What drivers said at Phoenix Raceway

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Here is what NASCAR Cup Series drivers said after a thrilling race at Phoenix Raceway that saw a first-time winner in Victory Lane.

Chase Briscoe, winner: “That’s unbelievable. I was crying the whole last lap. I mean, this is definitely a team win. I got to thank everyone that has gotten me to this point. Seven years ago, I was sleeping on couching, ready to give up. They gave me an opportunity and it’s led to this. I am so blessed to be driving at the organization, the team, the car that was my hero growing up. To get this 14 back in Victory Lane, to do it with Mahindra Tractors, their first year in the sport, everybody that’s believed in me. It’s unbelievable.”

Ross Chastain — Finished second: That was so much fun to get to race like that at this level. Trackhouse Racing believes in me and AdventHealth and The Moose, these people they believed in me early in the season when stuff wasn’t going great. That’s so cool to race with Tyler (Reddick) and Chase (Briscoe). I mean that’s like everything I’ve ever wanted and my crew chief Phil Surgen, like people don’t know how good he is. His adjustments this year have been so incredible and gave me exactly what I needed. Just came up one spot short. I’m so happy.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished third: “I thought we got a good launch considering all things going right there into (turn) one. I know about how deep I could drive it in turn one all day. I thought I got pretty good heat in the tires. I still overstepped it. I couldn’t have drove it any deeper than I did. I still thought I was going to get him in the fence. Chase was able to drive it off in there, clear, high, take the lead. It was a lot of fun. Great to claw back from the hiccup we had earlier in the race. Everyone on this No. 8 Guaranteed Rate team did a really good job all day. One little miscue that took us from second to 12th. My pit crew did an amazing job, had a good restart at the end to put ourselves in position. It was a fun day. Nice way to recover from a mistake that late in the race, be battling for the win. Great day. We’ll see what else we can learn from this and see what lies ahead.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished fourth: “I lost the lead there on pit road and just could never get back. I don’t know. I just didn’t have quite the speed and was kind of too tight. I could drive up through the field and make good spots and nobody could really do that. You would just get really tight behind people. Not a bad day. A good recovery from last week. We had a fast car, just a shame we couldn’t contend more for the win. It is cool to see Briscoe get his first win and we will go on to next week.”

Kurt Busch — Finished fifth: “It was surprising, and it was fun. I’m normally a sticker guy. I need sticker tires and this car reacted really well to scuffs today, so that’s good for our notebook at 23XI (Racing). The restarts – I was able to find the right spots to be. Thanks to MoneyLion, Toyota. We were the top Toyota today, which is somewhat of a surprise. We were just trying to get to 10th, but we will take a top five. It’s really cool for our program, this car number, No. 45. To get a top five, check mark done. This was a good West Coast Swing. Not so much on points with stage one and stage two, but our finishes were there, and we will keep chiseling away.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished sixth: “It was a good day for us. Restarts weren’t 100% our strong point. We had a bit of a brake shake issue that kept pulling the car to the right under braking so I couldn’t get into corners like I wanted to. Still a good day and the car ran good. I just couldn’t really connect all the corners altogether through the day. Putting a (Stewart-Haas Racing) car in Victory Lane and running inside the top five all day for us is always a good day.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished ninth: “It was a rollercoaster, up and down. I don’t feel that we had the greatest speed, probably top 15 somewhere in there. I made a mistake on pit road, the speeding penalty. We had a couple slow stops. I feel like it was just ups and downs. We were able to recover a little bit. Travis (Mack, crew chief) made a good call right there with the right side tires only and we were able to get a couple spots back. Overall, it wasn’t a good day, we have to learn and come back stronger.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 10th: “That was a really solid day. Phoenix is self-admittedly not been my best track, probably one of my worst. To have a day where we come out of here with a top 10 is a small win. I want to be better but definitely a strong Phoenix for us. I am proud of everyone in this group. It was a tough weekend again with just a 20-minute practice and not much time to work on it but we were able to dial it in and be competitive in the race. I think we learned some good stuff for our short-track program and we have a lot of those coming up shortly.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 12th: “Congrats to Chase. So happy for them. We had speed and just fought some balance issues all day, but kept getting our Smithfield Ford better and better. We continue to fight all day to try and be there in the end. I’m so proud of this team for another hard-fought day. We didn’t keep the top-10 streak alive, but we’re still competitive at every track we visit, and that’s all you can ask for. It was a good day for our entire organization. Looking forward to Atlanta next week to keep it going.”

Cole Custer — Finished 16th: “It was a solid, mistake-free day. We had good long-run speed, but we just couldn’t get it on the short run. Overall, it’s something we can build on, just wish we had a little bit more.”

Justin Haley — Finished 17th: “Our No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Camaro ZL1 started off building tight but were able to make some positive gains during our first pit stop. Track position here is crucial. I think we had a solid run overall and learned some things we can really build on for our short-track program.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 20th: “We fought some more handling issues today – I lacked rear grip and stability. We made a few major swings on pit road, but just couldn’t quite get the No. 16 Action Industries Camaro ZL1 feeling the way I wanted it to with the speed we needed. It was frustrating for sure, but we learned all we could and salvaged a top 20. This is a track we have been spending a lot of time putting our focus on, so hopefully the gains we made today carry over to the next time we come here in the fall.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 21st: “This No. 3 Get Bioethanol Chevrolet team continues to work so hard. We had a top-five run going today so I hate that our day ended the way it did. During the race, we fought a tight-handling condition that caused our tires to chatter and made us snappy loose on exit to the corner in Turn 2. Solid adjustments all day had us running in the top five by the time we got to Stage 3. We were as fast as anyone in clean air. Our pit crew fired off great stops all day. On the last restart we were running sixth when the field went three-wide and someone tagged our (left)-rear. We got collected and it ended our day. Not the way we wanted to end the race after having such a strong run. It’s unfortunate to get tangled in someone else’s mess, but we’ll regroup and head to Atlanta Motor Speedway with even more fire underneath us.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 34th: “I felt it four or five laps before, well it was just getting worse. Hate that. Our Valvoline Chevy was pretty good. I thought that we were a fourth- or fifth-place car. Just was just hoping to be a little better than that. I know they’ll address the issue that seems like we have had the last couple of weeks with some of the engines. We’ll come back strong and reliable. The good thing is we have fast cars, fast engines and great drivers driving these Chevys, so we’ll get some more wins here.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 35th: “We had been getting really loose all day on the longer runs. I was just out there trying to take care of it, and we gained a few spots on the restart and I was just trying to take care of the rear tires. Coming off of turn two there, I’m kind of neutral free and then all of a sudden it shot straight into the fence. I cut a right front down running up there in the glue or something.”

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.”