Could Talladega open door for a record 20th winner?

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Talladega Superspeedway is known for fast speeds, huge drafting packs, sensational wrecks and tight finishes.

On Sunday (2 p.m. ET on NBC), it could be the site of an unexpected record.

Nineteen different drivers have won Cup races this season, tying a record. If a new winner shows up in Talladega victory lane Sunday, it will mark the first time in the sport’s history that 20 drivers have won races in a single season.

One of the remarkable things about that possibility is that the driver who has far and away the best record at Talladega among active drivers is among the group still looking for a win in 2022. That’s Brad Keselowski, who has won six times at NASCAR’s biggest track. No other active driver has more than three. (Keselowski is tied for second on the all-time Talladega win list with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon. Dale Earnhardt tops that list with 10).

Talladega and Daytona tend to reject repeat winners. The past nine races at the two tracks have been won by nine different drivers.

Other seasonal non-winners who could break through at Talladega:

Ryan BlaneyBlaney’s only win this year is in the All-Star Race, so he’s still looking for his first points win while continuing to chase the championship. He won at Talladega in 2019 and 2020.

Martin Truex Jr. — Superspeedways have been a pox on Truex’s career. In 70 races at Talladega and Daytona, he has failed to win.

Aric Almirola — In what has been a disappointing season, Almirola’s best finish is a fifth — twice. He won at Talladega in 2018 but hasn’t had a top 10 in his last four runs there.

Michael McDowell — McDowell’s best finish at Talladega is a third, but he is usually very competitive in the Talladega and Daytona drafts, winning the 2021 Daytona 500.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Stenhouse won at Talladega in 2017 and usually is a factor in the draft.

Harrison Burton — Burton has had a tough rookie season, but the peculiarities of the Talladega draft should play in his favor. The No. 21 team’s next win will be its 100th.

Justin Haley — Haley has no top-10 runs in five Talladega starts, but he showed potential last week with a third-place finish at Texas.

Corey LaJoie — LaJoie has started nine Cup races at Talladega and has led exactly one lap. His best finish is a seventh.

Noah Gragson — Gragson, the star of this Xfinity season, is in the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports with Alex Bowman out because of concussion-like symptoms. In the Talladega draft he could be a threat.

 

 

Tyler Reddick wins Cup Series race at Texas Motor Speedway

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There was fire. There was rain. There was pain. There was lightning. And heat. There were tires that didn’t want to stay together. And, by the way, there was a race.

A very long race.

At its end, more than five hours after it started, Tyler Reddick was the king of the road, winning Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff chase around Texas Motor Speedway. Following in the top five were Joey Logano, Justin Haley, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe.

The win was Reddick’s third of the year but his first on an oval track. He did not qualify for the second round of the playoffs.

The race, the first in the second round of the playoffs, could most easily be described in one word: chaos.

The tire issue was confusing. After it became evident that more than a few tires — particularly right rears — were collapsing before the end of a typical tire run, crew chiefs faced decisions about how long to keep their drivers on track in uncertain conditions.

Reddick said he was worried he might have a tire problem racing toward the checkered flag.

“I was extremely worried; I’m not going to lie,” he said. “Unfortunately, just about every time we’ve had fast cars, we’ve had some tire problems. That last run, the right sides were vibrating really, really hard there.”

MORE: Texas Cup results

MORE: Texas Cup driver points

Several of the playoff drivers who began the day with hopes of a smooth start to the Round of 12 watched the race finish from outside their cars. Christopher Bell, Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman failed to finish, Bell having hit the wall twice on his way to a 34th-place finish.

Every few minutes, it seemed, cars were slamming into the wall and-or each other, causing a record wave of cautions and jumbling the playoff grid. Drivers were dancing along the ragged edge between stability and sliding, making passing difficult.

MORE: RFK Racing on the rise

The race length was extended by a rain shower and a 55-minute red flag in the final stage, although forecasters had predicted only a 15% chance of rain for the day.

Logano finished second and jumped to the playoff point lead. Ross Chastain is second. Below the cutline after one race in the round are Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman.

Chase Elliott, who held the point lead entering the race, hit the Turn 4 wall hard on lap 187, and the resulting damage caused a fire in the right front of the car. Elliott guided the car onto the apron grass and climbed out as the fire grew larger. Elliott said his right rear tire either blew apart or lost air, causing the crash.

Playoff drivers Denny Hamlin and William Byron were involved in some close encounters with each other in the second half of the race. They eventually bumped while running under caution.

One of the season’s hardest crashes occurred in the second half of the race when Cody Ware lost control of his car, slammed into the Turn 4 wall and then shot onto pit road, where crew members scattered as his car hit the pit wall. Ware was helped from the car and struggled as he crossed pit wall.

The front end of Ware’s car was demolished. He was checked and released from the infield medical center. A team official said Ware had some ankle discomfort and would be checked by medical personnel upon returning home.

MORE: What drivers said at TMS

Former champion Kevin Harvick, a frequent critic concerning safety issues this season, lost a tire while leading the race with 81 laps to go and slid into the wall.

A few laps later, Martin Truex Jr., who inherited the lead after Harvick’s tire issue, experienced the same problem, losing a right rear tire and hitting the wall. Harvick stayed in the race; Truex parked.

Harrison Burton, one of the race leaders, had a fire incident on pit road as his team changed tires. Burton moved out of his pit so safety workers could extinguish the fire, which started under the rear end of his Ford. Burton recovered to race in the top five.

Kyle Busch‘s troubles continued into another week as his car slipped in track resin and into the wall in Turn 4. He parked for the day.

Stage 1 winner: Kyle Larson

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

Who had a good race: Winner Tyler Reddick continues to shine despite racing under difficult circumstances. He led 70 laps in his third win of the season. … Justin Haley had one of his best runs of the year, finishing third. … Erik Jones was a strong sixth. … William Byron and Denny Hamlin finished in the top 10 despite tussling with each other on track.

Who had a bad race: Almost too many to name. Point leader Chase Elliott left the race in a blaze as his car erupted in flames after hitting the Turn 4 wall. … It was a dark day for playoff hopeful Christopher Bell. He hit the wall – twice – and eventually parked before the halfway point. … Kyle Busch slipped in resin that had been placed on the track and whacked the wall, ending his day. … A hard crash in the fourth turn took playoff driver Alex Bowman out of the race. … Rookie Harrison Burton led the race briefly but dropped back after a fire on pit road.

Next: The Round of 12 continues at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 (2 p.m. ET, NBC).

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.

NASCAR viewer’s guide for Texas Motor Speedway

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The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs roll on this weekend to Texas Motor Speedway, which will be hosting its first points race of the season.

Former champion Chase Elliott, a four-time race winner and the only driver with more than two victories this year, leads the standings, followed by Joey Logano and Ross Chastain.

The Texas race (3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, USA Network) is the first of three races in the Round of 12. Events at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2) and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9) will follow.

Entering Texas, Chase Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric are below the cutline.

Chris Buescher won Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, becoming the third non-playoff driver to win during the playoffs.

Three tough teams

Three teams account for nine of the remaining 12 drivers in the hunt for the Cup championship.

Hendrick Motorsports, Team Penske and Trackhouse Racing put all of their drivers in the second round.

Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, William Byron and Alex Bowman are in the final 12 for Hendrick. Bowman is below the cutline.

MORE: NASCAR official fires back at Kevin Harvick’s comment

Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney are in the top eight entering Texas. Teammate Austin Cindric is below the cutline.

Trackhouse Racing drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez remain in title contention. Suarez is below the cutline.

In a playoff season marked by troubles of various sorts, Byron is the only driver who has not had a significant issue through the first three races. He has finished eighth, sixth and third in the opening races.

A 20th winner?

In a very unusual season, one of the most unusual statistics is this: Nineteen different drivers have won a race this year, tying the modern-era record set in 2001.

Could there be 20 different winners? In a word, yes.

Six drivers who won races last year haven’t won a points race this year. They are Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney, AJ Allmendinger, Aric Almirola, Brad Keselowski and Michael McDowell.

Truex, Keselowski and Blaney might be the best bets to be No. 20 this weekend at Texas.

Truex is a three-time runner-up at Texas and has led 674 laps there, the most by any driver without a win at the track.

Keselowski has finished second twice at Texas and led 654 laps there. He led 109 laps Saturday at Bristol as part of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s best race of the season.

Blaney remains in the championship race despite continuing to haul a big zero with him. He won the All-Star Race at Texas this year and has finished in the top 10 in seven of the past eight Texas races.

Playoff standings tight

Twelve drivers will be hoping to advance to the Round of 8 as the NASCAR playoffs stop at Texas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval over the next three weeks.

The point totals in the top 12 entering Sunday’s race at Texas are tight.

MORE: NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

Only 34 points separate leader Chase Elliott and 12th-place Austin Cindric. The point gap from first to 12th in recent seasons has been higher — 57 in 2021, 66 in 2020, 46 in 2019, 55 in 2018 and 56 in 2017.

The battle around the cutline is tighter. Only seven points separate sixth-place Denny Hamlin and 12th-place Cindric.

Entry lists

Thirty-six drivers are entered in Sunday’s 334-lap Cup race. Included in addition to Cup  regulars are Garrett Smithley and Noah Gragson.

Texas Cup entry list

Thirty-nine drivers are entered for 38 spots in Saturday’s 200-lap Xfinity Series race. On the list are Tommy Joe Martins, Stefan Parsons, Matt Mills, Jeffrey Earnhardt and Garrett Smithley.

Texas Xfinity entry list

This week’s schedule and forecast

 (All times Eastern)

Saturday, Sept. 24

Forecast: Sunny and hot. High of 98.

  • 10:35 – 11:05 a.m. — Xfinity Series practice (USA Network)
  • 11:05 – Noon — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 12:35 – 1:20 p.m. — Cup Series practice (USA Network)
  • 1:20 – 2:30 p.m. — Cup Series qualifying (USA Network)
  • 3:30 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (200 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, Sept. 25

Forecast: Mostly sunny. Stray shower or thunderstorm possible. High of 95. 15% chance of rain.

  • 3:30 p.m. — Cup Series race (334 laps, 501 miles; USA Network, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)