Winning ways have Richard Childress smiling again

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INDIANAPOLIS — Tyler Reddick’s victory Sunday at Indianapolis marks only the second time since 2014 that Richard Childress Racing has won at least two Cup races in a season. 

It last happened in 2017. Austin Dillon won the Coca-Cola 600 and Ryan Newman won the spring Phoenix race.

“Well, it’s great to be back competitive again,” car owner Richard Childress said after Reddick’s win, his second of the season. “The doors have been open, the lights have been on, but we haven’t been competitive. But it feels great to come to a race track and know you’re going to be one of the teams that’s going to be racing for the win.”

The organization that won six championships with Dale Earnhardt has struggled for much of the past decade. Since Kevin Harvick left RCR after the 2013 season, Childress’ teams have combined to win six races. 

The success comes amid turmoil. 23XI Racing announced July 12 that it had signed Tyler Reddick to a multi-year contract starting in 2024. The deal angered Childress, who had not spoken to Reddick since the announcement until Reddick won Sunday.

Reddick said Sunday that “winning helps” in repairing the relationship with his boss.

Childress admitted after the 23XI Racing announcement that he “stayed up most of the night thinking about what I should do, how I wanted to handle it.

“I went in (to the race shop) the next day and told the whole team it wasn’t a perfect circumstance the way it went down, but we’re going to give it everything we’ve got this year, and we’ll see where we go next year.”

As for next year? 

“Tyler will be in the car at RCR next year,” Childress said Sunday.

Asked if that would be the No. 8 car, Childress nodded yes.

For Reddick, he’s focused on winning more races and a championship this season.

“I just look at the time we have left,” he said. “I know I always give it my all, but certainly knowing that (2023) is when the end of the road is going to be, I need to do everything I can to win as many races as possible for this group because I wouldn’t be the road course racer I am today if it wasn’t for RCR, if it wasn’t for the people on my team, if it wasn’t for Chevrolet.

“I owe it to them. I owe it to my team. I owe it to the people that really have helped me to get that done and go out there and deliver for them.

“Certainly if anything it’s helped. Just like when (girlfriend) Alexa told me, “Hey, if you win the championship you can name our son. 

“There’s not always times when I think I need an extra motivator because I don’t know if it’s possible or if it’s out there, but when I get them, I take it and run with it. For this situation, knowing when my last day will be with RCR, if anything it’s probably motivated me more than I thought was possible before all this went in motion.”

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The cars of Chris Buescher and Joey Logano each caught fire during Sunday’s Cup race. Both seemed to be the result of similar circumstances. 

Logano’s car caught on fire on the last lap and he finished the race sixth before pulling off course. The driver side door and rocker box caught fire, Travis Geisler, competition director for Team Penske, told NBC Sports.

“From the contact, the exhaust pipe got bent in where it’s basically blowing directly on the carbon door and rocker,” Geisler said. “At that point, there’s really no carbon material that’s going to survive that kind of heat. It just ignites, and basically your door is on fire. Kind of a situation we had, I would imagine, it was very similar to (Buescher).

“Something we have to think about. What to do? I don’t necessarily know an easy, quick fix for that one.”

Buescher’s car also had contact that triggered a fire inside the vehicle. Jeremy Thompson, competition director for RFK Racing, told NBC Sports that contact with Bubba Wallace “somewhere twisted the exhaust pipe … the rocker panel and all that stuff caught on fire.”

Thompson also said that “what happened, I wouldn’t have anticipated happening. We’ve beat these doors. We’ve hit rocker panels, we’ve done all that stuff. I don’t know. Very, very odd.”

Buescher reported the fire as he was coming to pit road on Lap 12. He lost two laps while in his stall as the fire was extinguished with him still in the car.

He came back to finish 10th.

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Sunday marked the first time since July 1994 at Pocono that three Cup rookies finished in the top five.

Austin Cindric finished second for Team Penske, Harrison Burton was third for Wood Brothers Racing and Todd Gilliland placed fourth for Front Row Motorsports. It was the first top-five finish for both Burton and Gilliland. 

“We can’t get away from each other!” Gilliland said. “We’re either battling like 30th, 35th, or now we finish top five together. It’s really been like that our whole lives, and we were saying once we start winning, it’ll be a lot more fun when we’re battling each other every week.”

Said Burton of Gilliland: ’It’s cool to race in Cup with him and get good finishes with him. And yeah, he’s a good friend of mine. It’s cool. I’m happy for him. I’m happy for our team. And I’m glad we finished up front. For a while there, he was running better than us, and I was worried about just points. Got to beat him in rookie points. So it’s a lot of fun.”

Burton said the finish was much-needed.

“Early in the day, we made a lot of mistakes, and I was like there’s no way we’re going to recover from this,” he said. “We got some cautions, some good restarts there. Really aggressive at the end and ended up OK.”

Gilliland started ninth — his best qualifying effort in Cup — and used that track position to his advantage. 

“Head and shoulders better than we have been,” Gilliland said. “So it’s just about building momentum and hopefully we can repeat this in the future.”

The Burton family also was a part of that event. Ward Burton, Harrison’s uncle, finished second, and Jeff Burton, Harrison’s dad, finished fourth in that race. The other rookie to finish in the top five that day was Joe Nemechek, who was third. 

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Kyle Larson’s crash in Sunday’s race was not the result of brake failure, a team spokesperson told NBC Sports on Monday.

Instead, a team spokesman reported that crew chief Cliff Daniels stated that Larson got too deep into the braking zone and got out of shape.

“All I saw was a blue flash and that’s about the hardest I’ve been hit by anything,” Dillon said. “First, I’m just grateful to God that I’m okay and these cars are safe enough to take a shot like that. … I was just blindsided, really.”

Larson sailed into Turn 1, hit the curb and slammed into Ty Dillon’s car, eliminating both. Larson finished 35th. Dillon was 34th.

Hailie Deegan to make Xfinity debut at Las Vegas

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Hailie Deegan announced Tuesday that she will make her Xfinity Series debut Oct. 15 Las Vegas Motor Speedway on NBC and Peacock.

The 21-year-old Deegan is in her second full-time season in the Camping World Truck Series. She finished a career-high sixth in that series last weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

She will drive the No. 07 car for SS Green Light Racing with Jeff Lefcourt.

 

 

Alex Bowman to miss Charlotte Roval race

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Alex Bowman announced Tuesday night on social media that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup playoff race at the Charlotte Roval.

Bowman said on social media: “I am continuing to make strides in my recovery to make sure I can return to competition at 100%.”

This will be the second consecutive race he will have missed because of concussion-like symptoms after his crash at Texas Motor Speedway.

Noah Gragson will drive the No. 48 car this weekend for Bowman.

“Alex’s health is our first priority,” said Jeff Andrews, president and general manager of Hendrick Motorsports, in a statement. “We’re focused on supporting his recovery and seeing him back in his race car when the time is right. Alex has a long career ahead of him, so we will invest the necessary time and take our guidance from medical experts. We’re putting no pressure on him to return before he’s 100% ready.”

Bowman will be one of the four drivers eliminated from title contention Sunday.

Also Tuesday, Cody Ware announced that he will sit out this weekend’s Cup race at the Charlotte Roval, as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered at Texas.

NASCAR Power Rankings: Chase Elliott leaps to the front

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A slick late-race move by Chase Elliott carried him to Victory Lane Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway — and back to the top of the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Elliott is the only driver with five victories this season. No one else in the playoffs has more than two (Tyler Reddick, eliminated from the championship hunt, has won three times).

Elliott, already qualified for the Round of 8 with his Talladega win, will be among the favorites in Sunday’s race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Here’s how the rankings look approaching the end of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Chase Elliott (No. 3 last week) — Elliott’s power move to win at Talladega was quite impressive and gave him four top-five finishes in the past 10 races. Clearly, he has re-established himself as the championship favorite.

2. Denny Hamlin (No. 1 last week) — Hamlin drops a spot despite a strong run (20 laps led and finishing fifth) at Talladega. Count him in the hunt for an elusive first championship.

3. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Blaney simply will not go away despite continuing as the playoffs’ only winless driver (not including the Texas All-Star Race). He was victimized by Chase Elliott on Sunday at Talladega, finishing .046 seconds short of victory and a push into the next round.

4. Kyle Larson (No. 2 last week) — Superspeedway racing generally is not Larson’s strong point. He finished 18th Sunday despite leading eight laps and being in the front group much of the day.

5. Joey Logano (No. 4 last week) — Logano had an unusually poor performance at Talladega. He was involved in an early-race accident and struggled much of the rest of the day, finishing 27th.

MORE: Elliott celebrates, Logano laments

6. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain tied Aric Almirola for most laps led (36) at Talladega and has been consistent as of late with three finishes of seventh or better in the past four races.

7. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron’s worst news last week came off the track as he was penalized by NASCAR for dumping Denny Hamlin under caution at Texas. He finished 12th at Talladega.

8. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe is quietly making the case that he could make the Round of 8 and challenge for the title.

MORE: Winners and losers at Talladega

9. Daniel Suarez (unranked last week) — Suarez maneuvered through the Talladega draft with style and came home eighth. He has three top 10s in the past seven races.

10. Christopher Bell (No. 6 last week) — Bell had a rough day at Talladega and will be looking to Sunday’s race at the Roval for redemption.

Dropped out: Tyler Reddick (No. 10 last week).

Talladega’s tale of two drivers: One celebrates, one laments

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — It’s dangerous to forecast what is going to happen next in these playoffs in a Cup season unlike any other. 

So keep that in mind, but Chase Elliott’s victory at Talladega moves him one step closer to returning to the championship race for a third consecutive season.

It’s easy to overlook that beyond earning a spot in the Round of 8 with his win Sunday, Elliott scored six playoff points. That gives him 46 playoff points. He has the opportunity to score seven more playoff points this weekend at the Charlotte Roval — an event he has won twice — before the next round begins.

Once the current round ends, the points will be reset to 4,000 for each of the remaining playoff drivers and they’ll have their playoff points added. 

At this point, Elliott would have a 21-point lead on his nearest competitor and a 31-point lead the first driver outside a transfer spot to the championship race.

The next round opens at Las Vegas, goes to Homestead and ends with Martinsville. 

A key for Elliott, though, is to avoid how he has started each of the first two rounds. A crash led to a 36th-place finish in the playoff opener at Darlington. He placed 32nd after a crash at Texas to begin this round.

The up-and-down nature of the playoffs, though, hasn’t taken a toll on the 2020 Cup champion.

“I feel like I’ve been doing this long enough now to understand the roller coaster that is racing,” said Elliott, who is advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth consecutive season. “It’s going to roll on, right? You either learn to ride it during the good days, during the bad days, too, or you don’t. That’s just part of the deal.

“So, yeah, just try to ride the wave. Had a bad week last week, had a good week this week. Obviously great to move on into the next round, get six more bonus points. All those things are fantastic, we’re super proud of that.

“This deal can humble you. We can go to the Round of 8 and crash again like we did the first two rounds, or you can go in there and maybe have a really good first race. I don’t know. You show up prepared, do the best you can, figure it out from there.”

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Joey Logano has always been one who wants to race at the front in a superspeedway event instead of riding at the back.

When asked last month about the idea of Texas Motor Speedway being reconfigured to provide superspeedway-type racing — as Atlanta Motor Speedway was before this season — Logano questioned the value of that type of racing.

“Is that the type of racing fans want to see?” Logano said. “Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. 

“They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano sought to race at the front as much as possible Sunday at Talladega, even after his car was damaged in an early incident, but he took a different tack on the final restart. He restarted 24th and dropped back, finishing 27th.

“We just wreck all the time, so we thought, ‘Boy, we’ve got a big points lead, let’s just be smart and don’t wreck and we’ll be able to get out of here with a top 10, assuming they would wreck because they always do,’” Logano said after the race. 

“That was the only time I’ve ever stayed in the back, ever, was today and they didn’t wreck. We gave up a bunch of our points lead. We’re still plus-18, which is a decent spot to be, but, the goal was to race for stage points and then drop to the back and wait for the crash. I hate racing that way. I’ve gotten beat many times from people that do that, then I tried it and it didn’t work.”

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Michael McDowell’s third-place finish continues his strong season. 

McDowell’s finish extended his career-high of top-10 finishes to 12. He has five finishes of 11th or better in the last seven races. 

“I’m proud of the season we’ve had and the run that we put together,” McDowell said. “Everyone did a great job on pit road executing and getting us track position when we needed it. It’s good to be there at the end and have a shot at it, just disappointed.”

Front Row Motorsports teammate Todd Gilliland finished seventh. 

“Race car drivers are greedy,” Gilliland said. “I wish I could have gotten a couple more there, but it was still a really good day. We ran up front most of the day and my car handled really well, so, overall, there are definitely a ton of positives to take out of this.”

Sunday marked the second time this season both Front Row Motorsports cars finished in the top 10. They also did it at the Indianapolis road course. 

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NASCAR confirms that the Hendrick Motorsports appeal of William Byron’s 25-point penalty from Texas will take place Thursday.

Should Hendrick lose that appeal, the team could then have a hearing before the Final Appeals Officer. That session would need to take place before Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

“Twenty-five points in the playoffs is a ton,” car owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday of Byron’s penalty. “I mean, in the regular season if you got a bunch of races, you can make it back up.

“I’ve seen other cars under caution hit each other. In that situation, (Byron) wasn’t trying to spin him, but they got a tower full of people, they could have put him in the back, could have done something right then rather than wait till Monday or Tuesday, then make a decision.”

Byron is 11 points below the cutline after Talladega.