Austin Dillon wins Daytona by bumping Cindric; Blaney in, Truex out of playoffs

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Austin Dillon won the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway to snatch a NASCAR Cup Series playoff spot, taking the lead by shoving Austin Cindric aside with three laps remaining.

Ryan Blaney secured the final playoff spot on points, and Martin Truex Jr. was eliminated

In scoring his fourth career victory in NASCAR’s premier series, Dillon won a race that already had been postponed since Saturday night and then was stopped for more than three hours by rain Sunday afternoon.

On a restart with 16 laps remaining, Dillon was passed by Cindric, who had a drafting push from Truex.

STATS PACKAGE: Results, points standings after Sunday at Daytona

But Dillon, who had drafting help from Richard Childress Racing teammate Tyler Reddick and fellow Chevy driver Noah Gragson in the closing laps, got back to the leader’s bumper with 10 laps remaining, and he nudged Cindric out of first and down the banking with a well-timed bump in Turn 1.

We stayed ready,” Dillon told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “And I have to thank my teammate Tyler Reddick (and) everybody that makes this thing happen.

“Man, we’re in the Playoffs. There was a lot going on there. I knew that if we got to the white (flag),if I waited too long, I was afraid somebody would wreck behind us, so I wanted to go ahead and get the lead. We were able to get it.

“I had a big run to (Cindric), and then I had (Reddick) back there. I knew we were in good shape there to the end. He did a good job checking up any kind of run. I felt like I had good teammates and Chevrolet behind me. If I could get the lead, (Cindric) would not be able to hold onto the draft.”

Cindric, the Daytona 500 winner seeking a clean sweep at the World Center of Racing, finished third behid Reddick after the Team Penske driver rebounded with drafting help from a few other Fords.

I got hit by another race car going 200 mph,” Cindric said. “Glad I saved it. Glad I had a shot to come back through the field. He is racing for a playoff spot. Totally expect to get drove through. Just a matter of time. Pretty bummed. I mean, we had a shot to win today. We put ourselves in position. Not a scratch on it. Dang it.

“I knew I was a sitting duck. I felt like I was Xfinity racing again. I was the only Ford out there.  One lap longer, might have had a shot. I don’t know. Frustrating just to be that close. Kind of pissed about it, but can’t be too upset. In the Playoffs and have a lot to fight for. Great opportunity.”

Landon Cassill finished fourth, and Noah Gragson rounded out the top five.

Dillon took his first lead nearly four hours earlier by emerging from a major pileup in Turn 2 just before a red flag for rain halted Sunday’s race after Lap 139 at Daytona International Speedway. Only 17 of 37 cars were running at the finish as three multicar wrecks took their toll.

Several cars at the front of the field, including race leader Denny Hamlin, all spun on damp asphalt at the entry to Turn 2 with 22 laps remaining in the regular-season cutoff race as a rain shower hit the 2.5-mile oval.

Dillon, who had been 16th when the crash started, kept his No. 3 Chevrolet low on the track and scooted through the debris field to take first on Lap 138 of a scheduled 160. NASCAR then threw the red flag for a downpour around 12:35 p.m. ET.

The red flag was lifted shortly before 4 p.m., and the green flew again at 4:05 p.m. The race finally ended about 20 minutes later.

Blaney, who finished 15th despite having a heavily damaged car that was six laps down, claimed the final spot in the 16-driver playoffs by three points over Truex.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver missed the playoffs for the first time since 2014 despite being fourth in the regular-season standings.

Just not fast enough to keep up with those guys,” Truex, who finished eighth and remained winless at Daytona, told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “We got the restart we need and got into a decent spot there. Just couldn’t keep up. I was wide open the whole last run there. It’s a shame. It stinks.

“But just too much damage to have enough speed to do what we needed to do. Hindsight is always 20/20. We gave away plenty of points throughout the season, but it is what it is.”

Two multicar crashes in the 40 laps preceding the red flag had eliminated several contenders, as drivers raced frantically with the threat of rain shortening a race that had become official on Lap 80. The race had started at 10 a.m. ET after being postponed from Saturday night by rain.

Justin Haley, who had won a rain-shortened race at Daytona in 2019 by inheriting the lead under yellow just before inclement weather, tried to repeat history Sunday. The Kaulig Racing driver took the lead on Lap 129 as most of the field pitted under yellow.

Haley was battling for the lead with Hamlin when he also spun because of the wet conditions. He was one of multiple drivers who criticized NASCAR for failing to stop the race sooner.

“Yeah, it was raining for a good lap before we got into Turn 1, my spotter said,” Haley told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “Coming out of (Turn 2) the previous lap, it was raining and we just lost traction. It’s pretty unacceptable.

CRITICAL CALL: Drivers question why race wasn’t stopped earlier for rain before wreck

“I thought we did a good job all day. It’s just tough. I fight for my ride, fight for my life, every day. We take these small opportunities and try to make something of it. It’s unacceptable.”

Blaney’s chances severely were impacted by a Lap 31 crash on the backstretch that started when Hamlin lost the handle while pushing Erik Jones in the lead.

Blaney was behind Hamlin and backed out to avoid contact, but Christopher Bell ran into Hamlin and spun up the track into Blaney’s No. 12 Ford, which took a heavy shot with its right front in the outside wall.

“We’re very fortunate,” Blaney told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman after the race. “That’s for sure. It was not a good day getting going and getting up early. At that point, our fate was not really in our hands. All we could do is try to keep working on it and fix it to where we could make laps.

“Thankfully, we were able to get enough cars throughout the wrecks that we kind of just kept moving up and were able to get in. That’s definitely a lot more stressful than I wanted coming into here, but I just got to give a lot of props to the 12 group, you know, for fixing it and sticking with it all day. That’s why you do it. Your day can start off like that, and you just stay with it and stay in the game. And it was definitely beneficial for us. Appreciate them. We’ll go race for a championship.”

Truex barely managed to avoid the early wreck and finished fifth when the first stage ended four laps later.

But then disaster struck for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver shortly after the restart to begin the final stage.

At the front of the lead pack, Tyler Reddick clipped Michael McDowell in the left rear, sending the No. 34 Ford into the outside wall.

Truex was running 11th but was caught in the chain reaction, making contact with Ross Chastain and William Byron.

Truex’s No. 19 Toyota suffered left-side damage, and a tire failure blew out its right-front fender. He fell to 28th, the last car on the lead lap after repairs for damage.

“I knew we should not have been up there, dude,” Truex radioed crew chief James Small.

Truex had finished second in Stage 2, earning 15 points on Blaney during the race.

“The Bass Pro Toyota is pretty beat up from that first incident, but we’re in (the playoffs) right now,” Truex told Burns during the delay. “Just see what happens here. Just typical Daytona. Had good speed, around the front, good stage points and then pow, in the middle of it. Just kind of the way it goes here. Wrong place, wrong time. Now maybe right place right time. This place is wild. You never know.

“It’s not driving great and doesn’t have much speed left like it did earlier, but heck, nobody does now.”

With the race past halfway and official, McDowell said threatening weather had increased the intensity of the racing.

“We fought so hard to put ourselves in position to have a shot at making the playoffs,” the Front Row Motorsports driver said. “I felt like that was our shot.  We had to go for it and it didn’t work out, but if I’d have lifted and the rain would have came and finished second, I would have been pretty upset with myself.”

Both wrecks also were costly for the winless cars of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing that were trying to make the playoffs with a win. Brad Keselowski’s No. 6 Ford was eliminated in the first wreck, and teammate Chris Buescher was caught in the second.

Buescher rebounded and was racing for the lead with Hamlin when his No. 17 Ford was caught in the wreck just before the red flag.

“We wiped out all the lead cars, so whoever wins this race wasn’t even in contention,” Buescher said. “It’s just ridiculous from my point of view.”

Keselowski will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013 (the year after he won his lone Cup Series title).

“Somebody wrecked in front of me,” he said. “I’m not really sure exactly what happened, but there were just a bunch of cars wrecking in front of me. I didn’t have anywhere to go and couldn’t slow down in time, so I hate it for our team.  We had a really fast race car.  We were working our way to the front, but we’ll cheer on Chris Buescher now, I guess.

“It’s frustrating, but whenever your season is down to one race you’ve got a lot more going on than just that one race.  Our team put a lot of effort into getting this car ready.  They brought a great car, so I hurt for them that we didn’t get a chance to show it.”

Stage 1 winner: Joey Logano

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Drivers who had a good race: Several lesser-known types managed to avoid being eliminated in the early crashes, namely: Landon Cassill, Cody Ware, BJ McLeod, David Ragan and Noah Gragson. All finished in the top 10.

Drivers who had a bad race: Uhhh, are we talking just guys who were eliminated by wrecks? Because that would include: Chase Briscoe, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Gilliland, Daniel Suarez, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric, Chris Buescher, Justin Haley, Chase Elliott, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain, William Byron, Brad Keselowski, Christopher Bell.  … Rookie Ty Gibbs was caught in the early accident and lost multiple laps because of the damage. … After starting from the pole position, Kyle Larson was unable to lead a lap and retired after only 14 laps with an engine problem in his No. 5 Chevrolet. “I guess it was the timing belt maybe, or something like that,” he said. “I didn’t really have much of an indication. I’m sure they’ll dig through the data and see if it was happening earlier than when it really let go there.”

Next: The Cup Series playoffs will open Sunday, Sept. 4 at Darlington Raceway with the prestigious Southern 500 (USA, 6 p.m. ET).

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.