why that is and look over how I can be better on the bottom and do a better job on the restarts. It wasn’t our day as far as being involved the wrong things and even recovered back to the top 10 and got a wheel stuck on. We have some things to clean up but it was overall a solid performance and it was good to be in the top 10 all day.”

Chase Briscoe — Finished 16th: “I think dirt guys like Larson and Reddick and me, we like it slick and worn out and you can move around and search for grip. I felt like I was able to try different lanes and try to find grip. I felt like our car was really good too and that obviously helps. But yeah, this place has always been really good for us guys and I think that is just because of how slick it is.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 18th: “We had really good speed today in our No. 12 WURTH Ford. It felt like the balance was pretty good and we were able to make our way through the field. Unfortunately, we’re still learning on the setup stuff and how that impacts the ability to get the wheel off quickly during a pit stop. We’ll learn from it and go to Vegas next week and hopefully carry over the speed we had today.”

Justin Haley — Finished 23rd: “Overall it was a good race. We stayed on the lead lap and raced in the top 15 quite a bit. We made the car better with each stop as the race went on, so l’m proud of everyone the No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevy team for working hard all day. At the end, we were racing hard for 11th or 12th and made contact with the 12 car. It wasn’t the finish we wanted, and the car is a little torn up, but I’m happy with the performance of the car and the gains we made.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 24th: “Absolutely gutted by how our race unfolded but I couldn’t be prouder of this whole team and what we were able to do a majority of this race today. We will learn from this; we will become stronger from this and be hungrier than ever before. It was really fun having all of the Lenovo guests here today and it was really exciting to have such a strong run for them today. We will keep this momentum going to Las Vegas next week.”

Ross Chastain — Finished 29th: “To use a backup car and start the race without any laps on it was a handful. We were really loose to start and I was not sure if we’d be able to get on the other side of it. My crew chief Phil Surgen and the Trackhouse team kept changing a lot of things on the car and got the balance where I could drive it. At the beginning of the race, I was pretty worried that we were just going to be loose and slow all day. Obviously, we got a lot better and had a shot at a top five and I messed up. I made an unforced error running around the sixth spot. I was just riding along and hit a bump wrong and didn’t catch it in time. A mistake on my part. Seeing the transition from the beginning of the race to the end gives me a lot of hope.”

Harrison Burton — Finished 33rd: “It just looked like they stacked up in front of us there. I don’t know how many crashed but there was a lot of smoke and I couldn’t see where I was going. I kind of had to take a guess on where they wouldn’t be and ended up finding the 23 I think. It was a frustrating day. It felt like we weren’t running as well as we needed to be anyway. I guess those things happen when you don’t have great track position. We were fighting in the teens and 20’s all day and we need to be fighting further up to be able to avoid that mess.”

William Byron — Finished 34th“So frustrated I made that mistake for our team today. What a fast car and we were making our way back to the front. I got loose getting under the No. 8 (Tyler Reddick) who had a flat. Thankful for such a fast car and I know we’ll be back stronger next week.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 35th: “That was certainly a disappointing way to end our race. The Fastenal Ford was fast today and we were getting stronger as the day went on. We’ll just have to take what we learned here today and move on to Las Vegas where I’m confident we will continue to improve.”

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

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Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

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AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”