NASCAR viewer’s guide: Atlanta Motor Speedway

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When NASCAR returns to Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, teams will be in for something new.

The 1.5-mile oval was repaved and reconfigured following its July 2021 race, with Speedway Motorsports changing the corner banking from 24 degrees to 28 degrees and widening the frontstretch in an effort to promote superspeedway-style racing similar to Daytona and Talladega.

Teams will be using the same rules package featured at those mammoth tracks, but both Daytona and Talladega are 2.5-plus-mile behemoths. At a tighter mile-and-a-half track, Atlanta’s resurfaced reconfiguration remains an enormous unknown before race weekend:

Inquiring minds want to know …

Few tests have been held in Atlanta since the track was redone, but among the drivers with experience in Cup cars are Ross Chastain, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, David Ragan, Drew Herring and Justin Allgaier.

Allgaier has driven both the Cup Wheel Force Data car and the Xfinity car and noted his experiences in both have been “completely different.”

When initial reports of the reconfiguration trickled through, drivers like Kyle Busch expressed displeasure with the decision, but that frustration seems to have eased as Speedway Motorsports has worked with drivers on changes throughout the process.

Michael McDowell, like most drivers, has yet to see the new surface for himself. While there is plenty of room to speculate what the race will look like, drivers enter this weekend with far more unknown than known.

“The guys that I have talked to said the track has a lot of grip and it’s very easy, wide-open, much like Daytona and Talladega,” McDowell said in a March 9 teleconference. “So I’m kind of anticipating that style of a race, but just like everybody else, with not making any laps, you just don’t know until you get there.”

Superspeedway favorites to watch?

If Sunday’s race is anything like a superspeedway race, it’s fair to wonder whether the favorites at Daytona and Talladega become the ones to watch in Atlanta.

Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick should immediately jump out as contenders in that case. According to Racing Insights, they are the only two drivers who appear on 1.5-mile and superspeedway tracks for the best career averages. Hamlin averages a 16.69 finish at superspeedways and 13.6 on 1.5-mile tracks, while Harvick averages 16.52 and 11.87 respectively.

Another to watch is Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney. He is a three-time superspeedway winner and the defending winner of the spring race at Atlanta. The seven-time Cup winner also placed fourth in this year’s Daytona 500, his seventh top five on a superspeedway.

Is “The Closer” getting closer?

Speaking of Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion is in the midst of a 47-race winless streak, his most recent victory coming at Bristol in 2020 to cap a nine-win season.

Sure, the track is much different than anything Cup has seen there before. But Harvick is a three-time winner at Atlanta, with victories in 2001, 2018 and 2020.

Stewart-Haas Racing has already gone to Victory Lane this year courtesy of Chase Briscoe’s first career win at Phoenix last week, and Aric Almirola hasn’t finished worse than 12th through four races. Harvick is on par with his teammates with finishes of seventh (Auto Club), 12th (Vegas) and sixth (Phoenix) in his last three races, his lone DNF coming at Daytona after a late-race crash.

Nothing about this Atlanta will be familiar, but maybe a Harvick victory would change that.

Give credit to Gragson

Noah Gragson is off to an historic start in the Xfinity Series. With finishes of third (Daytona), second (Auto Club and Las Vegas) and a Phoenix victory, Gragson joins Harvick (2005) and Elliott Sadler (2012) as the only drivers in series history to start the year with four consecutive top-three finishes.

Gragson has never won on a mile-and-a-half track but has finished runner-up four times on such tracks, second-most without a win behind only Daniel Hemric. He also has a Daytona victory in his back pocket if Saturday’s race plays out like a superspeedway. No driver has ever earned five straight top-three finishes to start the season. Gragson could be the first on Saturday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven teams dot the Cup Series entry list for Sunday’s race at Atlanta. The lone open car choosing to participate this weekend is NY Racing Team, which will field Greg Biffle in the No. 44 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Stillman College. The car has featured Grambling State University at Daytona and Florida A&M University at Las Vegas, highlighting HBCU programs through a partnership with Urban Edge Network.

David Ragan will pilot the No. 15 Ford for Rick Ware Racing.

In the Xfinity Series, 43 cars will compete for 38 starting spots in Saturday’s qualifying session. Sage Karam, a seven-time starter in the Indianapolis 500, will make his season debut with Alpha Prime Racing after making four starts for Jordan Anderson Racing in 2021.

The Truck Series will see 36 trucks in action Saturday, with no teams in danger of going home. Ross Chastain, runner-up in the Cup race at Phoenix a week ago, will make his Truck season debut driving the No. 41 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports.

NASCAR Cup Series Entry List — Atlanta Motor Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Entry List — Atlanta Motor Speedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Entry List — Atlanta Motor Speedway

Qualifying order

In a Wednesday teleconference, RFK Racing driver Chris Buscher acknowledged teams are still limited on parts and pieces, which limits how aggressive they can be in practice. But the need to learn still prevails, even if Buescher tested the No. 6 Ford there in January.

“We need to get out there,” Buescher said. “We need to get some group runs in. I would expect that you’ll see teams try and control their groups, stay with cars they know they trust. I think that will be our initial plan. If we feel like we need to get into a bigger group, we will.”

Qualifying on Saturday will follow the usual single-car, single-lap procedure as Cup teams will be separated into Group A and Group B based on a calculated metric that factors fastest laps, points positions and results from the previous week’s race. The five fastest teams from each group will advance to the second round for another single-lap effort to compete for the pole position.

The Xfinity Series and Truck Series will each get one 50-minute practice session on Friday before single-vehicle, single-lap and single-round qualifying on Saturday morning.

NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying Order — Atlanta Motor Speedway

NASCAR Xfinity Series Qualifying Order — Atlanta Motor Speedway

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Qualifying Order — Atlanta Motor Speedway

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, March 18

Forecast: 93% chance of rain, high of 65 degrees, low of 54 degrees

  • 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Truck practice (FS1)
  • 4:05 -4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 5:05 -5:55 p.m. — Cup practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 19

Forecast: Partly cloudy, high of 65 degrees, low of 40 degrees

  • 10:30 a.m. — Truck qualifying (FS2, FS1 at 11 a.m.)
  • 11:30 a.m. — Xfinity qualifying (FS1)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (FS1)
  • 2:30 p.m. — Truck race (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 5 p.m. — Xfinity race (FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 20

Forecast: Sunny, high of 67 degrees, low of 38 degrees

  • 3 p.m. — Cup race (FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NBC will broadcast final six NASCAR Cup Series playoff races

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The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.

The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).

NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.

The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.

The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.

Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.

Kyle Larson is the series defending champion. Joey Logano carries the point lead into Sunday’s race at Talladega.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Talladega Superspeedway

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After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.

Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.

The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.

On Sunday at Texas, Tyler Reddick became the second driver (after Chase Elliott) to score three wins this season.

Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.

Playoff rookies roll on

The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.

Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.

MORE: NBC NASCAR rankings put Denny Hamlin first

Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.

Two other playoff rookies — Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric — will start Talladega below the cutline. Briscoe is four points below the cutline. Cindric is 11 points below the cutline.

Looking for wins

Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).

Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.

Other Talladega winners in the group: Ryan Blaney (two), Denny Hamlin (two), Chase Elliott (one), Ross Chastain (one).

The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.

An opening for Brad?

Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.

It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.

Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.

Keselowski’s refurbished team — Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing — has new fire with Chris Buescher winning at Bristol and Keselowski winning the pole and finishing eighth at Texas.

RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.

Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.

Entry lists

Thirty-seven drivers, including Xfinity Series star Noah Gragson and reigning Xfinity champion Daniel Hemric, are entered for Sunday’s Cup race.

Talladega Cup entry list

The Xfinity entry list includes 41 drivers for 38 spots. Among those joining the series regulars are Trevor Bayne, Parker Kligerman, Timmy Hill and Jeffrey Earnhardt.

Talladega Xfinity entry list

Forty-one drivers are entered for Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race. Included are Kaz Grala, Ryan Preece, Natalie Decker, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Parker Kligerman.

Talladega Truck entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 30

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).

  • 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
  • 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)

Saturday, Oct. 1

Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Oct. 2

Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.

  • 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

 

 

 

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

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NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

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NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

Hendrick Motorsports stated it would appeal the penalty.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”