NASCAR viewer’s guide: Richmond Raceway

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The NASCAR Cup Series regular-season countdown clock has reached three, and Sunday’s 400-lap, 300-mile race at Richmond Raceway will be the final short-track event before the playoffs begin Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway.

After Richmond, the remaining regular-season races are at the Watkins Glen road course Aug. 21 and at Daytona International Speedway Aug. 27.

Kevin Harvick added a slice of drama to the remaining regular-season schedule by winning Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, putting his name on the playoff grid. Fifteen race winners have claimed spots, leaving Ryan Blaney as the only driver currently qualified via points.

The Richmond race weekend includes an 8 p.m. ET Saturday playoff race for the Camping World Truck Series. Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m., ET) will be televised by the USA Network. The Xfinity Series is idle this week.

Elliott On The Edge

Chase Elliott, the season’s dominant driver with four wins (no one else has more than two), can lock up the Cup regular-season title at Richmond.

Entering Sunday’s race, Elliott has a 119-point edge over second-place Ryan Blaney in the regular-season standings. If he leaves Richmond with a 121-point edge over second, he’ll nail down the regular-season title with two races remaining.

Elliott has hit a bit of a dip the past two weeks after scoring six consecutive top-10 finishes, including three wins. He finished 16th at Indianapolis and 11th Sunday at Michigan.

Blaney In The Twilight Zone

Ryan Blaney is sitting on the edge of the precipice.

With Kevin Harvick becoming the season’s 15th winner Sunday, there is only one spot vacant on the playoff grid for a driver qualifying via points. Entering Richmond, Blaney sits in that position, only 19 points in front of Martin Truex Jr., the first driver below the cutoff line.

Oddly enough, thanks to a generally consistent season, Blaney is second in the seasonal point standings. If a winless driver scores a victory in the next three races and claims the 16th playoff position, Blaney could find himself in the unlikely position of finishing second in points but missing the playoffs.

Over the past four races, Blaney has lost 52 points to Truex, making the potential race for the final playoff spot very tight.

Looking at Blaney vs. Truex over the final three races of the regular season:

  • Truex has four wins at the three tracks; Blaney has one.
  • Truex has six short-track wins; Blaney has none.
  • Truex has four road-course wins; Blaney has one.
  • Blaney’s average running position this year is 11.16. Truex’s is 11.31.
  • Truex has won three of the past six races at Richmond.
  • Blaney has an average finish of 21st at Richmond, making it one of his worst tracks.
  • Truex has led 1,285 laps at Richmond, his best track in that category.
  • Truex is the first driver with seven consecutive top-five finishes at Richmond since Rusty Wallace from 1992-95.

Kyle Busch‘s Struggles Continue

Kyle Busch is recognized as one of the best wheelmen in NASCAR’s modern era, but his recent record is quite perplexing.

Busch’s finishes over the past eight races: 30th, 21st, 29th, 20th, 12th, 36th, 11th, 36th. A crash at Michigan Sunday left him next-to-last there.

Busch has not had a top-10 finish over that stretch, the longest such run of his career.

Richmond Raceway could provide some salve. Busch is the track leader in wins (six) among active drivers, and he also has the best average finish (6.94) there among active drivers with at least three starts.

Busch has won eight times at Bristol Motor Speedway, the only track where he has had more success than Richmond.

Busch is eighth all-time on the Richmond lap-leader list with 1,529. He has a distance to go to catch the all-time leader — Richard Petty with 5,128.

Entry lists

Thirty-six drivers are entered in Sunday’s Cup race. Among the non-regulars are JJ Yeley, Noah Gragson and Landon Cassill.

Richmond Cup entry list

Forty-two drivers are entered for 36 slots in Saturday’s Truck race. Included are Norm Benning, Chad Chastain, Rajah Carruth, Kaden Honeycutt and Layne Riggs.

Hailie Deegan will have a new crew chief this weekend. Jerry Baxter has moved from the Tanner Gray truck to Deegan’s team. Mike Hillman Jr. moves from Deegan to Gray within the David Gilliland Racing operation. Gray has two top fives and five top 10s this season. Deegan has one top 10. Neither driver has won a race.

Richmond Truck entry list

This weekend’s schedule and forecast

(All times Eastern)

Saturday, August 13

Forecast: Sunny. High of 81.

  • 3:05 – 3:35 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series practice (FS1)
  • 3:35 – 4:30 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series qualifying (FS1)
  • 5:05 – 5:50 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
  • 5:50 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Camping World Truck Series race (250 laps, 187 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, August 14

Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 84.

  • 3 p.m. — Cup Series race (400 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR weekend schedule for Talladega Superspeedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll into Talladega Superspeedway, a center of uncertainty, for the second race in the Round of 12 this weekend.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) could place the first driver in the Round of 8. Any playoff driver who wins the race automatically advances to the next round.

Through the playoffs to date, playoff drivers are batting zero in the race-win category. Non-playoff drivers — Tyler Reddick, Chris Buescher, Bubba Wallace and Erik Jones — have scored wins in the first four playoff races.

Joey Logano leads the playoff points entering the race. Ross Chastain, who won at Talladega earlier this year, is second.

The four drivers below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron was above the line earlier this week but was penalized 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway. That move lifted Chase Briscoe above the cutline.

Playoff races also are scheduled for the Xfinity Series (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, USA Network) and the Camping World Truck Series (Saturday, 12:30 p.m., FS1) at Talladega.

Here’s a look at the Talladega weekend schedule:

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Friday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday: Partly cloudy. High of 74.

Sunday: Intervals of clouds and sun. High of 75.

Friday, Sept. 30

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck Series
  • 10:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series
  • 2 – 7 p.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

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

Saturday, Oct. 1

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 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

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — Cup Series

Track activity

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

Short-track ace Sam Ard shares Xfinity record with Noah Gragson

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Former two-time Xfinity Series champion Sam Ard’s name returned to the forefront in the past week as Noah Gragson tied Ard’s series record for consecutive victories at four.

Although Ard has been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, his exploits generally aren’t well-known among many who follow the modern sport of stock car racing. He was on the Hall voting list for the 2023 class but was not elected.

In the 1970s and ’80s, Ard was a short-track master in the vein of stars like Jack Ingram, Harry Gant and Butch Lindley, drivers who could show up at virtually any half-mile track across the country and take home the trophy.

He won the NASCAR Late Model (now the Xfinity Series) championship in 1983 and 1984, scoring 18 wins across those two seasons. He put together four victories in a row late in the 1983 season, winning at South Boston, Virginia; Martinsville, Virginia; Rougemont, North Carolina and Charlotte.

Ard was so dominant in 1984 that he had wrapped up the seasonal championship with two races remaining. In 28 series starts that year, he had 24 top-five finishes and 26 top-10 runs. He won eight times.

In the next-to-last race of the 1984 season, at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham, Ard suffered critical head injuries when his car slid in fluid from another vehicle and hit the track’s outside wall.

That crash effectively ended Ard’s career and impacted the rest of his life. Ard often talked of learning to walk again as part of his recovery. He said he would use a walker in a pile of sawdust in his backyard so that the landing would be softer when he fell.

Ard eventually was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. In 2006, responding to Ard’s financial problems, drivers Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., among others, launched a drive to raise funds for his family.

Ard, a native of Scranton, S.C., died in April 2017. He was 78.

 

 

 

 

 

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.