Chase Elliott wins Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

1 Comment

Chase Elliott had the moves, the power and the drafting help when he needed them.

Elliott shot to the lead in a web of traffic in the final 5 miles and won Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. Elliott, winning for the fifth time this year, thus earned a spot in the Round of 8. It will mark Elliott’s sixth appearance in that playoff round.

Following Elliott at the finish were Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin. Elliott’s win is the first by a playoff driver in this year’s playoffs.

Elliott led the last lap and nine others during the afternoon as 17 drivers owned first place for at least one lap on a typically competitive day at NASCAR’s biggest track. Seven drivers, including Elliott, led laps in double figures.

Blaney led nine of the final 17 laps in search of his first points win of the year but couldn’t hold off Elliott’s charge at the end.

The victory was huge for Elliott, who carries a platter full of playoff points (46) with him and will be in great shape when the next round begins in two weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

MORE: Talladega Cup results

MORE: Talladega Cup driver points

“It was a wild last couple of laps,” Elliott told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I wasn’t super crazy about being on the bottom. Fortunately, I just go clear enough off of two to move up and had a good enough run to get out front.”

Despite a string of issues last week at Texas Motor Speedway and very public complaining by drivers this week about the Next Gen car, Sunday’s race was relatively calm by Talladega standards. There was an early-race multi-car wreck, but much of the rest of the race rolled along without serious incident.

With the win, Elliott jumped to the point lead. Blaney is second and Chastain third. Below the cutline entering the final race of the second round are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Bowman missed the race with concussion-like symptoms. He was replaced by Noah Gragson, who finished 19th.

MORE: NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

Powering through the top five, Elliott moved from the inside line to the outside in front of Erik Jones and benefitted from Jones’ push as he outran Blaney to the finish line.

As has been the case at so many Talladega races over the years, risky though impactful technique in the long drafting lines was a key. Approaching the finish line at the first two stages, Blaney and Elliott made excellent moves in the trioval to win the stages — Blaney the first and Elliott the second.

The last round of pit stops began with 28 laps to go. At the end of the pit cycle, Blaney, Chastain and Jones were at the front.

With 10 laps to go, Blaney led the lead drafting line, with Chastain and Todd Gilliland trailing. Jones led the other line.

The field was slowed by caution with seven laps to go when Daniel Hemric‘s car experienced engine trouble and stalled in the final pit row spot.

Bell took a big position hit on Lap 99 when he lost control entering pit road and slid. He lost a lap but rebounded to challenge near the top 10 in the final stage, finishing 17th.

The race hadn’t reached the halfway point of the first stage when a multi-car accident brought out the day’s second caution flag.

The wreck began on Lap 25 when rookie Harrison Burton lost control of his car in three-wide traffic entering Turn 1. Burton, looking for drafting help from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. behind him, was bumped by Stenhouse and slid to the left in the middle of a pack of traffic, causing drivers behind and around him to scramble.

Involved in the accident, in addition to Burton and Stenhouse, were Austin Cindric, Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Ty Gibbs and Joey Logano.

MORE: Safety big topic of drivers meeting at Talladega

The early part of the race included some odd cooperation in Talladega’s famous draft. Racing one-two in tight formation were Hamlin, the leader, and William Byron, both gaining speed from their drafting. Last week at Texas, the two had major issues, resulting in Byron bumping Hamlin into a spin under caution and being nailed by a NASCAR penalty.

Stage 1 winner: Ryan Blaney

Stage 2 winner: Chase Elliott

Who had a good race: Chase Elliott zoomed to the front with bold moves in the final laps and scored his fifth win of the year. … Ryan Blaney does everything but win. Sunday marked his best finish (second) of the year. …Michael McDowell was active in the front-line draft over the final miles and finished a strong third. He has 12 top-10 finishes this year, a personal record. … Todd Gilliland (seventh) scored his second Cup top-10 finish.

Who had a bad race: Joey Logano was involved in an early-race accident and rebounded to race near the front but finished 27th. He fell from the point lead to fifth. … Christopher Bell slid onto pit road attempting a green-flag pit stop. He finished 17th and is 22 points below the playoff cutline. … Kyle Larson was basically a non-factor, finishing 18th.

Next: The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC). Four drivers will be eliminated, and eight will advance.

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

0 Comments

Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Denny Hamlin calls out NASCAR leadership for Next Gen concerns

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin cites “bad leadership” from NASCAR for creating a car that he says needs to be redesigned after two drivers have suffered concussion-like symptoms in crashes this year.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been most outspoken about the safety of the car this year. Chase Elliott spoke up Saturday about how “disappointed” he is “that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in.” 

Hamlin said other drivers must join them in being heard.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR had not offered a response to Hamlin’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.

Driver frustrations with the Next Gen car continue to grow, as Alex Bowman became the second driver to be forced to miss at least a race for concussion-like symptoms. 

Bowman crashed last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and experienced headaches and other symptoms of a concussion earlier this week, according to Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews. 

Bowman went to a doctor on Thursday and the team announced that day Bowman would not race Sunday. No timetable for his return has been announced. Noah Gragson will drive Bowman’s car Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who drives for Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, continues to be out because of a head injury he suffered after he crashed July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Busch said this week that he is “hopeful” of racing this season.

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticisms Saturday about the car and series officials for an issue he said drivers brought up more than a year ago.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on the rear clip and rear bumper of the car. That’s an improvement that could be made to the car for next season. A complaint about the car is how stiff the rear is and how rear-end impacts have felt more violent to drivers this season. The crash test is the first since a full car crash test last December. 

For Hamlin, the rear is only a start to what needs to be done to the car.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said. “It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned.

“It needs to be redesigned everywhere. Front, middle, rear, competition, the whole thing needs to be redesigned. We’ve got a tough Martinsville race coming up. It’s going to be tough. This thing is just going to get exposed about how bad it races. That’s just a part of it. Competition and safety, we’d like to have it all better, but certainly we just took a step back in safety and competition this year.”

Hamlin also knows it’s too late for a redesign for next year.

“If I were to run this and say, ‘All right, we’re going to have a new car,’ we’d already be done with testing right now for next year’s car,” Hamlin said. “We haven’t even begun. We’re just way too behind. This whole sport is behind.”

But Hamlin said it was “feasible” for NASCAR to do a redesign of the car.

“It’s just (that) NASCAR has to concede that they’re not capable and let the teams do it,” he said.

That’s not likely. NASCAR has a contract with the suppliers of each part and those deals, while they can be broken under certain circumstances, are multi-year deals. 

Hamlin said drivers brought up concerns about the car last year. There had been concerns about the car and how hard the impact felt after William Byron’s crash in testing at Auto Club Speedway in March 2020.

“We actually, as the drivers, didn’t do that docu-series last year because we didn’t feel comfortable with this Next Gen car and the lack of the safety testing that had been done before they started announcing that they were going to run it,” Hamlin said. “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing this car has got to be on the track at all cost. At all cost.”

In an interview last month, John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, told NBC Sports that he feels one misunderstanding with the car is the collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.

“I think that sometimes when you read the driver quotes and the team feedback, crew chiefs are posting things on Twitter, it creates the sense of NASCAR vs. them vs. the world,” Probst said. 

“Really, it isn’t like that. I wish people could see how well we actually do work with the engineers on these teams, sorting through the problems.

“I feel like we work hand-in-hand with them, but a lot of times when it gets to the public eye, for whatever reason, or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it comes across as though ‘NASCAR is making us do this,’ or ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ but I think, in reality, that is so far from the truth.”

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole

0 Comments

Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.