NASCAR Power Rankings: Tyler Reddick holds steady after Atlanta

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A volatile race at the new Atlanta Motor Speedway has shaken up the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings yet again.

William Byron notched his first win of 2022 with an impressive defense over the final 13 laps of the superspeedway-style event, becoming the fifth different winner in five Cup races this season.

Chaos aside, some drivers are affirming themselves as stable frontrunners week after week. See where they rank with nearly 20% of the regular season complete:

NASCAR Power Rankings after Atlanta

1. Tyler Reddick (Last week: No. 1) Every week seems like the week Reddick may finally break into Victory Lane. Unfortunately, Reddick lost a right-rear tire while leading the field on Lap 145, sending his No. 8 Chevrolet nose-first into the outside wall as the field scattered around him. A similar issue plagued Reddick at Auto Club on Feb. 27, when a left-rear tire gave out while leading at Lap 153. While loop-data metrics have not been Reddick’s best friend, Reddick has been toward the front of the pack on a regular basis. It’s difficult to penalize a driver for inopportune flat tires while running P1, so Reddick earns his keep atop these rankings for at least another week.

2. Ryan Blaney (Last week: No. 4) Blaney has yet to win this season, but the Team Penske driver checks myriad boxes as the sport’s top competitor cumulatively through five races. The No. 12 Ford has led the most laps of any car this season (205), including at least one lap in every race. The team also tops the field in average running position (10.409) and has posted the most fastest laps run (83), according to NASCAR’s loop data metrics. Blaney has been in contention to win seemingly every week, a trend that began in the Daytona 500 when he pushed rookie teammate Austin Cindric to the victory. Blaney was in position for another strong finish at Atlanta before a push from Chase Briscoe went awry on the final lap, sending the No. 12 car in to the Turn 1 wall. The finishes need to be better — Blaney has three finishes of 17th or worse in five races — but he’s certainly knocking on the door of being the year’s dominant driver.

3. Kyle Larson (Last week: No. 2) Larson has been a victim of circumstances in each of the past two weeks and now holds three finishes of 30th or worse through five races. Still, the defending champion has been running well enough to warrant his high positioning in the rankings, notching a win and a second-place finish in the races where nothing went wrong. There’s no question Larson needs to avoid his superspeedway wrecks, and a broken valve spring at Phoenix was out of his control. But Larson has the fifth-best average running position in the series (12.523) despite his dismal results. COTA could be where Larson regains momentum.

4. Ross Chastain (Last week: No. 8) Chastain continued his astonishing start to 2022 by earning his second straight runner-up finish Sunday at Atlanta. This may have been Chastain’s most impressive performance of the year too. The No. 1 Chevrolet led 42 laps and was up front when a right-rear tire sent him into the Turn 1 wall. Somehow, Chastain mitigated the damage well enough to keep the car in decent shape and was in contention to win on the final lap. Trackhouse Racing as a whole has been impressive, but Chastain has managed three consecutive top-three finishes and may be in Victory Lane soon.

5. Chase Elliott (Last week: No. 6) Elliott finds himself atop the points standings for the first time since winning the Cup title in 2020. And while the No. 9 Chevrolet has been relatively quiet this season — aside from a three-wide battle gone wrong at Auto Club Speedway with teammate Larson — the data points toward extremely competitive runs from Elliott. His 11.218 average running position is third-best behind Blaney and Joey Logano; he led 50 laps at Phoenix before leading 29 more at Atlanta; and he notched his best finish of the season last week, placing sixth at his home track. His 42 stage points are also second-best in the series, so the No. 9 team remains one to watch.

6. Joey Logano (Last week: No. 5) Like many drivers, Logano has been running better than his finishes would say. But the 2018 series champion actually has some finishes to back up his strong showings — fifth at Auto Club, eighth at Phoenix and ninth at Atlanta. The No. 22 Ford is second in average running position (10.98) and has led 31 laps this season. Nobody has spent more laps inside the top 15 than Logano (1,075) and he sits second in the points standings. Is the No. 22 team as close to winning as teammate Blaney? That remains hard to say, but a Logano victory anywhere shouldn’t come as a surprise.

7. Kyle Busch (Last week: No. 3) Superspeedway racing and Kyle Busch have never seemed to mesh. That was the case again Sunday when Busch was involved in a Lap 102 crash that developed when Austin Dillon got loose in front of him. Busch had spent much of the afternoon to that point inside the top five and led 21 circuits. The 33rd-place finish is his first lower than 14th this year, but some familiar tracks ahead may allow the two-time Cup champ to rebound in the coming weeks.

8. William Byron (Last week: Unranked) Welcome to the show, Willy B. He dominated the day in Atlanta, proving to be the one constant in an ever-changing race. Despite 46 lead changes and being one of 20 different leaders, the No. 24 Chevrolet paced the field for 111 of 325 laps of chaos and went to Victory Lane. Superspeedway-style racing aside, Byron’s win is no fluke. Byron has the fourth-best average running position this year (11.798), has netted the most stage points through five races (55) and is second behind Logano in laps spent inside the top 15. This all comes after starting the year with two DNFs. Now, Byron sits fourth in points.

9. Chase Briscoe (Last week: No. 10) Briscoe followed his first career win at Phoenix by being in the mix again when the white flag fell at Atlanta. His late push to Blaney went awry, sent both Blaney and Briscoe into the Turn 1 wall and relegated Briscoe to a 15th-place finish. The sophomore Cup driver has posted the second-most fastest laps in the series and has led 126 laps. His 14.0 average finish is sixth-best among full-time drivers, and his best run in 2021 came at the Indianapolis road course. With a road course ahead at Circuit of the Americas, Briscoe will likely be toward the front again.

10. Kurt Busch (Last week: Unranked) Kurt Busch has done a masterful job of turning mediocre days into impressive finishes. Nobody should be surprised that Busch, a 23-year cup veteran, is utilizing his experience so well. But how he’s doing it is notable. The No. 45 Toyota ranks 19th in average running position at 17.927, but Busch now has two straight top-five finishes after finishing fifth at Phoenix and third at Atlanta. He’s only finished outside the top 10 twice in five races and his worst finish was 19th in the Daytona 500. Sitting fifth in points with only nine stage points, Busch is well worthy of a spot in these rankings.

Dropped out: Aric Almirola (Last week: No. 7), Martin Truex Jr. (Last week: No. 9)

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.

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.