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NASCAR National Series News & Notes – Talladega Superspeedway

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: 1000Bulbs.com 500
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, October 13
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 500.08 miles (188 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 55), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 110), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 188)
2018 Race Winner: Aric Almirola

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300
The Place: Kansas Speedway
The Date: Saturday, October 19
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (200 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 45), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 90), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 200)
2018 Race Winner: John Hunter Nemechek

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series 

Next Race: Sugarlands Shine 250
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, October 12
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
TV: FS1, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 250.04 miles (94 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 94)
2018 Winner: Timothy Peters

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Truex leads Playoff contenders to Talladega wild card

Only four races into the 10-race 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and Martin Truex Jr. is thus far turning in a championship run for the ages. He has two victories and a runner-up finish in the four Playoff races and leads the points standings heading into Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The 2017 champion Truex leads all drivers with six victories on the season. He has 13 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes and has an average finish of 10.1. He currently holds a 15-point advantage over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the Playoff standings and leads the series in average finish (2.75) in the first four Playoff events.

All of those positive statistics are good – and perhaps especially necessary – for Truex heading to the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway high banks this week. The venue has been a challenge for Truex, historically-speaking.

In 29 career Monster Energy Series races at Talladega, Truex has more DNFs (13) than top-10 finishes (eight). He has only a pair of top-five results – both fifth-place finishes (in 2006 and 2015). His average finish of 21.3 is 25th-best among this week’s starting field. He started and finished 20th in the May race – his first top-20 finish since May, 2016. He was 23rd in the October Talladega Playoff race last year.

Truex does actually have a bit of positive racing history at Talladega despite his struggle in the Monster Energy Series. He has two Xfinity Series race victories – one each in his 2004 and 2005 championship years.

“We feel good about where we’re at,’’ Truex said. “Obviously, we wish we could have won last week and not had to worry about Talladega, but everybody on our team has been doing a good job all year and especially in the Playoffs.

“We know this weekend is going to be a huge challenge for us because of how the manufacturers have been working together the last few plate races. Strength in numbers is huge and we don’t really have enough cars to do what those other guys do. We have a lot of smart people at JGR, so I’m confident we’ll come up with a game plan this week and make the best of it.’’

Talladega Redemption

Chase Elliott couldn’t be more motivated to match his May victory at Talladega Superspeedway. The second-generation NASCAR star boasts the top Driver Rating (93.4) and best Average Running Position (10.745) into Sunday’s race.

And after an uncharacteristic DNF at Dover last week, good vibes and good results are exactly what he needs.

Elliott is ranked 11th of the 12 remaining championship-eligible drivers after a 38th-place finish at Dover and is now seven points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron in the eighth place “cutoff” position with two races remaining in this Playoff round. Obviously, the disappointing effort has created a situation for Elliott that forces his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports team to rally. The encouraging news is that typically when they have needed to overcome adversity, Elliott and his team have.

Nine times in his five-year fulltime Cup career, Elliott has answered a sub-30th-place finish with a top 10 in the next race. Twice he’s won a race right after a subpar outing – including this season when he finished 28th at Pocono, Pa. and won the next week at Watkins Glen, N.Y.

On the season, Elliott has earned three wins, 10 top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. With six races remaining, Elliott has already tied his single-season best victory tally and is only two top-5 finishes shy of his career-best mark set in 2017.

He has a win this year at Talladega, three top-five finishes and a pole in seven previous starts at the big track. And he is the defending winner of next week’s race at Kansas Speedway, where he has three top-five finishes in seven starts, all coming in the last four races.

Team Penske is ready to tackle Talladega

In recent years in particularly, Team Penske and its Ford power have consistently been the class of the Talladega fields. Ford drivers have won seven of the last eight Talladega races and swept the three seasons from 2016-18. Ford has won at least one Talladega race in each of the last five years.

Six of the last 10 checkered flags have gone to the Team Penske driving duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Keselowski’s five-trophy haul is most in the field and Logano’s three trophies are second only to his teammate. Logano’s 89.8 driving rating is third-best, teammates Keselowski (89.0) and Ryan Blaney (86.7) are fourth- and fifth-best, respectively.

Logano endured a very uncharacteristic race at Dover last week – his No. 22 Team Penske Ford had a mechanical problem on the parade lap – and after challenging for the regular season championship he is now tied with William Byron in points, but sits behind him in ninth in the standings – one spot outside the cutoff – based on the tie-breaker. Only the top-ranked eight drivers will remain Playoff-eligible following next week’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Talladega Superspeedway, however, may be the perfect panacea for Logano. He has scored top-five finishes in six of the last eight races, including three wins. He was fifth in this race in October 2018 and fourth this last May. He’s led laps in seven of the previous eight races – in fact 81.5 percent of his career total laps led came here.

Keselowski has had a similarly positive relationship with Talladega, scoring his first career Monster Energy Series win in his first series start at the big track in May, 2009. He’s led laps in the last seven Talladega races, but his last top 10 came back in October, 2017 – his last victory there. A three-race winner in 2019, Keselowski earned top-10 finishes in the opening three Playoff races and was 11th at Dover, Del. last weekend.

As with his teammate Logano, Blaney had a rough outing in Dover. His No. 12 Team Penske Ford suffered a suspension problem and he had to retire early, taking a 35th-place finish. And after a strong Playoff start – he’s had top-10 finishes in two of the last four races – Blaney is now ranked 12th, 22 points behind Byron in the eighth position. He has not had the same good fortune at Talladega as his two teammates, however, and would love a change in vibe. He has two top-10 finishes in 10 starts and three DNFs. He was 15th this May and 29th in last October’s Playoff race. Comfort in this round may be best found at Kansas Speedway next week where Blaney has five top-10 finishes in nine starts. He finished seventh in the 2018 Playoff race there and led nine laps.

Kyle Busch looking to bounce back to Victory Lane

Kyle Busch began the 2019 season tying a record mark for consecutive top-10s (11) to open the calendar, then reeled off four wins – back-to-back at Phoenix and Fontana, Calf. then again at Bristol-1 and Pocono-1. The driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won the regular season championship and began the Playoffs with a sizable points cushion, should he need it.

Four races into the Playoffs, however, and the 2015 series champion hasn’t won since June at Pocono – while all three of his JGR teammates have hoisted trophies since. He’s had two top 10s and two finishes of 19th or worse in the Playoffs. He was runner-up to his teammate Martin Truex Jr. at Richmond only to have a mechanical issue leave him 37th at the Charlotte ROVAL a week later. He finished sixth at Dover, Del. despite qualifying farthest back (18th) among the 12 Playoff drivers.

He is currently third in the standings – behind JGR teammates Truex and Denny Hamlin – but a hefty 52 points above the Playoff’s cutoff that will set the next round of the postseason following next week’s race at Kansas Speedway.

Busch is one of nine former Talladega winners in the field this weekend – his victory celebration coming in May 2008 – 11 seasons ago. He has six top-five and eight top-10 finishes in 28 starts and his average finish of 20.3 is 19th-best in Sunday’s field.

He was 10th at Talladega this May and 26th in the 2018 Playoff race there.

“I think you approach it the same way no matter where you in the points,’’ Busch said of the Talladega Superspeedway. “I’ve been in front and been part of a wreck and I’ve been riding in the back and been taken out too. There’s really no place that’s safe.

“With this race being the second race of the round, you have to try and run up front and hope that you don’t have some bad luck and just bring home a solid finish.’’

Much to race for

Both among those just eliminated from Playoff contention and among those who did not qualify for the championship this year, there has been some significant movement in the standings.

Stewart-Haas Racing driver Aric Almirola – who is actually the defending winner of this week’s Talladega race – is tops among the Playoff drivers who didn’t advance to this Round of 12. He is ranked 13th, 16 points up on Roush Fenway Racing’s Ryan Newman. Chip Ganassi Racing driver Kurt Busch is a single point behind Newman. And Joe Gibbs Racing driver Erik Jones is ranked 16th, 64 points behind Almirola after suffering four finishes of 36th or worse in the last five races.

For the first time in his seven-championship career, Jimmie Johnson did not qualify for the Playoffs. But as you’d expect of an 83-race winner, that hasn’t meant he’s not still working hard. In fact, Johnson and his eighth-place finish last week officially moved him into 17th in the standings – overtaking Daniel Suarez by 10 points – for the top position among those who didn’t make the Playoffs.

Johnson hasn’t finished worse than 11th in the four Playoff races. And he is one of only four multi-time Talladega winners, with victories in 2006 and 2011.

Competition Highlights

Denny Hamlin became the seventh driver to win multiple pole positions this season, out-qualifying the field at Dover on Sunday. His two pole positions are the only ones earned by the four-car Joe Gibbs Racing team in 2019. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick and Hendrick Motorsports’ William Byron lead all drivers with five poles each.

Kyle Larson’s win at Dover makes him the 12th different race winner in 2019. Six teams have won races, led by Joe Gibbs Racing’s 15 wins. All four JGR drivers – Martin Truex Jr. (six), Denny Hamlin (four), Kyle Busch (four) and Erik Jones (one) have wins. Chip Ganassi Racing is the only other team whose entire driver lineup – Larson and Kurt Busch – have victories.

While Larson pulled away to a nearly two-second win at Dover, the average Margin of Victory for the 30-race season is 1.696-seconds – with 15 races with a margin of victory of less than a second.

The average number of race leaders per race is 8.90 – the most for the opening 30 races since 2014 (9.63). Similarly, the average number of lead changes (17.17 per race) is the highest through 30 races since 2015 (17.53).

Green flag passes for the lead are up 38.3 percent from last season – with gains in 20 of the 30 races. Seven races have set green flag passes for the lead records (Las Vegas-1, Bristol, Tenn.-1, Kansas-1, Chicago, Kentucky, Indianapolis and Charlotte ROVAL).

In addition, total green flag passes are up 23.8 percent over last season and 17 of the 30 races to date have seen increase compared to last season.

The number of green flag passes for the lead is up 14.8 percent in the four Playoff races so far.

Parade Laps: Insights ahead of this week’s driver media rotations

Six drivers from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin, Richard Childress Racing’s Daniel Hemric, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick, Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman, Leavine Family Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto, JTG Daugherty Racing’s Chris Buescher, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Clint Bowyer and Germain Racing’s Ty Dillon will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Talladega Superspeedway in advance of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Denny Hamlin, 38, of Chesterfield, Va., led a race-best 218 laps last weekend at Dover and finished fifth in the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He’s had two top-10 finishes in four Playoff races, including a third at Richmond two weeks ago. He is currently ranked second in the standings behind his JGR teammate Martin Truex Jr. Hamlin is a former winner at this week’s Talladega Superspeedway venue – taking the trophy in 2014, rallying from a 34th place position on the starting grid. He’s had six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 27 Talladega starts. Seven times, however, he’s finished 30th or worse. His recent work is encouraging for this weekend. He has four finishes of 11th or better in the last six races on the superspeedway.

Daniel Hemric, 28, of Kannapolis, N.C., is coming off a 21st-place finish at Dover last weekend, but heads to the track – Talladega Superspeedway – where he earned the best finish of his first-year Cup career – fifth place this May. Hemric is ranked 25th in the series championship standings – tops among rookie drivers. He’s had three finishes of 25th or better in the last four races. That fifth place at Talladega this spring is his only top five on the season.

Kevin Harvick, 43, of Bakersfield, Calif., continues to excel when it matters most. He finished fourth at Dover last weekend and has finished in the top five in five of the last six races. Going back 11 races, the driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford has 10 top-10 finishes, including three victories and a runner-up in the Playoff opener at Las Vegas. Harvick is a former Talladega winner – earning the trophy in the spring of 2010. He finished 38th in May and was 28th in last year’s Playoff race. Although he has 15 top-10 finishes in 37 starts at Talladega, he has only two top-10 efforts in the last 10 races at the track.

Alex Bowman, 26, of Tucson, Ariz., has proven to be at his best in clutch situations. He rallied to move into the second round of the Playoffs with a runner-up finish at the Charlotte Roval two weeks ago and answered that with a third-place run at the Dover second round opener last weekend. The driver of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has three top-10 finishes in four Playoff races and his seventh-place ranking in the standings is the highest since the season-opening Daytona 500. Bowman was runner-up at Talladega this May – part of a three-race run of second-place finishes. It was only his second career top-10 at Talladega, however. He was 33rd in this Playoff race last year.

Matt DiBenedetto, 28, of Grass Valley, Calif. earned his career-best seventh top-10 of the season Sunday at Dover, finishing seventh in the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota. Both his top-five (three) and top-10 efforts are career best and he shows up at the Talladega big track eager to see if he can add another impressive superspeedway showing to his young resume. He led a race-best 49 laps in the Daytona 500 but finished 28th after being collected in a late-race accident. He answered that with an eighth-place finish in the July night race there. He’d love to raise his performance level at Talladega, where he was 31st in May and 30th in this 2018 Playoff race.

Chris Buescher, 26, of Prosper, Texas, suffered an engine problem at Dover last week but has turned in an otherwise solid season. He had 17 consecutive top-20 runs mid-season. His best showing of the year in the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Chevrolet is a sixth place at the Charlotte 600-miler. Buescher was 21st at Talladega in the October Playoff race last year and 30th this past May. His best showing at the track is 11th in May, 2018.

Clint Bowyer, 40, of Emporia, Kan., is in the midst of a highly competitive Playoff run in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Ford. He was 10th at Dover on Sunday – his third consecutive top-10 finish in the four Playoff races. He’s had six top-10 finishes in the last seven races and his 10th place ranking is the highest he’s risen since early summer. Bowyer is one of only four drivers to win multiple times at Talladega. He earned his trophies in back-to-back fall races in 2010-11 and has seven top-five and 13 top-10 finishes in 27 starts at the track. Twice he was runner-up (2011, 2018) and twice he’s finished third (both 2014 season races). Bowyer was runner-up to his SHR teammate Aric Almirola last October and was 29th this May.

Ty Dillon, 27, of Lewisville, N.C., is coming off a 23rd-place finish at Dover in the No. 13 Germain Racing Chevrolet and led his first lap since the Talladega May race. Dillon started the season with six top-20 runs in the opening eight races. And he has been good at the big tracks – earning a season best fourth-place finish at the Daytona 400-miler in July and was sixth in the Daytona 500. He led seven laps and finished 17th at Talladega in May and was 15th in this October race last year. He’s never finished worse than 17th in five starts and his best showing is 11th in the 2017 Fall race. Germain Racing and longtime sponsor GEICO will help Ty Dillon honor his grandfather, Richard Childress, with a throwback scheme for this weekend’s race. The scheme will mimic the green of Childress’ 1969 fall Talladega ride when he made his first premier series start while competing in the inaugural event at the superspeedway.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Round of 8: Xfinity championship continues to take shape

With the NASCAR Xfinity Series’ first three Playoff races in the books, eight drivers move on to the Round of 8 to battle it out for a chance at the title in the Championship 4 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But first, the eight Playoff contenders must face each other at Kansas Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and ISM Raceway in Phoenix to decide which four get to move on. Though the series has this weekend off, Kansas Speedway is up next on the Xfinity Playoff schedule.

Nestled west of Kansas City is a true gem of the area, Kansas Speedway. The 1.5-mile paved oval track has variable banking in the turns ranging from 17 to 20 degrees. Kansas will host this season’s fourth Xfinity Playoff race, the Kansas Lottery 300, on Saturday, October 19 at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

The 200 lap (300-mile) Playoff event will be broken up into three stages – the first two stages will be 45 laps each and the final stage will be 110 laps (45/90/200). Next weekend’s race will mark the 19th time the NASCAR Xfinity Series has competed at Kansas Speedway. The first series event at the facility was on Sept. 29, 2001, and won by 2000 series champion Jeff Green. The first 18 Xfinity races at Kansas have produced 14 different pole winners and 14 different race winners. Kyle Busch leads the series in wins at Kansas with four victories.

Since the inception of the Playoffs in 2016, Kansas has maintained the fourth race in the postseason. Interestingly, Kansas Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course are the only two active tracks in the Playoffs that have not had a Playoff driver win their Playoff races – ever. In 2016, Monster Energy Series driver Kyle Busch won the inaugural Kansas Xfinity Playoff race. In 2017, then-NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series driver Christopher Bell grabbed his first Xfinity Series career win in the Kansas Playoff race. And again in 2018, John Hunter Nemechek, on a part-time Xfinity schedule, grabbed the checkered flag to play the postseason spoiler.

The Kansas Speedway Playoff race next weekend will be the eighth different race on a 1.5-mile track this season. Of the Playoff drivers, Tyler Reddick has put up the best average finish on 1.5-mile tracks this season with a 5.0; followed by Noah Gragson (6.7), Michael Annett (7.0), Cole Custer (10.7), Chase Briscoe (11.0), Austin Cindric (11.9), Christopher Bell (12.9) and Justin Allgaier (13.1).

Eight Playoff contenders advance to the next round

The first round of the Playoffs really showcased the talents of the drivers. Eight of the original 12 have moved on to the Round of 8 which will begin next Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

The Round of 8 contenders are (in order of seeding) Christopher Bell (No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota), Cole Custer (No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford), Tyler Reddick (No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet), Austin Cindric (No. 12 Team Penske Ford), Justin Allgaier (No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet), Chase Briscoe (No. 98 Stewart-Haas Racing with Fred Biagi Ford), Michael Annett (No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet) and Noah Gragson (No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet).

Round of 12 Recap: The NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoff’s Round of 12 saw three different winners – Christopher Bell captured the first win at Richmond, then non-Playoff driver AJ Allmendinger took the checkered at the highly competitive Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval the following week, and then last weekend Cole Custer rounded out the three-race segment with a victory at Dover. Four drivers were eliminated from the Playoffs following Dover – John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Haley, Ryan Sieg and Brandon Jones.

2019 Current Playoff Driver – 2019 Postseason Stats
Drivers Starts Wins Top Fives Top 10s Poles Laps Led Completed Avg. Start Avg. Finish Rank
Christopher Bell 3 1 1 1 0 257 483 7.0 12.7 1
Cole Custer 3 1 2 3 0 36 517 6.3 4.0 2
Tyler Reddick 3 0 1 2 0 1 515 3.0 8.0 3
Austin Cindric 3 0 3 3 1 38 517 2.0 2.7 4
Justin Allgaier 3 0 3 3 0 67 517 5.7 3.3 5
Chase Briscoe 3 0 2 3 2 92 517 2.3 6.3 6
Michael Annett 3 0 0 2 0 1 517 16.3 10.0 7
Noah Gragson 3 0 1 3 0 0 517 9.0 6.3 8

Below is a statistical look at the eight Playoff drivers and their average finishing positions at the Round of 8 tracks (Kansas, Texas and Phoenix) and the Championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway:

KANSAS SPEEDWAY TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY
Rank Playoff Drivers Average Finish Starts Rank Playoff Drivers Average Finish Starts
1 Tyler Reddick 3.5 2 1 Chase Briscoe 7.5 2
2 Justin Allgaier 11.6 8 2 Austin Cindric 7.7 3
3 Christopher Bell 19.0 2 3 Cole Custer 9.8 5
4 Michael Annett 19.4 7 4 Christopher Bell 10.8 4
5 Cole Custer 26.7 3 5 Noah Gragson 13.0 1
6 Chase Briscoe 30.0 1 6 Justin Allgaier 13.1 18
7 Austin Cindric 39.0 1 7 Tyler Reddick 15.0 4
8 Noah Gragson 0.0 0 8 Michael Annett 15.3 14
ISM RACEWAY HOMESTEAD-MIAMI SPEEDWAY
Rank Playoff Drivers Average Finish Starts Rank Playoff Drivers Average Finish Starts
1 Chase Briscoe 6.0 1 1 Tyler Reddick 2.5 2
2 Tyler Reddick 8.3 4 2 Austin Cindric 5.0 1
3 Austin Cindric 8.3 3 3 Cole Custer 6.7 3
4 Justin Allgaier 9.1 18 4 Chase Briscoe 13.0 1
5 Cole Custer 9.6 5 5 Justin Allgaier 14.1 9
6 Christopher Bell 9.8 4 6 Michael Annett 18.4 8
7 Noah Gragson 11.0 1 7 Christopher Bell 23.5 2
8 Michael Annett 15.2 14 8 Noah Gragson 0.0 0

 

NASCAR Xfinity Series, Etc.

Just Two Sunoco Rookies Left – With the elimination of the John Hunter Nemechek and Justin Haley from the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs, just two Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders are left to challenge for the end-of-year rookie honors – Chase Briscoe and Noah Gragson. Currently, Briscoe holds the rookie standings lead by eight points over Gragson following Dover. Looking ahead, Gragson will be making his series track debut next weekend at Kansas Speedway, but Briscoe will be returning looking to rebound from his series track debut last season where he finished 30th due to suspension issues.

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series

Gander Trucks are back on track

With three consecutive off-weeks behind them, NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series begins the Round of 6 at Talladega Superspeedway this Saturday, Oct. 12 with the Sugarlands Shine 250 (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Talladega has hosted 13 Gander Trucks races with the first coming in 2006, which was won by Mark Martin in a Ford. That also happened to mark Ford’s only victory at the 2.66-mile behemoth.

The track has seen four multi-race winners, led with three victories by Timothy Peters (2014, 2015, 2018). Todd Bodine (2007, 2008), Kyle Busch (2009, 2010) and Parker Kligerman (2012, 2017) each have two wins. Kligerman is the only multi-race winner to not post consecutive trips to Victory Lane.

With the exception of Peters’ most recent win last season, all of the multi-win drivers notched their victories in a Toyota (including Peters’ first two wins). Overall, Toyota leads the OEM race with nine wins at Talladega while Chevrolet has three wins.

In total, eight different drivers have recorded wins at the Alabama track. Grant Enfinger (2016) and Johnny Sauter (2013) are the only current full-time Gander Trucks drivers who have a previous win there.

The eighth driver not mentioned above? Mike Wallace – who won in 2011.

Enfinger and Kligerman both recorded their first career Gander Trucks wins at Talladega.

Defending winner Peters is not entered in this weekend’s race, nor is Kligerman, the 2017 winner. Only two previous Talladega victors – Enfinger and Sauter – are on the entry list for Saturday’s event.

There has yet to be a multi-time pole winner in the Gander Trucks at Talladega Superspeedway – 13 races, 13 different pole winners. And we’re guaranteed to get a 14th different pole winner this weekend, as none of the former pole sitters are entered.

The youngest pole winner at Talladega was Cole Custer in 2016 – 18 years, eight months, 29 days old; the oldest was Ron Hornaday Jr. in 2010 – 52 years, four months and 10 days old.

The most recent pole winner was David Gilliland. Tyler Reddick (2014) is the only driver who recorded his first career Gander Trucks pole at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.

The Round of 6 field

Following the Gander Trucks’ last race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, regular season champion Grant Enfinger and his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter were eliminated from postseason contention, narrowing the field to the six drivers who will begin the next round of the Playoffs on Saturday.

This will mark the first time since the elimination-style Playoff format was introduced to the Gander Trucks in 2016 that Sauter will not be part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Brett Moffitt came out of Las Vegas as the top seed moving into the next round and has 3,034 points with the reset. Austin Hill, the winner from Las Vegas, trails him by 17 points at 3,017 points, while Ross Chastain is just one more point back with 3,016 points. Stewart Friesen is fourth with 3,014 points.

Matt Crafton (3,011 points) and Tyler Ankrum (3,005 points) round out the group of six drivers who will battle over the next three races for the shot at the title in Miami.

Breaking down the Playoff contenders at ‘Dega

Here’s a look at the superspeedway performances for the six remaining Playoff contenders, in order of seeding:

Brett Moffitt – No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet – 3,034 points: Superspeedways haven’t been Moffitt’s best friend in his limited appearances at the venues. Moffitt has only made one visit to Talladega – this race last fall. He started eighth and finished 17th there en route to his Gander Trucks title. He has three starts at NASCAR’s other superspeedway – Daytona. His best finish there was 22nd in 2017. Since then he’s had a pair of 26th-place finishes.

Austin Hill – No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota – 3,017 points: This fall will mark Hill’s third trip to Talladega Superspeedway, he finished 10th there last fall and was 22nd when he raced in Alabama in 2015. Hill has already tamed Daytona – winning the season opener this year to clinch his Playoff berth early. In his other two races at Daytona, he placed 30th (2015) and 11th (2018).

Ross Chastain – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet – 3,016 points: Chastain has twice finished third at superspeedways in the Gander Trucks – including in his most recent start at one of those venues at Daytona this February – over a total of eight starts on those tracks. He made three appearances at Talladega Superspeedway – but none since 2016. In his first showing in Alabama in 2012, he was involved in a mid-race crash and finished 34th. The following year he put up his best finish at the track – placing third. Then in 2016 he was 15th. At Daytona, Chastain has made five starts, posting an average finish of 21.0 – with three of his races ending early as a result of crashes. Niece Motorsports is the fifth different team with whom Chastain has raced at a superspeedway – SS Green Light Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2012), Brad Keselowski Racing (Talladega and Daytona, 2013), Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises (Daytona, 2014), Bolen Motorsports (Talladega, 2016 and Daytona, 2017) and Niece Motorsports (Daytona and Talladega, 2019).

Also, of note regarding Chastain on superspeedways – earlier this season he won the July edition of the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona, driving for Kaulig Racing.

Stewart Friesen – No. 52 Halmar Friesen Chevrolet – 3,014 points: Friesen has had a modicum of success at Talladega. He’s made two appearances at the 2.66-mile behemoth – finishing sixth in his most recent visit and putting up a respectable 17th-place result in 2017. His luck hasn’t been as good at Daytona – where he’s crashed in all three races he’s started there. However, due to the mass amount of attrition at the season-opener in Florida this year, he managed to finish 10th despite crashing late and finishing three laps down.

Matt Crafton – No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford – 3,011 points: Crafton will have to put the past aside at Talladega to have a shot at using the superspeedway as a springboard into the Championship 4. In 13 appearances at the 2.66-mile circuit, he has a lone top five – a fourth-place finish in 2010. He had only managed four top 10s, and only one in the most recent five races (ninth in 2017). He’s recorded an average finish of 16.8 at ‘Dega and has three DNFs – two within the last three races. His luck hasn’t been much better at Daytona – in 19 starts he has a pair of top-five finishes and eight top 10s. His top fives are spaced nearly a decade apart – in 2010 and 2019 (fifth each time). He has an average finish of 14.4 at the Florida superspeedway and has four DNFs – but none since 2012.

Tyler Ankrum – No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota – 3,005 points: Superspeedways are the great unknown for the 18-year-old driver who missed the opening three races of the season – including Daytona – due to age restrictions. This weekend marks Ankrum’s first visit to one of the massive, high-speed circuits like Daytona or Talladega.

Track record of champs at Talladega

If you’re a championship contender and don’t have a great weekend at Talladega, don’t fret. Talladega hasn’t been the most welcoming track for title holders in recent years.

Since the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series began racing at Talladega in 2006, no champion has won at the 2.66-mile Alabama superspeedway during their title season. In fact, only two series champions have visited Talladega’s Victory Lane at some point in their career – 2006 and 2010 champion Todd Bodine won there in 2007 and 2008, 2016 title holder Johnny Sauter won the 2013 race.

Looking at active drivers who hold championships, Sauter leads them all with a win, three top-five and five top-10 finishes in 10 Talladega races. His win came in 2013, but he’s only averaged a finish of 15.8 in the races since. His most recent race in Alabama was cut short by a wreck, relegating him to a 22nd-place finish.

Matt Crafton (2013, 2014 champion) is next with 13 starts at ‘Dega – yielding only one top five (fourth in 2010) and four top 10s. His average finish is 16.8 at the track and he’s had three DNFs. In his most recent trip to Talladega, he placed ninth.

Brett Moffitt (2018 champion) has only made one visit to Talladega – he finished 17th last fall.

Winning the pole en route to the 2019 Playoffs                        

It appeared this season that if you were fast before the race started, that was a good indication you would put yourself in a position to contend for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series title. Ten different drivers have combined to win 16 pole awards in the Gander Trucks through the opening 19 races of the season (qualifying was canceled due to weather for three races – Atlanta, Iowa, World Wide Technology Raceway) – and six of those drivers qualified for this year’s series Playoffs.

The lone 2019 Gander Trucks Playoff drivers who haven’t yet collected a pole are Tyler Ankrum (who is still in title contention) and Johnny Sauter (who was eliminated after the opening round).

And all Playoff drivers with a pole won at least one of them during the regular season.

Brett Moffitt leads the pack with three poles this season – with two of them coming in the opening round of the Playoffs (Bristol, Canadian Tire). His third pole was earlier this season at Dover.

Austin Hill has a pair of poles (Daytona, Michigan) as does Matt Crafton (Kansas, Charlotte) and eliminated Playoff driver Grant Enfinger (Texas-1, Kentucky).

Ross Chastain (Michigan) and Stewart Friesen (Martinsville -1) have each led the field to green once.

Breaking down the Round of 6 tracks

The Gander Trucks open the Round of 6 in the Playoffs by taking on the most unpredictable track of the postseason, Talladega Superspeedway, for the Sugarlands Shine 250 on Saturday afternoon (1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Here’s a look at the three tracks that will make up the Round of 6:

Talladega Superspeedway – Saturday, October 12: Talladega is a 2.66-mile, high-banked, high-speed superspeedway. The track features 33 degrees of banking in the corners and 16.5 degrees along the front straight, while the back straight has just two degrees of banking. The front straight is 4,300 feet long and is unique in that the start/finish line is located all the way down near the entrance to Turn 1. The back straight is 4,000 feet long. The race will be 250.4 miles (94 laps) long and was won last year by Timothy Peters – his third win at the track. None of the six remaining Playoff drivers have visited Victory Lane at the track.

Martinsville Speedway – Saturday, October 26: Martinsville, affectionately known as “The Paperclip” due to its shape, is a .52-mile short track. It has 12 degrees of banking in the turns and is perfectly flat in the straights. Each straightaway is 800 feet long. The race will be 105.2 miles (200 laps) long. Johnny Sauter won this race last year while Kyle Busch won the spring race this season. Matt Crafton has two wins at Martinsville (Spring, 2014; Fall, 2015) and is the only remaining Playoff contender with a win at “The Paperclip.”

ISM Raceway – Friday, November 8: ISM Raceway, located near Phoenix, Arizona, is a one-mile track that was recently reconfigured (prior to the 2018 fall race) to move the start/finish line to the former backstretch, just before the dog leg. The banking in Turns 1 and 2 are 11 degrees while it’s nine degrees in Turns 3 and 4. The frontstretch is 1,179 feet long and banked at three degrees and the backstretch is 1,551 feet long and has nine degrees of banking. Brett Moffitt won this race last year. He is the only remaining Playoff contender with a victory at the track.

Parade Laps: Insights into the drivers in this week’s media breakouts

Four drivers from the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series – Hattori Racing Enterprises driver Austin Hill, Halmar Friesen Racing’s Stewart Friesen, DGR-Crosley’s Tyler Ankrum and GMS Racing pilot Brett Moffitt – will be participating in this week’s media rotations at Talladega Superspeedway leading into the Sugarlands Shine 250 on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Gander Trucks media rotations are scheduled for Friday, October 11, from 1:45-2 p.m. ET in the Media Center.

Austin Hill (No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota Tundra)

Birthdate: April 21, 1994

Driver’s Age: 25

Hometown: Winston, GA

Hobbies: Hunting, spending time with family and boating

Crew Chief: Scott Zipadelli

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Scored first three career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series wins in 2019 (Daytona, Michigan, Las Vegas).
  • Finished 11th in 2018 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Championship points, his first full season.
  • In 2017, he joined Young’s Motorsports and made 12 starts finishing a then career-best 23rd in the final standings.
  • In 2016, he posted his first top-10 finish in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series (Martinsville).
  • In 2014, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Martinsville Speedway.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Heads to Talladega Superspeedway seeded second in the Gander Trucks Playoffs as the Round of 6 begins; 17 points behind standings leader Brett Moffitt and six points ahead of Matt Crafton, the first driver outside the top four.
  • This is his first career Gander Trucks Playoff appearance.
  • Through 19 races this season, Hill has put up three wins (Daytona, Michigan, Las Vegas), six top fives, 11 top 10s and three poles (Chicago, Pocono, Las Vegas).
  • Has yet to win a stage this season but has accumulated 17 Playoff points.
  • Has led 151 of 2,813 laps completed.
  • 2019 average starting position, 8.6 and average finishing position, 12.8

Talladega Superspeedway Performance:

  • Has three starts at Talladega, posting one top-10 finish (2018).
  • Does have a win on NASCAR’s other superspeedway – Daytona – in this year’s season opener.

Stewart Friesen (No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: July 25, 1983

Driver’s Age: 36

Hometown: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada

Hobbies: Dirt racing

Crew Chief: Trip Bruce III

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Won his first career Gander Trucks race at Eldora Speedway in 2019.
  • In 2018, he competed in all 23 races, qualifying for the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs for the first time; ultimately finished the season seventh in points.
  • In 2017, he competed in 19 races, posting two top fives, five top 10s and a pole.
  • In 2016, he made his NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Eldora Speedway and made a total of six starts that season.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Heads to Talladega Superspeedway seeded fourth in the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs (3,014 points) to start the Round of 6; 18 points behind the series standings leader Brett Moffitt and five points ahead of fifth-place Matt Crafton.
  • This is his second career Gander Trucks Playoff appearance.
  • Through 19 races this season, Friesen has posted one win (Eldora), 10 top fives, 13 top 10s and a pole (Martinsville).
  • Has won two stages and accumulated 14 Playoff points.
  • Has led 204 of 2,813 laps completed.
  • 2019 average starting position, 9.1 and average finishing position, 9.1.

Talladega Superspeedway Performance:

  • Has made two starts at the 2.66-mile track, putting up one top-10 result of sixth last fall.

Tyler Ankrum (No. 17 DGR-Crosley Toyota Tundra)

Birthdate: March 6, 2001

Driver’s Age: 18

Hometown: San Bernardino, California

Crew Chief: Kevin Manion

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Clinched the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors by becoming the only rookie to make the Playoffs.
  • Due to age restrictions, Ankrum missed the first three races of the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series season before turning 18-years old in March.
  • Made NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut on Oct. 27, 2018 at Martinsville Speedway driving for DGR-Crosley; he started 19th and finished 18th.

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Enters the 2019 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Playoffs Round of 6 as the sixth and final seed with 3,005 points, 29 points behind the Playoff standings leader Brett Moffitt and nine points behind fourth-place Stewart Friesen in the final Championship 4 slot.
  • Ankrum has clinched the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for 2018 because he is the only rookie this season to make the Playoffs.
  • Through the first 19 races of the season Ankrum has only competed in 16 of the events due to being too young to compete at the beginning of the season. In his 13 starts he has posted one win (Kentucky), three top fives and seven top 10s.
  • Has yet to win a stage in 2019 but he has accumulated five Playoff points.
  • Has led 52 of 2,438 laps completed.
  • 2019 average starting position, 11.9 and average finishing position, 14.1

Talladega Superspeedway Performance:

  • He will not only be making his first start at Talladega, but also his first start at a superspeedway as he was too young to compete at Daytona in the season opener.

Brett Moffitt (No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet Silverado)

Birthdate: August 7, 1992

Driver’s Age: 27

Hometown: Grimes, Iowa

Team: GMS Racing

Crew Chief: Jerry Baxter

NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series Career Highlights:

  • Last season, Moffitt drove Hattori Racing Enterprise’s No. 16 Toyota to six wins, leading the way for the first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship for both Moffitt and HRE.
  • Won his first NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race in 2016, taking home the checkers at Michigan for Red Horse Racing.
  • Made the most of his six NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series starts in 2016, with three top-three finishes and four top 10s.
  • In 2013, entered the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series scene with a pair of starts (Kentucky and Michigan).

2019 Season Highlights:

  • Won the NASCAR Ganders Outdoors Truck Series races at Iowa, Chicagoland, Bristol, and Canadian Tire.
  • Currently the top see in the Round of 6 with 3,034 points – 17 points ahead of second-place Austin Hill.
  • In 19 starts this season he has posted four victories, 11 top fives and 14 top 10s with an average starting position of 4.1 and finish of 8.2.
  • Has led 350 of the 2,740 laps completed this season.

Talladega Superspeedway Performance:

  • Moffitt has only made one start at Talladega – recording a 17th-place finish last fall.

— NASCAR —