Drivers to watch for the NASCAR Cup Series race at COTA

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NASCAR hits its first of six road course races this season with a trip to Circuit of the Americas.

Last year’s inaugural Cup race in Austin, Texas, was marred by torrential rain that shortened the race.

With a much drier forecast ahead coupled with the Next Gen’s road course debut, which drivers will be in the mix for the win on Sunday afternoon (3:30 p.m. ET, Fox)?

FRONT RUNNERS

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: First
  • Last three races: Ninth — Las Vegas; 11th — Phoenix; Sixth — Atlanta
  • Recent at COTA: Won inaugural Cup race in May 2021

Elliott is NASCAR’s current road course ace, and although teammate Kyle Larson is trying, no one else in the series is even close. Elliott won Cup’s lone trip to Austin a year ago, nabbing one of seven career road course wins in 19 such starts. In other words, the 2020 series champion has an outstanding 36.8% win rate on road courses throughout his Cup career.

Also noteworthy is that each of Elliott’s last two victories came on road courses — COTA and Road America. Despite being Hendrick Motorsports’ only driver without a win this year, Elliott is the series’ points leader and enters Austin fresh off his best finish of the season.

With Elliott building a streak of consistency, COTA might be the perfect track for the No. 9 team to rekindle its magic and get back to Victory Lane.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 10th
  • Last three races: Third — Las Vegas; Second — Phoenix; Second — Atlanta
  • Recent at COTA: Finished fourth in May 2021

Chastain is on an incredible hot streak of three straight finishes inside the top three. And while the Trackhouse Racing driver may not be the first name you think of on a road course, Chastain wheeled the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to a fourth-place finish last year and led four laps in the inaugural event.

Of course, the track was drenched in rain a season ago, and this weekend’s forecast looks bone dry. Factored with a new car, it’s difficult to say definitively whether Chastain will be able to translate last year’s drive into something as productive — or better — on Sunday.

Regardless, Chastain proved to be a formidable contender when right turns were presented in 2021, with finishes of seventh at Sonoma and Road America and 12th at Watkins Glen.

AJ Allmendinger

  • Points position: N/A
  • Last Cup race: 20th — Phoenix
  • Recent at COTA: Finished fifth in May 2021

Last summer, Allmendinger proved loud and clear that he’s still capable of winning in the Cup Series with his triumph at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

COTA was no exception either. With a top five in his inaugural run at the 3.41-mile course, Allmendinger was in contention through much of the event.

Allmendinger has two career Cup wins on road courses and six in Xfinity (three at the Charlotte Roval, two at Mid-Ohio and one at Road America). The No. 16 Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing will be toward the front again this weekend in Austin.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Larson

  • Points position: 12th
  • Last three races: Second — Las Vegas; 34th — Phoenix; 30th — Atlanta
  • Recent at COTA: Finished second in May 2021

Depending on your perspective, Larson’s season has either been phenomenal or disconcerting. The defending champion celebrated a win at Auto Club Speedway and followed that with a runner-up finish at Las Vegas the next week.

But the three races surrounding those have resulted in finishes outside the top 30 — two due to crashes and one due to an engine failure.

The good news for the No. 5 team is that Larson won three road races a season ago (Sonoma, Watkins Glen and the Roval) and was hunting Elliott for the win at COTA before the race was cut 14 laps short for rain. Larson, his team and fans should hope this weekend goes the way of Auto Club rather than Atlanta.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: Seventh — Las Vegas; Third — Phoenix; 28th — Atlanta
  • Recent at COTA: Finished ninth in May 2021

For weeks, the conversation surrounding Tyler Reddick has centered around one idea: He will win at some point this season. The question remains when.

Reddick was leading in Atlanta when a right rear tire went flat in front of the field and triggered a multi-car crash. Reddick has proven to be a decent road course racer with one top five and four top 10s in nine such starts.

One of those top 10s came last season at COTA, where he earned the pole position and overcame a spin at Lap 40 to rally back to ninth place. Perhaps the dry conditions expected this weekend will play into the No. 8 team’s hands.

Austin Cindric

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 19th — Las Vegas; 24th — Phoenix; 32nd — Atlanta
  • Recent at COTA: Finished 25th in May 2021

If any of Cindric’s seven Cup starts in 2021 signified he was ready to compete with the sport’s best, Circuit of the Americas was the one.

After qualifying third, Cindric started the race on slick tires and quickly charged to the lead. While others quickly opted for rain tires, Cindric pulled away to a 6½-second lead over the first five laps in wet conditions, muscling the No. 33 Ford through the 20-turn course before finally pitting.

His 25th-place finish wasn’t indicative of his performance — Cindric averaged a sixth-best 10.37 running position that day — but his fellow competitors knew he was there.

Cindric’s hot start, highlighted by winning the Daytona 500 and Auto Club pole, has cooled considerably with three straight finishes outside the top 15. A road course may be his best threat to get back on track.

Drivers to watch in Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.

The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.

MORE: NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.

A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:

FRONTRUNNERS

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 6th
  • Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 2 career wins

Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…

William Byron

  • Points position: 3rd
  • Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second

Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.

Brad Keselowski

  • Points position: 24th
  • Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader

Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 15th
  • Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008

Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.

Chase Elliott

  • Points position: 8th
  • Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019

Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.

Martin Truex Jr.

  • Points position: 17th
  • Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
  • Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th

Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.

 

 

 

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.