Wednesday, April 27, 2016

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Notes heading into Talladega

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch during fall 2015 Talladega race.

Horn Sounds On Thrilling First Quarter

Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway marked the conclusion of the first quarter of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season.

The race featured 23 lead changes (most at RIR since 2007), 18 green flag passes for the lead (most at RIR since 2010) and 2,083 green flag passes (most at RIR since 2013).

Those impressive passing stats are the latest in a long line of statistical highlights generated from the first nine races.

Two of the highlights from the first quarter of the season include margin of victories at Daytona and Phoenix that ranked tied for the seventh closest of all time (.010 seconds). Seven of the first nine races have ended with a margin of victory under 1 second (one race ended under caution), the most since 2010 and tied for the most through nine races since the inception of electronic scoring in 1993.

Three races set records for green flag passes for the lead (lead changes all around the race track while under green flag conditions): Atlanta Motor Speedway (44); Auto Club Speedway (51); Bristol Motor Speedway (40).

Junior Dusts Off “Amelia” For Another Run At ’Dega Destiny
He’s a pretty popular guy already, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. will bring an old friend to Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. on FOX).

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.

Brad K Adds Drama To ’Dega
Brad Keselowski had the day of his life on April 26, 2009 at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Michigan native’s world turned when he led only the final lap to capture the first win of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.

Keselowski produced more Talladega drama in 2014 when he shot to victory on a green-white-checkered-flag finish to advance to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Overall, Keselowski boasts three wins, five top fives and eight top 10s in 14 starts at Talladega. His 14.8 average finish there is the best in the NSCS.


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