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Weekend Preview: Talladega Superspeedway


Defending champ Kyle Busch faces uphill battle in Talladega Playoff race

What was good for one Busch brother at Las Vegas was bad for the other.

Last Sunday, Kurt Busch got a long-awaited first victory at his home track in the first Round of 12 race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff. The win propelled the driver of the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, who entered the event 12th in the standings, into the Round of 8.

The victory, however, had an adverse effect on the title chances of reigning series champion Kyle Busch, who fell nine points below the Playoff cut line with two races left in the Round of 12. The first of those is Sunday’s YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), a track where Kyle scored his only victory 12 years ago.

Kyle is a realist. With no victories so far this season and a scant four Playoff points in the bank, the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota already has predicted the end of his title defense in the Round of 12. That antidote, of course, is a victory-but neither Talladega nor the Charlotte Roval is a particularly auspicious venue for the two-time series champion.

On the other hand, the position in the standings gives Kyle a certain sense of mission when it comes to Talladega, where he has a career-average of 20.7 in 30 starts.

"For us and where we’re at, we don’t have anything to lose," Busch says. "We have to go race. We can’t just sit there and ride and protect a cushion like we have been able to do in the past. We’re going to be on the outside looking in, so we have to go for broke and do all we can do to get those stage wins and points and try to get a race win to automatically punch your ticket to the next round.

"We have been good at the superspeedway races so far this year, but none of them have turned out to be great finishes. Really feel like we had a shot at all three of those races at Daytona and Talladega earlier this year and hope we can have another shot again this weekend with our M&M’s Camry."

Busch isn’t the only driver in danger in the Round of 12. Given the unpredictable nature of racing both at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval, even the top two drivers in the standings-Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin-could be in jeopardy if two different Playoff drivers below them in the standings follow Kurt Busch’s lead and win the next two races.

The most likely to accomplish that feat at Talladega are Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, who lead all other active drivers at the 2.66-mile track with five wins and three wins, respectively.

Ross Chastain hopes to atone for mistakes at Talladega

Kaulig Racing has dominated the superspeedways in the NASCAR Xfinity Series of late.

For Ross Chastain, that trend needs to continue in Saturday’s Ag-Pro 300 (4:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Chastain finished on the lead lap in last Saturday’s Xfinity Series Playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That’s about the only good thing that can be said about his effort. Chastain came home 16th, last among the 12 Playoff drivers and dropped to ninth in the standings, two points below the current cut line for the Round of 8.

But where other drivers might approach a Talladega event with a sense of dread, Chastain sees racing at the 2.66-mile track as an opportunity. In the first race at Talladega this season, he finished second to Kaulig Racing teammate Justin Haley. At Daytona in August, Chastain wrecked part-time AJ Allmendinger as they ran 1-2 in the final corner to hand Haley another win.

The bottom line, though, is that the Kaulig Chevrolets, powered by Earnhardt-Childress Racing engines, have been the class of the field at the superspeedways this year, and that bodes well for Chastain’s chances.

"Kaulig Racing and ECR engines are incredible at these superspeedways," Chastain says. "They let AJ Allmendinger, Justin Haley and myself make the aggressive moves that we want and that we need to make to try to go win this race.

"We’re below the cut line behind our competition right now. It’s not where we want to be. I made some pretty big mistakes behind the wheel and got in the fence early at Las Vegas. It’s not how I need to be performing in these playoffs, so lesson learned there. We will try to go to Talladega to just do what we normally do, go control this race and try to win."

Thanks to last Saturday’s victory in Las Vegas-his eighth of the season-Chase Briscoe is the only driver locked into the Round of 8 in the Xfinity Playoff. Everyone else will be scrambling for position in one of the most unpredictable races of the season.

Truck Series Playoff drivers face elimination race at Talladega

Todd Gilliland understands full well the stark reality of his position in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Playoff standings-there’s no one behind him.

The task at hand for Gilliland is to avoid elimination from the Playoff on Saturday, when the field will be trimmed from 10 drivers to eight after the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Yes, Gilliland is 10th in the series standings, but the news isn’t all bad. After Playoff races at Bristol and Las Vegas, he’s just 65 points behind first-place Brett Moffitt entering an event that can scramble the standings. He’s 19 points behind eighth-place Christian Eckes, who has never raced at Talladega,

And with non-Playoff driver Sam Mayer winning the postseason opener at Bristol, there are seven Round of 8 positions still open after Austin Hill’s claimed the first one with last weekend’s Las Vegas victory.

With nowhere to go but up and with a corresponding sense of freedom, Gilliland will make his third Talladega start on Saturday. In his most recent outing at the superspeedway, the 20-year-old driver of the No. 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford finished second to Spencer Boyd last year.

"We’re going to go in there and be aggressive," Gilliland asserted. "If we wreck trying to go for the win, I think we can live with ourselves on that, whereas other guys that might be able to let someone in and still make it on points, those guys are going to be looking behind them and worrying about points this whole week.

"For us, it’s pretty simple. There’s no one behind us. We can only move forward from here if we do our job right."

NASCAR Cup Series

Next Race: YellaWood 500

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Sunday, October 4

The Time: 2 p.m. ET

TV: NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500 miles (188 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 188)

What To Watch For: The 2020 season marks the fourth consecutive year Talladega Superspeedway will host the fifth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs (2017-2020) – race No. 31 of the season. … Talladega is the third different track to host the fifth race in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, joining: Charlotte Motor Speedway (from 2004 – 2014) and Kansas Speedway (from 2015 and 2016). … A total of 12 different drivers have won the NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races at Talladega Superspeedway; six of the 12 are active this weekend. … Brad Keselowski (2017, 2014), Clint Bowyer (2010-2011), Jamie McMurray (2009, 2013) and Joey Logano (2015-2016) lead the series in Playoff wins at Talladega with two victories each. … During the Playoff Era (2004-Present), the winner of the Talladega Superspeedway Playoff race has never gone on to win the title in the same season. But twice the Talladega Playoff race winner has finished runner-up in the championship standings at the end of the season: Jeff Gordon (2007) and Joey Logano (2016). … In total Talladega Superspeedway has hosted 102 NASCAR Cup Series races, 16 of the which have been Playoff events. The first NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway was held on Sept. 14, 1969 and won by Richard Brickhouse driving a Dodge for car owner Ray Nichels. … The 102 series races at the high-banked superspeedway has produced 44 different pole winners and 49 different race winners – 12 of the 49 race winners are active this weekend. … NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt leads the series in victories at Talladega with 10 wins (1983, 1984, 1990 sweep, 1991, 1993, 1994, 1999 sweep and 2000). … Playoff contender Brad Keselowski leads all active NASCAR Cup Series drivers at Talladega with five wins (2009, 2012, 2014 Playoff race, 2016, 2017 Playoff race); followed by his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano with three wins (2015 Playoff race, 2016 Playoff race and 2018). … The youngest series winner at Talladega is Bobby Hillin Jr (07/27/1986) at the age of 22 years, 1 month, 22 days and the oldest series winner is Harry Gant (05/06/1991) at the age of 51 years, 3 months, 26 days.

NASCAR Xfinity Series

Next Race: Ag-Pro 300

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Saturday, October 3

The Time: 4:30 p.m. ET

TV: NBCSN, 4 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300.58 miles (113 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 113)

What To Watch For: The 2020 season marks the first time Talladega Superspeedway has hosted the a race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs since the inception of the postseason in the series in 2016. … In total Talladega has hosted 29 NASCAR Xfinity Series races dating back to the inaugural event on July 25, 1992 and won by Ernie Irvan. … The 29 Xfinity races at Talladega have produced 21 different pole winners and 24 different race winners. … Martin Truex Jr. leads the series in wins at Talladega with three (2004, 2005, 2006). … Only two former series winners at Talladega are entered this weekend – Joe Nemechek (1998, 2000) and Justin Haley (2020). … Only three of the 29 Xfinity races at Talladega have been won from the pole or first starting position – the most recent driver to accomplish the feat was Haley earlier this season. … The youngest series winner at Talladega is Justin Haley (06/20/2020) at the age of 21 years, 1 month, 23 days and the oldest is Mike McLaughlin (04/21/2001) at the age of 44 years, 6 months, 15 days.

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series

Next Race: Chevrolet Silverado 250

The Place: Talladega Superspeedway

The Date: Saturday, October 4

The Time: 1 p.m. ET

TV: FS1, 12 p.m. ET

Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250.04 miles (94 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),

Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 94)

What To Watch For: The 2020 season marks the fifth time Talladega Superspeedway has hosted a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Playoff race and the fourth time to host the third race of the series’ postseason (2016-2018, 2020) – the first cutoff race. Last season the track hosted the fourth race in the Gander Trucks Playoffs. … Four different drivers have won the four previous Talladega Gander Truck Playoff races and none of the four winners were Playoff drivers – 2016 winner Grant Enfinger was 21st in points at the time of the win, 2017 winner Parker Kligerman was 22nd in points, 2018 winner Timothy Peters was 30th in points and the 2019 winner Spencer Boyd was 19th in points. … In total Talladega Superspeedway has hosted 14 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series races dating back to inaugural event on October 10, 2006 – the race was won by NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin. … The 14 Gander Truck races at Talladega have produced 14 different pole winners and nine different winners. … Timothy Peters leads the series in wins at Talladega with three victories (2014, 2015, 2018). … Three of the 14 Gander Truck races at Talladega have been won from the pole or first starting position – the most recent driver to accomplish the feat was Timothy Peters in 2015. … The youngest series winner at Talladega is Parker Kligerman (10/06/2012) at the age of 22 years, 1 month, 28 days and the oldest is Mike Wallace (10/22/2011) at the age of 52 years, 7 months, 12 days.

— NASCAR Wire Service —