Racing forward: 15 years after family tragedy, Jimmy Blewett hasn’t slowed

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Father and son walk through patchy shadows on a steamy August evening at North Wilkesboro Speedway, the father’s arm around his son’s shoulders.

Fourteen-year-old James Blewett should not be walking through the infield with his father, Jimmy, at this time. He should be on the track. Instead, James is out of the race after he couldn’t avoid a spinning car and rammed into it. He is uninjured. The other driver limps the rest of the night.  

James’ crash came in just his second modified event. The low-slung car with fat wheels, a mixture of daring and speed, has been the chariot of choice for many of the top drivers in the Northeast for decades. The red, white and blue No. 76 that James drives is the type of car his grandfather raced, his uncle raced and his dad races.

The night before, James finished fifth in a 22-car field. Now he has his first crash. The incident is viewed as a right of passage for the young driver. It’s one thing for James to see a competitor wreck and not be hurt; it’s another to experience the impact and walk away himself.

But the Blewett family knows how devastating an accident can be. Fifteen years ago, Jimmy Blewett and his older brother John led the field at Connecticut’s Thompson Speedway. They crashed. John died. 

“I found myself trying to make sense of it,” Jimmy said of his brother’s death, “and you can’t.’’ 

Jimmy said he was done racing. Less than three weeks later, he was back on track. This is what the Blewetts of Howell, New Jersey, do. They race. Jimmy continues to chase checkered flags — and is back at Thompson Speedway this week — while his son represents the next generation in the family’s racing lineage. 

James Blewett and his father Jimmy walking through the infield at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Aug. 3, 2022 (Photo: Dustin Long)

Aug. 16, 2007

Their rivalry was built on love, respect and the desire to top one another. Sure, the trophy was great and the money nice, but the best part of winning — and beating the other — was that the loser bought lunch at the food truck and listened to the winner talk smack. 

Brothers.

Their bond strengthened after their parents divorced. John Blewett III became “like a father to me,” said Jimmy, seven years younger than John. “I wanted to do everything that guy did.” 

That included racing, but their father, John II, didn’t have the time to prepare another car for Jimmy. That didn’t stop John III from pushing the family to let Jimmy to race.

“I ultimately don’t think I would have ever raced if I didn’t have him in my corner,” Jimmy said of his brother. 

When they raced, whether at their home track of Wall Stadium Speedway or elsewhere, their duels could be memorable and include some contact. Although brothers, they were competitors on the track. 

A Memorial to John Blewett at the family’s scrapyard and recycling center in Howell, N.J. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Still, no one was a bigger fan of Jimmy than his brother. One year, before Wall Stadium Speedway’s annual Turkey Derby race, John set up Jimmy’s car and told him: “You’re going to win the race today. The car is good. You’re good. … Today is your day. You’re going to go out there and beat me and beat everybody else out there.”

“You know how hard it is to beat you?” Jimmy said to John.

“It doesn’t matter,” John responded. “If anybody out here can do it, it is you.”

Jimmy won. His brother finished second.

“That was one of my greatest memories with him,” Jimmy said.

Years of competing together, winning races and track championships led the brothers to Aug. 16, 2007. A red flag halted the modified race that night at Thompson Speedway, and the brothers stopped next to each other. 

They spoke briefly. John, lifting his helmet, asked about Jimmy’s car. John then told his younger brother: “Listen, no matter what, we got to beat these guys. One of us is going to win.”

Jimmy recalls that after their engines were re-fired, John winked at him, pointed toward the front and gave the No. 1 sign with his index finger.

“He was in the final minutes of his life,” Jimmy said. “He had no clue. … He was still worrying about somebody else.”

The brothers dueled for the lead. One dive-bombed the other in a corner to get ahead. The other repeated the move moments later. Back and forth they went. The .625-mile track, which hosted its first race in 1951, became a personal playground for the Blewetts that night. 

“We were just having fun,” Jimmy said.

A caution interrupted the action. When the race restarted, the Blewetts again traded the lead, but then Jimmy’s car got loose.

Freddie Kraft, the spotter for Bubba Wallace in the NASCAR Cup Series, was spotting for Jimmy that night. Kraft saw sparks from Jimmy’s car.

Kraft said the rear of Jimmy’s car lifted when it hit the wall. The cars behind John crashed into him and drove his car partly underneath Jimmy’s vehicle. Kraft said he didn’t think much of the accident until he saw Jimmy frantically waving for safety crews to help John. 

The Hartford Courant reported that the accident happened at 9:48 p.m. ET. The newspaper reported that John was removed from the car at 10:12 p.m. ET. He was transported to a hospital, less than 10 minutes from the track, at 10:20 p.m. ET.

John Blewett III was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. ET at Hubbard Regional Hospital in Webster, Massachusetts. He was 33.

Blewett’s Brigade 

Thompson Speedway will host its 60th World Series of Speedway Racing in October. In 2006, John, Jimmy, Kraft, and some friends went up to the stands to watch the action since they would not compete until the next night. 

“You know what would be funny?” Kraft recalled John saying. “Whoever wins this race, let’s just go to victory lane.” 

The plan was to blend in with winning team’s crew and get in the victory lane photos as a gag, but the winner of that race didn’t have a crew. There in victory lane was the driver with John, Jimmy, Kraft and a couple of others. The driver appreciated the company.

The group then returned to the grandstands. During the next race, John told them, “Let’s do it again.” They did for every race that night. One time they lifted the winner onto their shoulders. Each time they went to victory lane, the pilgrimage collected more followers. Kraft estimated 30 people eventually joined them. They became known as Blewett’s Brigade.

“We had such a blast that night. Those are the things,” Jimmy said, his voice trailing as he looked at photos from that night, “that you’ll never forget.”

Among the tributes to John Blewett. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The camaraderie with competitors and helping drivers meant nearly as much as racing to John. 

“We could be thrashing here during the week and not even getting our own stuff done,” Jimmy said, “and that one kid or his dad would show up to the garage or call and say, ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?’” 

It would be about their child’s car. John would tell them to bring it over and he would help work on it. Other times, the brothers would go to someone else’s shop to look over a car. Each time Jimmy joined his brother on those trips, he recalled seeing John turn down money for the help. 

“It’s about helping others and teaching them,” Jimmy said of his brother’s generosity.

Jimmy carries that tenet with him. It helps him cope with his brother’s death.

“That saying, ‘Here today, gone tomorrow,’ you can never prepare for it,” Jimmy said. “You can never understand it. You learn to deal with it and put it in a place inside that doesn’t bother you as much. … Every time I start to get myself upset about it, I try to make somebody else happy. When I’m down and out, my biggest thing is to see what I can do to put a smile on someone else’s face.”

Ryan Flores, a tire changer on Ryan Blaney’s NASCAR Cup team, is among those who has been impacted by the brothers. He was taken in by John and Jimmy as a teen and became a part of the family. Flores, who still races when he can, credits the Blewetts with saving his life.

“Really, truly and honestly, my life should’t have been any more than being a drug addict on the Jersey Shore,” Flores said. “That’s where my lineage is. That’s what my friends became. I’ve probably had 15 friends who overdosed and died.”

Flores was among those the Blewetts opened their race shop to and allowed him to work on his car there.

“That was the equivalent of walking into Hendrick Motorsports for me,” said Flores, who noted that John Blewett was just like Jeff Gordon to him.

But there was more to racing to John. 

His son, John IV, was 7 years old when John died in the crash at Thompson Speedway. While many of his memories of his dad are from the track, John IV cherishes the time spent fishing with him.

“He was always fun,” John IV said. “Always just laughing and joking.”

John also had a serious side. 

The Blewett family owns an auto and scrap metal recycling center in Howell, New Jersey. John ran it and oversaw the family’s racing at the time of his death. Joey Caraccia, a family friend and engine builder, called John “the glue that held the whole family together.”

John also served as a moral compass. One time, a man started showing up at the junkyard with his Dobermann but mistreated the dog. When it continued, John took the man’s dog. That became Bud, the Blewett family dog.

Always together  

It is an overcast day in late July when Jimmy directs a visitor to Evergreen Cemetery in Farmingdale, New Jersey, and his brother’s gravesite.

The headstone list John’s birth (Oct. 25, 1973) and death (Aug. 16, 2007). Engraved is “Cherished Father, Son, Grandson, Brother” and his No. 76 modified race car. Blue daisies, red roses and shrubs bookend the plot. 

Although the site is about 10 minutes from Jimmy Blewett’s home, he rarely visits.

“I don’t necessarily come here because of this feeling that he’s with you all the time,” Jimmy said. “It’s just how I feel. I don’t feel like he’s here (at the cemetery). This is here for people to come and pay their respects.”

It’s easy to understand why Jimmy feels his brother is often with him. The walls in the race shop are covered in photos of the brothers and tributes to John. The garage by their grandfather’s house has more photos and a red, white and blue No. 76 modified that John raced. The scrapyard has a picture of John near the main gate. Jimmy’s cars always include III, the logo for his brother, and a flaming skull, another logo of his brother. 

John Blewett’s car is surrounded by photos that traces the Blewett family’s racing history. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes, it’s little things that remind him of his brother. The day before he took a visitor to the cemetery, Jimmy was at a local waterpark. The parking spot next to his car was 8076. Jimmy was born in 1980 and the No. 76 is the family’s car number. 

“It was like, ‘Hey, have fun today,’” Jimmy says of the message of seeing his brother’s car number. 

The No. 76 comes up often to Jimmy, whether he sees it in a ticket at a nearby Wawa convenience store or in the last two digits of what someone paid for gas at the pump before him. To him, it’s a sign of his brother. 

Even though it has been 15 years since the accident, Jimmy said: “It doesn’t feel like it was that long ago to me,” Jimmy said. 

The pain still can be unbearable.

“Jimmy still carries the weight of that pretty hard,” Flores said. “He’ll call me some nights crying, probably two or three times a year, just having a hard time.”

The accident was triggered when Jimmy’s right front tire started to go flat. Looking back, he thinks about how the right front gripped the track under the caution as he swerved the steering wheel from side to side to clean the tires. He didn’t know the tire was losing air.

As he headed into Turn 1, the tire went flat and Jimmy said it came off the rim. That triggered the sparks Kraft saw from the spotter’s stand.

When Jimmy got the car back and examined the right front tire, the cause became evident.

“The head of a rivet, I’ll never forget it, was sticking through that tire,” Jimmy said. 

“That little thing caused that accident to happen. It just shows you that anything can happen at any time. Just count your blessings and enjoy your life while you can. In a split-second, everything can change. Everything around you can crumble. That’s what happened for my family and I.”

Jimmy said not a day goes by that he doesn’t think about it. 

“At the same time I know there’s nothing I’m going to do to change it,” he said. “All I can do is …carry on his legacy and his tradition with teaching the kids and the younger generation and try to pack as many wins as we can before it’s over.”

Jimmy Blewett John Blewett James Blewett
Jimmy Blewett with his son James at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Aug. 3, 2022 (Photo: Dustin Long)

Allure of racing

There is a lure to racing, no matter how much it takes from someone or some family, that pulls people back.

After John’s accident, Jimmy’s grandfather quit owning cars and left racing. One day, he told Jimmy he wanted to talk. 

“I figured it was going to be him (talking about) John and both of us would cry,” Jimmy said. “My grandfather … he doesn’t really cry much. You very seldom see his eyes water — and it’s only talking about my brother.”

Instead, his grandfather, the original John in the family, said he missed racing and wanted to own a car again and have Jimmy race it.

Jimmy is back racing this week at Thompson Speedway, site of his brother’s crash in a NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race. That series race at Thompson has been rescheduled for Thursday. 

Jimmy has never won a NASCAR Tour race at that track. He’ll be in a car owned by former Cup owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. Earlier this summer, Jimmy called Kraft and asked if he could attend this week’s race because of how good a chance he had to win there. 

“If there’s any one thing that I feel like I’ve got to get off my chest is getting that Tour win at Thompson,” Jimmy said. “But at the same token, if I don’t, maybe it’s not meant to be for me. But I feel like I’m in a great scenario with Tommy and his team. I feel this is probably my best chance to get that win.”

Racing even remained strong within John IV after he lost his father in that crash 15 years ago. He continued to go to races and watch Uncle Jimmy compete. 

“I enjoyed going and watching,” John IV said. “I think I just wanted to be a part of it. I know it’s bigger than me, and it’s our entire family and to be a part of that was really, really something special. That’s what drew me to it.”

John IV even raced a little, although he no longer does so.

“He really instilled in me that you can’t give up, you can’t just give up on life or give up what we do and what everyone has done for so long because of an unfortunate accident,” John IV said of his father. 

Shortly after the John’s death, Jimmy found out his wife was pregnant with James. Amid the darkness, there was light.

“It was almost like here’s something to keep you occupied … here’s something good,” Jimmy said of his wife’s pregnancy and his son’s birth. “Don’t be so sad, you’re going to have something good here.”

Although James never met his uncle, the similarities between the two are striking, some say. 

“(James) is more like John every time I see him,” Flores said. “The way he talks, his mannerisms, the way he looks.”

Flores was with the Blewetts earlier this month at North Wilkesboro. As Jimmy sat in his car in line to qualify, Flores was beside the door and James sat on the car’s nerf bar.

When James walked away, Flores told Jimmy that “(James) is more like John every time I see him.”

“Isn’t that weird,” Jimmy said.

It comes naturally to James. Just as racing does. Then again, he’s a Blewett.

“I’ve been around racing my whole life,” James said. “It’s just in our blood.”

James Blewett, pictured with his father Jimmy and Ryan Preece, before his dad competed in the modified race at North Wilkesboro Speedway on Aug. 3, 2022 (Photo: Dustin Long)

Dr. Diandra: How much does Talladega shake up the playoffs?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for shaking up the playoffs. But how well deserved is that reputation?

Playoff drivers usually view the first race in the second round of the playoffs as the best chance to earn points, earn stage points and maybe even a win given that Talladega is the second race. Now that Texas is in the rear-view mirror, let’s turn our data analysis tools to Talladega.

The shake-up index

Determining how much one race shuffles the playoffs standings requires a simple metric that is applicable to all the years NASCAR has had stages and playoffs. In a rare point of consistency, Talladega has remained the 31st race of the season since 2017, when stage racing started.

After trying a couple different approaches, I finally settled on playoff rankings. These rankings are a zero-sum game. For each driver who moves up a position, another driver must move down.

The first graph is playoff ranking as a function of race for the second playoff segment of 2021. It’s a bit of a mess, but stay with me.

A scatter graph of rank changes to help determine how much shaking-up Talladega actually does

Playoff rank runs along the left side of the graph. The highest ranked driver is at the top and the 12th ranked at the bottom.

The leftmost set of dots shows the rankings coming out of Bristol, after eliminating the lowest four drivers and re-seeding the rest. The second column of dots show the rankings after Las Vegas, which was the first race in the second round in 2021.

Each driver is represented in a different color, with lines connecting his rankings. For example, the dark purple lines show Denny Hamlin rising from third to first over these three races. The light blue lines at the bottom show Alex Bowman plummeting from seventh to 12th.

The messier the lines between two races, the more the playoffs were shaken up. Because it’s hard to quantify “messiness,” I counted each time one driver’s line crossed another driver’s line.

Each crossing indicates two drivers changed places in the rankings. The number of intersections between Bristol and Las Vegas, for example, tells you how much Las Vegas shook up the standings.

Three intersecting lines count as three shake-ups because there are three pairs of drivers crossing.

In 2021, Las Vegas had nine intersections, Talladega 13 and the Roval only five. This seems consistent with our hypothesis that Talladega is the biggest shaker-upper in the second round.

Talladega Timeline

In addition to being only one point, the 2021 Talladega contest poses another problem. Bubba Wallace won the rain-shortened race, which went 311 miles instead of the scheduled 500 miles.

That raises the possibility that 2021 might not be the most representative year for Talladega races. I therefore repeated the analysis going back to 2017. Since we didn’t have stage racing — and thus stage points — before 2017, it doesn’t make sense to compare previous years.

The table below shows the shake-up index from 2017-2021. Note that the first and third races changed from year to year.

A table summarizing the shake-up index for Talladega and other races in the second playoff round from 2017-2021

This five years of data show that Talladega wasn’t always the race that most shook-up this round of playoffs. From 2017-19, Dover and Charlotte held that honor. That’s surprising, especially in 2017. That’s the year 26 of 40 cars failed to finish the Talladega race and NASCAR parked Jimmie Johnson and Matt DiBenedetto.

In 2020, the three races had just about equal shake-up indices.

The Roval has been the third playoff race for only two years. It was equally chaotic with Talladega in terms of affecting the standings in 2020, but less so in 2021. Kansas beat the Roval for switching up the playoff standings twice.

 A caveat for the first race

If you’re surprised to see a larger shake-up for the first race in the second round of the playoffs, you’re not alone.

The 2021 fall Las Vegas race was remarkably uneventful. There were only two DNFs, both non-playoff cars. And one single-car accident that, again, didn’t involve a playoff car. Yet it had a shake-up index of nine.

It turns out that this is a side-effect of the re-seeding protocol.

The graph below shows the same time period as the rankings graph, but reports total points for the top-12 drivers.

A scatter plot showing how points changed for the top-12 playoff drivers in 2021 in the second round of the playoffs

Immediately after re-seeding, the drivers are separated by 57 points from first to 12th. If you omit Kyle Larson’s 30-point lead, the bottom 11 drivers are separated by only 27 points.

Since a driver can earn a maximum of 60 points in a single race, the first race in a round has a lot more impact in changing the standings. In effect, the first race decompresses the re-seeding compression.

After Las Vegas, the 12 playoff drivers were separated by 78 points. After Talladega, the margin grew to 98 points.

The larger numbers for the first races in any round are more due to the re-seeding-induced points compression than to the nature of the track.

Applied to 2022

Drivers don’t have to win at Talladega. They just have to finish ahead of the other playoff drivers. In fact, if a given driver can’t win, the next best case for him is if none of the other playoff drivers win, either.

The largest drop in positions a driver has seen from Talladega is five — and that’s from the rain-shortened 2021 race. On the other hand, drivers have also seen as much as an eight-position gain in the standings following Talladega. That gain was after the 2017 race where more than half the field failed to finish, but at least one driver has come out of the fall Talladega race each of the last four years up at least three positions.

As far as the stats for this year’s second round playoffs so far: Last week’s Texas race had a shake-up index of 14. That’s higher than all but the first year of the stage-racing playoff era.

And the William Byron penalty (which Hendrick Motorsports is contesting) has a shake-up index of seven.

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.