Friday 5: Letting the chaos theory play out at Talladega


No matter the preparation, the best plan often is no plan when racing at Talladega Superspeedway. That likely will be the case again on Sunday when the Cup Series races there.

“(Speedway) racing is very much kind of this living, breathing, chaos theory,” Brad Keselowski, who has won six Talladega Cup races, told NBC Sports.

“There’s been races I’ve won where no way I win that race if I didn’t catch break this, break this, break this in sequence. You’re like, ‘That’s a one in a million shot.’

“There’s been races that I’ve lost where I can’t believe that one move happened three cars behind me that I couldn’t control that’s never happened before and it completely changed everything. All my planning, all my practice, there was no way to block it, there was nothing I could have done different and you’re frustrated by that.

“Really, you’re left just putting yourself in the scenario and then letting the chaos theory play out and hopeful that it plays out to your favor and not your disadvantage.”

Don’t get the sense that Keselowski is complaining about how random racing at Talladega, Daytona and now Atlanta can be. He’s just noting that a driver is trying to control something that is difficult to control.

“That’s what driving a race car is and leading a pack at Daytona and Talladega or Atlanta … you’re trying to control a whole field that’s not meant to be controlled, that doesn’t want to be controlled,” said Keselowski, who scored his first Cup win in 2009 at this track and also has won at Talladega in 2012, ’14, ’16, ’17 and ’21.

Trying to control the field is difficult enough but is more challenging as speedway racing evolves. Chase Elliott, who won at Talladega last fall in the playoffs, notes how that race was different last year with the field unable to create a third lane of racing. That left two lanes and made it more difficult for those further back to move through the field since the option of going to a third lane wasn’t viable.

“I think there’s probably even more thinking involved as we’ve seen these races kind of change … the way they look and track position has become so important,” Elliott said. “There’s not really a third lane option now with these cars. We saw that at Talladega in the fall last year. We had really good track position all day.

“Then we look at Daytona, this season at the 500, heck, you just couldn’t go anywhere. The lanes get side-by-side and they get stacked up and the third lane is just too sketchy, you almost have to tandem to do that.

“These cars aren’t just locked to the ground like the cars were when they were actually tandem drafting, and it ends up falling apart. Not having that third lane forces guys to be side-by-side … and kind of jockey for position all day. It puts a lot of emphasis on track position, your pit stop cycles, and it makes you think about where you are on the track from the start of the race because I don’t think you’re going to go from 15th to the lead in the last 20 laps unless you get lucky on a wreck or something.”

Joey Logano has found himself in the right position at the right time this season. The two-time Cup champion finished second in the Daytona 500 and won at Atlanta this season, passing Keselowski on the last lap for the victory.

His feelings on racing at those types of tracks?

“It’s a love-hate relationship,” Logano told NBC Sports. “You love it when it goes well and it’s actually a lot of fun. … If you have a good car and things are going right and you can race up in the lead lead and you don’t wreck, you get out of the car and go, ‘That’s kind of fun. I kind of enjoyed that.’

“When you wreck and it hurts, you’re like, ‘This sucks. I don’t want to do this crap. This is the worst.’”

Logano notes that winning a speedway race has a different feel because of the intensity of the racing.

“If you ran the whole race, leading the whole race, and you win you’re like, ‘Whew, thank God we won that one because we were supposed to win that,’ but at a speedway, it’s so intense to the last second. There’s never a relaxed moment. So they just feel different.”

2. Significant wins

Hendrick Motorsports scored a significant sweep when Kyle Larson won last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway.

Hendrick drivers have won this season at Phoenix, Martinsville and Las Vegas — tracks that will host arguably the most important playoff races of the season.

Phoenix hosts the championship race. Martinsville is the final chance for playoff drivers to make the Championship Four at Phoenix. Las Vegas is the first race a driver can qualify for the Championship Four at Phoenix.

Joey Logano won at Las Vegas last year. He and his Team Penske crew didn’t have to worry about the next two races and could focus on the championship race, which he won. Both of Logano’s championships have come after he won the opening race of the next-to-last round.

While Hendrick was not dominant at Martinsville last weekend — Larson led 30 laps on the way to the victory — Hendrick cars were the best at Las Vegas and Phoenix.

William Byron won at Las Vegas, leading 176 laps. Hendrick drivers combined to lead 241 of 271 laps (88.9% of the race). Hendrick cars finished 1-2-3 that day with Byron, Larson and Alex Bowman.

Byron won the following week at Phoenix and again Hendrick cars were strong, leading 265 of 317 laps (83.6%). All four Hendrick cars finished in the top 10.

Last year, Ross Chastain finished in the top five at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Martinsville early in the season and went on to reach the title race at Phoenix, finishing second to Logano for the crown.

Larson has scored top fives in each of those races this season, winning at Martinsville, finishing second at Las Vegas and fourth at Phoenix. His average finish in those races was 2.3.

Cliff Daniels, crew chief for Larson, said a focus was put on those three tracks at Hendrick Motorsports after how the organization performed last year.

“We as a company didn’t perform as well as we needed to in the fall,” Daniels said. “We certainly got beat by at least two organizations that I can think of just outright, forget strategy, forget anything else. They just had better and faster cars than we did.

“So, yes, we did circle Phoenix specifically over the winter, and we kind of assembled a group back at the shop to help us attack some of these tracks in the specific areas that we knew we were deficient. So big shout out and credit to those guys back at the shop, those guys and gals. … Vegas last fall, all of our cars didn’t run great. Obviously, I spoke on Phoenix.

“(Martinsville has) been hit-or-miss for us, and it was kind of that way (Sunday), too. Kind of hit-or-miss from what you saw. So we have identified all those races, the keystones that they are, to your point, for the playoffs and tried to make an effort for what those are.”

In the first nine races of this season, Hendrick cars have won four times. Larson and Byron rank first and second in laps led. They’ve combined to lead 853 of 2,385 laps (35.8%) and won seven stages (five by Byron and two by Larson).

Jeff Andrews, president and general manager at Hendrick Motorsports, says more work remains for the organization.

“I wouldn’t consider us dominant,” he said after the Martinsville victory. “I don’t think there’s anybody at Hendrick Motorsports right now that has that comfort level or that feeling. … We need to run and perform like this in the latter half of the summer, early part of the fall. That’s when it really starts to count.”

3. Overlooked moment

It was easy to miss, but the final 20 laps of the first stage in last weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway proved key to the finish. Here’s how.

Leader Ryan Preece put Joey Logano a lap down on Lap 57. By Lap 60, Preece was on the bumper of Ross Chastain to put him a lap down. For the final 20 laps of the stage, Chastain held off Preece. By doing so, Logano got the free pass to get back on the lead lap.

So, why didn’t Preece get by Chastain?

“I could have been more aggressive and really moved him, but at that point you put yourself in a position that you get moved back, and I did have some room,” Preece said with Logano behind him and then the second-place car of Aric Almirola.

That was key, having Logano between the first- and second-place cars. Logano was doing everything he could to stay there, along with cheering for Chastain to not get lapped so Logano could still get the free pass.

“I was the biggest Ross Chastain fan,” Logano said.

With Preece not forcing the issue to get by Chastain, Logano worked to keep Almirola behind him so Almirola couldn’t pressure Preece.

“I thought at that point, Preece probably isn’t going to put the bumper to (Chastain) if second place isn’t putting pressure on him,” Logano told NBC Sports. “So at that point, my job became to block second (Almirola) to make sure Preece didn’t get that pressure because as soon as Preece felt that pressure, he was going to move Ross. That was my only fighting chance for the lucky dog there.”

It worked.

Logano was put a lap down at Lap 275 but got his lap back as the field pitted under green. He was among the few who had yet to pit when the caution came out for a tire from Anthony Alfredo’s car on the track. That put him in position to finish second. Had he not gotten his lap back in the first stage, his path to the runner-up spot would have been more challenging.

4. Kyle Busch’s long wait

Kyle Busch’s lone Talladega Cup victory came in April 2008.

Should he win Sunday, it would mark the most number of races between victories at Talladega. Busch has run 28 Talladega races since that win there 15 years ago.

Here is a look at the most Cup starts between wins at Talladega:

20 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (won Oct. 3, 2004 & May 3, 2015)

16 — Richard Petty (won Aug. 11, 1974 & May 1, 1983)

15 — Terry Labonte (won July 30, 1989 & Oct. 12, 1997)

14 — Bobby Allison (won Aug. 22, 1971 & May 6, 1979)

13 — Dale Jarrett (won Oct. 11, 1998 & Oct. 2, 2005)

Should Busch win Sunday at Talladega, scoring a victory 28 races since a previous win at the same track would rank third on the all-time list in Cup for any track.

Here are the leaders for most starts between wins at a track:

45 — Terry Labonte (Darlington – won Sept. 1, 1980 & Aug. 31, 2003)

34 — Ricky Rudd (Richmond – won Feb. 26, 1984 & Sept. 8, 2001)

26 — Mark Martin (Darlington – won Sept. 5, 1993 & May 9, 2009)

26 — Jeff Gordon (Michigan – won June 10, 2001 & Aug. 17, 2014)

26 — Jeff Gordon (Dover – June 3, 2001 & Sept. 28, 2014)

26 —Matt Kenseth (Phoenix – Nov. 11, 2002 & Nov. 12, 2017)

26 — Kevin Harvick (Atlanta – March 11, 2001 & Feb. 25, 2018)

Busch has one points victory at Daytona, which came in July 2008. He nearly snapped that drought in February. He was leading on Lap 200, the scheduled distance of the Daytona 500, but the race went into overtime and Busch was collected in a crash and finished 19th.

5. 800 for Kevin Harvick

Sunday marks Kevin Harvick’s 800th career Cup start. He becomes only the 10th driver in Cup history to start at least 800 races.

Here are the drivers with 800 or more Cup starts:

1,185 — Richard Petty

906 — Ricky Rudd

890 — Terry Labonte

883 — Dave Marcis

882 — Mark Martin

829 — Kyle Petty

828 — Bill Elliott

809 — Darrell Waltrip

805 — Jeff Gordon

Harvick is scheduled to pass Gordon at Sonoma in June and pass Waltrip at New Hampshire in July.

Harvick has 1,272 career starts combined in NASCAR’s top three series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. That total ranks first in NASCAR history. Harvick’s 121 combined wins across NASCAR’s three national series ranks third all-time.

NASCAR fines, penalizes Richard Childress Racing No. 3 team


Richard Childress Racing’s No. 3 NASCAR Cup Series team has been fined $75,000 and penalized 60 points for a rules infraction at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR’s penalty report Wednesday said the team violated the assembled vehicle rules in the car’s underwing assembly and hardware.

Crew chief Keith Rodden was fined $75,000 and suspended for the next two races. The team and driver Austin Dillon were penalized 60 points and five playoff points. The penalty drops Dillon from 21st to 28th in the season standings with 122 points.

Richard Childress Racing tweeted that it was “disappointed” in the penalty NASCAR issued and plans to appeal.

Dillon finished 12th at Martinsville.

On Wednesday, NASCAR also suspended crew members Chris Jackson and David Smith of the No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Cup team of driver Anthony Alfredo because of a lost wheel during the Martinsville race.

Xfinity Series crew chiefs Mike Bumgarner, Jeff Meendering and Mike Scearce were fined $5,000 each for lug-nut violations.




Noah Gragson wins wild Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway


DARLINGTON, S.C. — Noah Gragson charged to the front on the final lap and outran Kyle Larson and Sheldon Creed in a tight battle to win Saturday night’s Xfinity Series race at Darlington Raceway.

Sheldon Creed took the lead on a round of pit stops late in the race and led until Gragson and Larson surged to the front and made the fight for the win a three-way battle. The three drivers had a fierce battle over the closing two miles, with Larson and Creed running side by side and banging fenders. Creed ran much of the final lap against the outside wall, struggling to reach the finish line.

While Larson and Creed wrestled for the lead and slowed after contact, Gragson, driving a JR Motorsports Chevrolet, slipped past on the inside and won the race, his fourth victory of the year. Creed finished second, followed by AJ Allmendinger, Justin Allgaier and Larson.

Creed and Larson shook hands on pit road before discussing the finish. “They made it one hell of a race,” Gragson said. “They made it back to the line. It was spectacular there at the end.”

Gragson was momentarily dazed after climbing from his car following a series of burnouts. He later said smoke inside the car made him dizzy. “I was breathing that in and got pretty nauseous and tunnel vision,” he said. “I felt like i was about to pass out.”

Pole winner Brandon Jones slammed the wall between Turn 3 and 4 with 20 laps to go, causing a caution flag and bunching the field. Creed’s team returned him to the track first, and he kept the lead until the final laps. Creed led 47 laps.

Gragson, 24, had the race’s dominant car. He won the first stage and led 79 of the first 90 laps. He totaled 82 laps led for the race.

“I was real proud of him (Gragson),” said team co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. “You wouldn’t know it by the way the car looks now. He didn’t get into the fence. He didn’t hurt the car. He was sitting there when the opportunity was presented to him on the last lap. That was because he had the patience and understanding. He did smart things to keep himself out of trouble when he wasn’t in position to win the race.”

MORE: Darlington Xfinity results

MORE: Darlington Xfinity driver points

The caution flew on lap 88 when flames popped underneath JJ Yeley‘s car.

Rain brought out a caution flag on lap 68, and the race was redflagged because of a downpour three laps later with Gragson in the lead. The red flag lasted two hours and 37 minutes.

Minutes after the start of the second stage, a four-car incident caused a caution flag. Involved in the crash were Kris Wright, Riley Herbst, Joe Graf Jr. and Myatt Snider.

A bizarre incident prior to the start of Stage 2 damaged two cars. While the field circled under caution, the car of Anthony Alfredo slammed into the rear of John Hunter Nemechek‘s car, causing major damage to Alfredo’s car. Alfredo apparently lost control after a brief bout of sickness in his car.

There are two races — Sept. 10 at Kansas and Sept. 16 at Bristol — remaining before the start of the playoffs Sept. 24 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Stage 1 winner: Noah Gragson

Stage 2 winner: Justin Allgaier

Who had a good race: Noah Gragson led much of the race, lost the lead late and then stormed back to the front on the final lap to win for the fourth time this season. … Sheldon Creed engaged defending Cup Series champion Kyle Larson in a thoroughly entertaining battle closing out the race.

Who had a bad race: Anthony Alfredo crashed his car into John Hunter Nemechek’s during a caution period. Alfredo apparently was sick inside the car and lost control. He finished next-to-last.

NASCAR Xfinity Series results: Jeremy Clements wins at Daytona


Jeremy Clements was the ultimate survivor Friday night/Saturday morning, driving through numerous multi-car accidents and winning the 250-mile Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.

The race started more than three hours late because of weather issues and finished at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday.

Clements won for only the second time in his Xfinity career and jumped into the Xfinity playoff field.

Following him in the top five on a night in which many lead cars were either eliminated or heavily damaged in wrecks were Timmy Hill, AJ Allmendinger, Brandon Brown and Sage Karam.

Daytona Xfinity results

Daytona Xfinity driver points

Jeremy Clements wins Xfinity race at Daytona International Speedway


It was the race that took hours to start, and then it didn’t want to end.

A series of multi-car crashes in the closing laps stretched Friday’s 250-mile Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway into Saturday before Jeremy Clements emerged victorious in the third overtime.

The race was scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. ET Friday but was delayed by more than three hours by rain and lightning. The calendar flipped to Saturday before the race ended near 1:30 a.m.

As the field struggled to reach the finish, a comedy of errors caused wreck after wreck, eliminating some leaders and damaging the cars of others.

Clements, winning for only the second time for his Spartanburg, S.C.-based family team, held first place on the last lap of the third overtime and was in front when the final caution flew. He had had a 164-race winless streak.

MORE: Daytona Xfinity results, driver points

MORE: Unforgettable night for Jeremy Clements stretches into morning

The victory pushed Clements into the Xfinity Series playoffs, making him the eighth driver to qualify.

With two laps to go, the fight for the lead produced a 10-car wreck as Daniel Hemric and Noah Gragson hit while racing in the top five. Numerous other drivers were involved in the aftermath, spreading cars across the frontstretch apron and pit road and sending the race into overtime.

On the first lap of overtime, contact in the front three between Gragson and AJ Allmendinger caused another multi-car crash, bringing out the caution again. Gragson’s car moved up the track into the path of Landon Cassill, The impact caused Gragson’s car to lift off the track.

Austin Hill seemed poise to win before his Chevrolet apparently developed electrical problems, forcing him to drop out of first place as the field took the green flag for the final overtime.

Allmendinger was running second approaching the start of the overtime when his car ran low on fuel, forcing him to the pits.

That gave Clements, whose lower-budget team typically can’t compete with the major teams in the series, the opening he needed. He was in the lead when the 11th caution flew for Riley Herbst‘s spin, freezing the field and giving Clements the win.

“I’m speechless, man,” Clements said. “I don’t even know what to say. We survived that big wreck back there (in the first overtime). It was like a ‘Days of Thunder’ wreck. Then I was like, ‘If we can just keep up with these guys, it’ll be a good day—top five and bring this car home in one piece.’ “

Following Clements at the finish were Timmy Hill, Allmendinger, Brandon Brown and IndyCar driver Sage Karam.

Scheduled for 100 laps, the race stretched to 118 because of the crashes, cautions and overtimes.

The lead pack was jumbled with nine laps remaining when Allmendinger lost control of his second-place car, sparking a huge accident in the trioval. Among other drivers involved were Josh Berry, Sam Mayer and Justin Allgaier.

A multi-car crash 16 laps from the finish eliminated several cars. The incident began in the middle of the pack with contact between the cars of Brandon Brown and John Hunter Nemechek. Creed’s car turned into heavy traffic and was slammed by the Ford of Joe Graf Jr.

Herbst, running fourth, caused a caution period when his left rear tire blew, sending him on a wild ride across the grassy area adjacent to the backstretch.

The race’s first caution flag flew on lap 16 when Sammy Smith lost control of his car in Turn 4, sailed across the apron and slammed into the inside wall. Smith was not hurt, but his car was parked.

Stage 1 winner: Ty Gibbs

Stage 2 winner: Noah Gragson

Who had a good race: Jeremy Clements weaved his way through the debris of a series of multi-car accidents and scored a major upset for his relatively small team. … Sage Karam came home fifth in the confusion, a fine run for a driver jumping from one form of racing to another. … Timmy Hill finished second, his best career run.

Who had a bad race: Almost everybody. Wrecks were plentiful, and they were big. Drivers with strong cars who didn’t finish well because of crashes included Noah Gragson, Justin Haley, Anthony Alfredo, Sam Mayer, John Hunter Nemechek and Sheldon Creed.

Next: The Xfinity Series rolls on to Darlington Raceway for a Sept. 3 race (USA Network).