Long: Is Talladega supposed to look like this?

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So what is NASCAR? Is it a sport? Or is it a show?

Admittedly, those in the NASCAR offices likely will view its racing as both. But that creates a conflict over how to look at Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

If one views it as a sporting event, Stewart-Haas Racing’s domination — qualifying all of its cars in the top four, running there much of the race and Aric Almirola winning with Clint Bowyer second — should be celebrated because SHR did what every team hopes to do every weekend.

But that performance doesn’t play well to the overall view of the race (or show). With SHR controlling the front and drivers battling ill-handling cars, the two- and three-wide racing so common at Talladega often was replaced by single-file racing.

The 15 lead changes were the fewest at Talladega since 1973.

Green flag passes — a stat NASCAR tracks based on position changes over each scoring loop on every lap — were down 54.4 percent from last fall’s playoff race at Talladega.

Think about that … lead changes at its lowest level since before any driver in Sunday’s race was born and green-flag passes down more than 50 percent from the previous year.

Is that something fans want to see more of?

Doesn’t seem to be the case based on Jeff Gluck’s weekly Twitter poll. He stated that only 42 percent of those who voted this week thought Talladega was a good race.

Fewer than 50 percent of the voters said either Talladega race this year was a good one in Gluck’s poll. The April race had 24 lead changes — the fewest for that event since 19 lead changes in the 1998 race — and saw a 57.8 percent decline in green-flag passes.

There’s an expectation when NASCAR races at Daytona and Talladega of pack racing, passing and wild action.

Such was in limited supply at both Talladega races this year. But it wasn’t just there. The four plate races (Daytona and Talladega) saw 89 lead changes this season — down 29.4 percent from last year’s plate races.

While three of the four plate races this year ended with a last-lap pass (Austin Dillon in the Daytona 500, Erik Jones at Daytona in July and Aric Almirola at Talladega last weekend), not everyone may be willing to wait through the racing to those final laps.

With the 2019 rules package, NASCAR anticipates pack racing to remain key at Daytona and Talladega but Sunday’s race might force series officials to make some additional changes to ensure the pack is back next year.


Questions have been raised about how NASCAR officiated the end of the Truck and Cup races this weekend at Talladega.

Kurt Busch was critical of NASCAR’s decision. Had NASCAR called a caution for the crash in Turn 1 on the last lap, Busch likely would have won. Instead, he ran out of fuel and Aric Almirola won.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, explained Monday on SirusXM NASCAR Radio how series officials made the call on if to throw the caution in either race.

“Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case,” O’Donnell said about letting the Cup race finish under green.

While each last-lap scenario presents different challenges, NASCAR must remain steadfast in following what O’Donnell said in terms of driver safety. That must be No. 1 regardless of it is the last lap at Talladega, the last lap of the Daytona 500 or the last lap of the championship race in Miami.

NASCAR must be consistent with that. And that may mean calling for a caution instead of a dramatic race to the finish line.


It won’t be next year but maybe someday GMS Racing likely will field a Cup team.

GMS Racing, owned by Maury Gallagher, was in talks with Furniture Row Racing earlier this year to purchase the team’s charter, align with Joe Gibbs Racing and move to Cup next season. It’s one of the reasons why the team, through Mike Beam, didn’t try to top Front Row Motorsports’ bid for BK Racing’s charter and equipment in a court-appointed auction in August.

After examining all the costs, Gallagher decided not to pursue the Furniture Row Racing charter and equipment.

“We’re still talking and thinking about it, but first things first, we’re trying to get through this year and do some good things, particularly winning the (Truck) championship,” Gallagher said after Timothy Peters won the Truck race at Talladega.

Spencer Gallagher called the deal not working out a “tempered disappointment” but added “we got into that deal and we realized that we were going to have to undertake some additional complications with it. More than anything, if and when we make the decision to go Cup racing, I’d like to think that if we have one true luxury it is that we get to choose when and where we get to do it, which means that we’re committed to only doing it if it can be done right.

“As Maury likes to say, there’s always another deal that comes along. Patience is our watchword for getting ourselves into Cup.”

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Aric Almirola ended third longest drought between first, second Cup wins

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Despite being just over four years ago, July 6, 2014 feels like it was in another lifetime.

Now imagine how Aric Almirola felt prior to his win Sunday in the Cup race at Talladega.

It had been 149 races since Almirola first visited Victory Lane in the Cup Series. He won the rain-shortened Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in 2014 driving Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43 Ford.

When Almirola passed Kurt Busch coming to the checkered flag Sunday, it snapped the third-longest streak of starts between wins No. 1 and No. 2 in the Cup Series.

Here are the top five longest streaks.

1. Martin Truex Jr.  – 218 starts between wins

Truex’s first win came on June 4, 2007 at Dover International Speedway while driving Dale Earnhardt Inc.’s No. 1 Chevrolet.

He would have to wait until June 23, 2013 at Sonoma Raceway to get win No. 2, this time coming in Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 56 Toyota

2. Jamie McMurray – 165 starts between wins

McMurray famously earned his first Cup win in his second career start. Subbing for an injured Sterling Marlin in Chip Ganassi’s No. 40 Dodge, McMurray won on Oct. 13, 2002 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Win No. 2 did not present itself until July 7, 2007 at Daytona. Driving the No. 26 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray beat Kyle Busch by five-thousandths of a second to return to Victory Lane.

3. Aric Almirola  – 149 starts between wins

4. Ward Burton – 131 starts between wins

Burton won his first Cup race in his sophomore season, driving the No. 22 Pontiac for Bill Davis Racing. He won on Oct. 22, 1995 at Rockingham Motor Speedway.

Five years later and still driving the No. 22 for Davis, Burton returned to Victory Lane on March 19, 2000 at Darlington Raceway.

5. Morgan Shepherd – 115 starts between wins

After making eight Cup starts from 1970 – 1978, Shepherd finally ran a majority of the schedule in 1981, running all but the first two races. His first win came relatively quickly in race No. 9 on April 26 at Martinsville Speedway.

The second victory came on March 16, 1986 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Of Shepherd’s four career wins, three came at Atlanta.

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Kyle Larson calls Talladega performance ’embarrassing at times’

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A season of frustrations boiled over this weekend for Kyle Larson, who described his car’s performance at Talladega Superspeedway as “pretty disappointing, embarrassing at times.”

Larson enters this weekend’s elimination race at Kansas Speedway in danger of seeing his title hopes end after his 11th-place finish Sunday. He trails Martin Truex Jr. by 26 points for the final transfer spot. The most points a driver can score in a race is 60.

Larson was disappointed Sunday with Chip Ganassi Racing’s restrictor-plate program.

“It would be nice to invest some money into our superspeedway cars, money and time,” Larson, who qualified 34th and did not lead a lap in the race, told NBC Sports. “We focus so much on mile-and-a-half stuff, which is obviously important, but these plate races mean a lot. There’s a lot of points to be made at Daytona and Talladega.

“I feel like we haven’t really tried to improve as an organization really since I’ve been at CGR. We have one more race with this package, Daytona 500. Maybe we could put some emphasis on that and try to go have a good 500 in February.”

Larson’s comments are among the critical statements he’s made this season — one where he has six runner-up finishes but no wins — and show his challenges as a team leader and when to be critical and when not to be.

“That’s probably been the hardest thing for me to adjust to coming from sprint cars,” Larson said last month of being a team leader. “Sprint cars, you’ve got to get along with three guys. It’s easy to hang out with three people, but then when you’ve got 150, 200 people that you’ve got to please and make sure you take the time to talk to, and I don’t do a good job of that at all. I don’t. I try to be better, and that’s been something at the shop that everyone wants me to get better at, and it’s hard.

“I’ve been used to working with three people. It’s been something I’ve tried to get better at, and I remember Texas last year when I crashed out, I gave a terrible interview and was a major dick. I embarrassed myself. I embarrassed the race shop. I’ve learned from that, and I’ve grown from it. I still probably don’t do a great job at it all the time, but yeah, I try to not be like that anymore, and I think I’ve done an OK job with it this year, but you can always be better.”

Larson admits he’s watched how Kevin Harvick has led that Stewart-Haas Racing team and when Harvick has been critical of the team.

“He’s very involved in his race team,” Larson said of Harvick. “I think that shows on the weekends. He’s involved in hanging out with his guys but being tough on them also. I think it’s important.

“There’s so many sensitive people in our sport, but I think it’s important to be tough on them if they make a mistake and all that, so I think Kevin is a very good leader, and I think he’s gotten a lot better at that with his age, growing up, and having family and having success and championships and all that.”

Larson is trying to find that role with his team while going through the ups and downs of the season.

His frustration last weekend can be traced to the lack of success on restrictor-plate tracks. Larson has not finished in the top 10 in any of those races the past two years. He took the white flag as the leader in the 2017 Daytona 500 but ran out of fuel and finished 12th. This season, he has not led a lap in such races and finished no better than 11th.

But it’s not just at Daytona and Talladega where there have been struggles.

A runner-up finish at Bristol in August could not completely  lift Larson’s spirits.

“Just a really frustrating day,” Larson told NBC Sports. “Our (car) was not very good from Lap 1 to Lap 500 there, but we fought and got a second-place finish out of it. Happy about running second but just disappointed because I had a lot of confidence going into this race and thought our car was really good, but we were probably a 12th- to 15th-place car. Just lined up on the right restarts about every time and was able to gain some spots on every restart and maintain and then be terrible there at the end of the run. Frustrating.”

Problems persisted as the playoffs neared.

Brad Keselowski took the lead from Larson late in the Southern 500 and went on to win that race. Larson, who led a race-high 284 laps, placed third. The following week at Indianapolis, Larson and the team had problems on pit road.

Pit road has been a mess the last, I don’t know, all year basically,” Larson told NBC Sports. “We’ll have a good couple of spots and one where we explode. I didn’t do a  good job on pit road either. I almost slid through my stall one time. Stalled it leaving the box one other time. So I didn’t do good. We’ve just got to clean it up. If we want to win a championship, we have to clean up everything but especially pit road.”

In the opening race of the playoffs at Las Vegas, Larson had flat right front tire 10 laps from the end of Stage 1 and pitted from third place, costing him stage points. He fell a lap behind and that hindered his climb through the standings in the second stage. Larson estimated he lost 12 points because of the problem — nearly half his deficit from the transfer spot in the second round.

His problems continued at the Roval when he was collected in a crash in Turn 1 late in that event. After his struggles at Talladega, Larson will need a lot to happen at Kansas for him to continue his championship quest. 

 

 

NASCAR explains lack of caution at end of Talladega Cup race

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Kurt Busch criticized NASCAR for not throwing a caution on the last lap of overtime Sunday when there was a multi-car crash, but NASCAR’s Steve O’Donnell said the sanctioning body made the right call in letting the race end the way it did.

Had NASCAR called a caution for the incident that included Matt DiBenedetto, Chase Elliott and Kyle Busch, it would have sent the race to another overtime at Talladega Superspeedway. A caution would have ended the race since the field had taken the white flag.

Also, the decision to let the race finish under green was in contrast to Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race that ended under caution after contact by the top two cars led to Noah Gragson crashing and collecting others.

O’Donnell was asked Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to explain those two calls.

“Two different races and every race is different,”  O’Donnell said. “Every call is a judgment call. The (incident) on Saturday was in front of the field, you saw a couple of wheels get off the ground, and any time you’re going to have more and more of the field driving into that caution, we felt the need in that case to throw the caution. We always want to try to end under green, but in that case we just felt like we couldn’t.

“Then on Sunday, very similar in terms of a car hitting the wall but where it happened was different and in terms of where the field was. The 32 car (DiBenedetto) then kept rolling, which is certainly a sign for us that we’re OK to keep going. The 9 car (Elliott) where it stopped (on the grass inside the turn) was right in front of our safety vehicles and had communication from the tower that that car was in good shape so we elected to not throw the caution and finish under green.

“You could say in this case that could have gone either way and could have. I talked to Matt (DiBenedetto) after the race and he was supportive of the call and understood. Our first job is to always make sure everybody is safe, and we felt we did that in this case. Certainly go back and review it as we do but stand by the call and thought it was the right one.”

Drivers in danger of being eliminated from Cup playoffs at Kansas

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The Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway is over and unless you were a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing, not much good happened to the 12 driver playoff field.

Aric Almirola won and joined Chase Elliott in the third round.

That leaves 10 drivers scrambling for the remaining six spots.

Outside the top eight, Kyle Larson (26 points behind cutoff) and specifically Alex Bowman (68) are in must-win scenarios as the bottom two drivers.

But who else is feeling the heat of maybe missing out on the next round after Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC)?

Clint Bowyer (21 points above cutoff spot)

Bowyer entered Talladega below the cutoff with Almirola and is in a better position after finishing second in both stages and the race.

He will look to make his spot in Round 3 permanent with a win in Kansas, which would be his first at his home track.

In his last three Kansas starts, Bowyer’s best finish was ninth in the spring 2017 race. He placed 19th and 15th in the next two.

“After the frustrating run at Dover, I had to gain some points,”  Bowyer said. “It didn’t do any good to get good stage points if the guys that I’m racing for this next round do it, as well.  I had to get separated some way, shape or form.

“I mean, that guy sitting in Victory Lane right there (Almirola), as happy as I am for him, that’s a spot that just went away for that next round.

“We have to go home, at Kansas take care of business.  I think we can do that.  We needed an opportunity here.”

Martin Truex Jr. (+18)

After a “miserable” run at Talladega ended in a 23rd-place finish, Truex is likely looking forward to a 1.5-mile track.

Truex owns the final transfer spot on the playoff grid entering Kansas – where he’s won two of the last three races and finished second in the spring.

“I think that’s a good place for us even if we had to win,” Truex said after Talladega. “I am not saying we’re going to go there and win. But anytime we can go to any of those tracks, I feel like we have a shot. It’s racing. A lot can happen as we saw today. We’ll give it everything we got and bring a great car to Kansas. We’ll try to get the checkered flag.”

Brad Keselowski (18 points below the cutoff spot)

The Team Penske driver and defending race winner saw his hopes of winning in Talladega vanish when he had to pit for fuel coming to the green flag in overtime. He finished 27th after he led 21 laps.

Keselowski is now on the outside looking into the top eight despite having won three of five races in September, including the playoff opener.

Keselowski has one top five in his last five Kansas starts (second in spring 2017). He’s placed 13th and 14th in the last two visits.

Ryan Blaney (-22)

After winning at the Charlotte Roval to advance to Round 2, Blaney’s playoff hopes are looking a bit dire.

Like Keselowski, Blaney also had to pit for fuel coming to the overtime restart.

As a result, Blaney has finishes of 11th (Dover) and 29th (Talladega) entering Kansas.

Like Truex, Blaney has some positive recent history at the 1.5-mile track.

He finished fourth and third there last year.

In May, Blaney led 54 laps before he was eliminated in an incident with Kyle Larson with 20 laps to go. He finished 37th.

Below is the playoff grid heading into Kansas.