NASCAR at Talladega Superspeedway

2016 April 29 317762

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500
Talladega Superspeedway Distance: 500.08 miles (188 laps)
Sunday, May 1 1 p.m. ET TV: FOX, 12:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR XFINITY Series Sparks Energy 300
Talladega Superspeedway Distance: 300.58 miles (113 laps)
Saturday, April 30 3 p.m. ET TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250
Kansas Speedway Distance: 250.5 miles (167 laps)
Friday, May 6 8:30 p.m. ET TV: FS1, 8 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

2016 May 1 317760

The No. 88 Chevrolet driver will travel to the 2.66-mile behemoth with Chassis No. 88-872, better known as “Amelia,” named after famous pilot Amelia Earhart.

Earnhardt took Amelia to Victory Lane in last year’s GEICO 500 as well as the July Daytona race. He navigated her to a third-place showing in the 2015 Daytona 500 and a runner-up finish in the Talladega Chase race.

Earnhardt damaged Amelia when he wrecked in this season’s Daytona 500 – finishing 36th – but she’ll be ready to go on Sunday.

A restrictor-plate ace, Earnhardt leads all active drivers with six Talladega wins (tied with Jeff Gordon for second all-time) and a 93.8 driver rating. His father, seven-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt, holds the track record with 10 wins.

Triple Threat: Edwards Eyes Third Straight Victory
Carl Edwards bumped teammate Kyle Busch on the final lap of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 to pass him for his second win in as many weeks.

Edwards will go for his third straight win in Sunday’s GEICO 500 joining Busch as the only other driver to attempt the feat this season.

Joey Logano was the last driver to win three straight races when he swept the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2015. Busch also visited Victory Lane three straight times last year (Kentucky, New Hampshire and Indianapolis).

Edwards has been dominant the last three races, leading the most laps in each of them.

He ranks first on the Chase Grid on the strength of two wins, five top fives and eight top 10s.

The No. 19 Toyota driver has never won at Talladega. His best finish at the Alabama track was third in spring of 2013.

Party Of 5: Kahne Notches First Top-Five Finish Of 2016
Kasey Kahne produced his first top-five finish since the Kansas Chase race last year after he placed fourth at Richmond on Sunday.

The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports driver is currently 14th on the Chase Grid – 18 points ahead of AJ Allmendinger on the cutoff line – on the strength of his Richmond finish and two other top 10s.

His last win came 56 races ago at Atlanta.

Kahne takes the track next at Talladega where he has yet to win, but has three top fives and 10 top 10s in 24 starts. He’s finished runner-up there twice.

Dillon To Sub For Stewart After First Talladega Caution
Tony Stewart will start his second race of the season on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway, but will give his seat up to Ty Dillon following the first caution.

The maneuver permits Stewart to collect driver points as he hunts for a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, while allowing him to not risk hurting his healing back. If Dillon takes the checkered flag at Talladega, it counts as a win for Stewart.

“We’ll start the Talladega race to get the points but, understanding the style of racing and the higher potential of getting involved in an incident, we thought it best to minimize the amount of time I’m in the car,” Stewart said. “I’ll return full-time at Kansas and enjoy every moment I can my final year of Sprint Cup.”

To qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, Stewart must win a race, and finish the regular season in the top 30 in points.

He is currently 40th in points (22), trailing 30th-place Matt DiBenedetto by 101. In comparison, Kyle Busch trailed 30th place by 179 points last year when he returned in the 12th race of the season. Stewart missed the first eight contests of 2016.

Stewart finished 22nd in his return at Richmond and completed all 400 laps.

Alabama Behemoth May Produce Surprise Winner
When restrictor-plate racing, anything can happen.

This has been true at Talladega where surprise winners sometimes emerge from the field. Most recently, David Ragan visited Victory Lane with Front Row Motorsports (spring 2013) and Brad Keselowski took the checkered flag with Phoenix Racing (spring 2009).

With the advent of the win-and-your-in Chase format, a surprise Talladega winner would get more than just the thrill of winning, he/she would earn a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.

“That’s fun for us going to a place like that knowing we have a shot at winning and to say that is legitimate,” said Matt DiBenedetto, driver of the No. 83 BK Racing Toyota. “If things fall right you can win. So that’s neat. When we come to all the regular superspeedways, wins for us are if you finish in the top half of the field because we’re a smaller team, and if we finish in the top 20, that’s beating a lot of really good high quality cars. But when you go to the superspeedways, it throws a lot of that out the window.”

DiBenedetto, who finished a career-high sixth at Bristol recently is one of the dark horse candidates. Another is his teammate Ragan.

Look out for Clint Bowyer, who has run poorly this season, but owns two Talladega victories.

Wood Brothers Racing’s Ryan Blaney placed a career-best fourth at the Alabama track last season and is another one to watch.

JGR Continues Dominance At Richmond
Joe Gibbs Racing had another stellar weekend, placing four drivers in the top seven of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch finished one-two, while Denny Hamlin came in sixth, followed by Matt Kenseth in seventh. Martin Truex Jr, who drives the No. 78 Toyota owned by JGR’s technical partner Furniture Row Racing, placed ninth.

JGR has won the last four races and has five victories this season.

Edwards ranks first on the Chase Grid, followed by Busch in third, Hamlin in fifth and Kenseth in 15th. Edwards, Busch and Hamlin have already captured Chase berths by winning races.

JGR ranks second in RIR victories with 11.

The Huntersville, North Carolina-based organization has four wins at Talladega (Denny Hamlin, 2014; Tony Stewart, 2008; Kyle Busch, 2008; Bobby Labonte, 1998).

More Than Meets The Eye: Logano Transforming Into Restrictor Plate Ace?
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is widely regarded as NASCAR’s best restrictor-plate racer, but Joey Logano showed signs of potentially taking that title away from the 12-time most popular driver last season.

After failing to even notch a top-10 finish at a restrictor-plate track since summer of 2012 at Daytona, Logano won the Daytona 500 and the fall Talladega race in 2015. The Team Penske driver also took the checkered flag in the Talladega XFINITY contest last season.

Logano is still searching for his first win of the season after leading the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with six victories in 2015. Even with a 0 in the wins column, he sits seventh on the Chase Grid on the strength of his three top fives and six top 10s.

Like Father Like Son? Elliott Attempts To Carry On Dad’s Talladega legacy
NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott has quite the history at Talladega. “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” holds the track record with eight poles and won two races there.

Elliott’s son, 19-year-old rookie wunderkind Chase Elliott, will attempt to continue the family legacy in his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Talladega start on Sunday.

“Talladega is a special place because it’s a historic racetrack for our sport,” Elliott said. “I remember watching a lot of races there. My dad still has that qualifying record and it’s obviously very impressive. It says a lot of him, Uncle Ernie and Uncle Dan, and really everybody who worked on those cars back then. They all went the extra mile to make things like that happen. So, when I think about that, it just takes the respect level that I already have for all that they did with what they had back then, and makes it even greater.”

Prior to this year, the No. 24 Chevrolet driver struggled in his NASCAR XFINITY Series starts on restrictor-plate tracks with just one finish better than 15th, but won the XFINITY season opener at Daytona. Additionally, he captured the Daytona 500 pole before he wrecked out of the race.

In nine starts this season, Elliott claims two top fives and five top 10s. He is currently 12th on the Chase Grid.

Elliott leads Ryan Blaney by 22 points in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings.

Hendrick Motorsports – Elliott’s team – has had one of its drivers lead the field to the green flag in the last four restrictor-plate races.

2016 April 30 318733

Suárez Opens Up Points Lead As Talladega Approaches
Tension within the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship battle has slightly loosened for standings leader Daniel Suárez after he posted his fourth top five of the season, increasing his lead to nine points over new second-place driver, Elliott Sadler. (Heading into Richmond, Suárez held a six-point lead over Erik Jones.)

In eight starts this season, Suárez has posted four top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 6.3 – best among title contenders.

Suárez’s performances on NASCAR’s two biggest ovals has improved. In his first two starts (Daytona, 39th and Talladega, 31st) he finished outside the top 30. Since then, he has finished 15th at Daytona last July and eighth there this past February.

“In my race last year (at Talladega), we had a fast Toyota Camry, I just got caught up in an accident towards the middle portion of the race and that set us back,” Suárez said. “We learned a lot in Daytona about our restrictor-plate package that I think we can carry over to this weekend. Anything can happen at Talladega, but I’m looking forward to the race on Saturday and hopefully coming home with our first win!”

Sadler Gains Ground In Points, Sets Sights On Lead
Virginia native Elliott Sadler performed stoutly in front of his hometown crowd last weekend at Richmond International Raceway, posting his best finish (third) of the season and in the process leaped two spots in the points to second, just nine markers back from standings leader Daniel Suárez.

Sadler’s success comes at an opportune time as the series heads to Talladega, a track at which he won two seasons ago. In seven starts at Talladega, Sadler has posted the one win (2014), four top fives and seven top 10s.

Cash It: Runner-Up Finish At Richmond Has Dillon Back In The Title Mix
Ty Dillon’s title chances started to look a little hazy when he had dropped back to sixth in the points following Texas, but he rebounded mightily following his best finish (second) of the season last weekend at Richmond. Dillon not only finished second in the race, he also won the NASCAR XFINITY Series Dash 4 Cash bonus, taking home an additional $100,000. Dillon now sits third in the standings, just 19 points back from the standings lead.

In three starts at Talladega, Dillon has posted one top 10 and an average finish of 15.6.

Sunoco Rookie Update: One Jones Slips, The Other Capitalizes
The tale of two Joneses continues.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones and Richard Childress Racing’s Brandon Jones are the two front runners in this season’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year campaign. Erik Jones currently leads Brandon Jones by 27 points in the rookie standings.

Erik Jones’s season has had its ebbs and flows. Richmond wasn’t kind to Erik Jones last weekend, as he was caught in two separate accidents during the race, relegating him to a 34th-place finish – his worst of the season. Jones has posted one win and five top fives this year.

This weekend, the young the JGR driver will have his work cut out for him. He has only made four series starts on restrictor-plate tracks (three at Daytona and one at Talladega), posting one top-10 finish (Daytona – July, 2015). His lone Talladega start resulted in a 30th-place finish due to overheating.

“Talladega is definitely a place where you have to have everything go right, not only from a team perspective, but also from the perspective of being in the right spot at the right time of the race, and making sure you are up front and challenging for the win all day and trying to miss the wrecks and stay out of everything,” Erik Jones said. “If that happens, then usually you can be up at the front with a chance to win.”

On the other hand, Richard Childress Racing’s Brandon Jones has seen a season of solid consistency with not one finish outside the top 15. In eight starts in 2016, he has posted four top 10s and an average finish of 9.9.

This weekend will be Brandon Jones’ series debut at Talladega, but if his performance earlier this season at Daytona (seventh-place finish) was any indication of how he will do, expect a solid performance.

XFINITY Series Chase Outlook: Breakdown By Team
With eight series races in the books, it’s time to take a look at how the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase is going to shake out with respect to the teams. Below is a snapshot of the teams that currently have drivers who qualify for this season’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase:

Joe Gibbs Racing – Erik Jones (one win) and Daniel Suárez (points lead)
JR Motorsports – Elliott Sadler (second in points) and Justin Allgaier (seventh in points)
Richard Childress Racing – Ty Dillon (third in points), Brandon Jones (fourth), Brendan Gaughan (sixth) Chip Ganassi Racing – Brennan Poole (eighth in points) Roush Fenway Racing – Ryan Reed (ninth in points) and Darrell Wallace Jr. (10th in points) Richard Petty Motorsports – Jeb Burton (11th in points) RSS Racing – Ryan Sieg (12th in points)

The seven-race NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase will begin at Kentucky Speedway on Sept. 24, and feature 12 drivers and two elimination rounds, with four drivers competing in the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Dale Jr. Takes JR Motorsports To Owner Points Summit With Win At Richmond
With a big win in dominating fashion last weekend at Richmond International Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet team from third in the NASCAR XFINITY Series car owner points to first by one point over second-place Richard Childress and his No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet team.

Earnhardt’s win at Richmond was his first in JR Motorsports’ equipment. It marked his last start of the season.

This weekend, 2014 series champion Chase Elliott takes the reins of the 88. Elliott has made four starts this season, posting a win (season opener at Daytona), and four top fives. His average finish this season is 3.5.

The No. 88 JR Motorsports team has been led by crew chief David Elenz. Elenz will serve as crew chief for eight different drivers behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet this season – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Alex Bowman, Chase Elliott, Kenny Habul, Cole Custer and Josh Berry.


One More Weekend Until NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Returns
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series has just one more weekend off before it returns on Friday, May 6 for the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.

Kansas proved to be a dramatic race last season. Erik Jones, Tyler Reddick and Daniel Suárez all ran out of fuel while in the lead, and Matt Crafton saved enough in the tank to pass them for the victory.

Crafton is the only full-time NCWTS driver with a win at Kansas. Johnny Sauter (third), Timothy Peters (fourth), Cameron Hayley (fifth) and Daniel Hemric (10th) all finished in the top 10 in last season’s race.

Kennedy Joins GMS Racing
Ben Kennedy will join GMS Racing for multiple races, beginning with the Toyota Tundra 250 on Friday, May 6 at Kansas Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX). The NASCAR Next alum has 10 races already confirmed and will pilot the No. 33 Chevrolet Silverado.

“I am very excited to join GMS Racing for the remainder of the 2016 season,” Kennedy said. “I have watched the organization grow into a powerhouse team over the last year. All of their teams show up to the track each weekend with fast Chevrolets and I have total confidence that GMS will provide me with a solid truck each weekend.”

In 53 career NCWTS starts, Kennedy has produced six top fives and 16 top 10s. He left Red Horse Racing on April 15.

Graphics & Photos Courtesy of NASCAR

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