Speedway Digest Staff
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No. 18 Starkey/SoundGear Toyota Camry News and Notes:
- SAWALICH AT SALEM: William Sawalich will make his first start at Salem Speedway this weekend in the ARCA Menards Series (AMS).
- 2023 ARCA EAST CHAMPION: Sawalich claimed the 2023 ARCA Menards Series East (AMSE) championship two weeks ago at Bristol Motor Speedway. He ended the season with four wins and finished in the top-five in all eight races on the AMSE schedule. He became the second AMSE champion for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) and the first Minnesotan to win the series championship.
- 2023 ARCA MENARDS SERIES OWNER’S CHAMPIONSHIP: The No. 18 car trails the No. 20 in the AMS owner’s points standings by just three points heading into the last two races of the season. The No. 18 has had three drivers behind the wheel in 2023 – Taylor Gray, Connor Mosack, and Sawalich. JGR owns two AMS owner’s championships that came back-to-back in 2020 and 2021. Ty Gibbs and Riley Herbst combined to win the 2020 owner’s championship on the strength of seven wins. Gibbs then claimed the 2021 owner’s championship again in 2020 with 10 wins.
- FOLLOW ALONG: Follow along for updates and a behind-the-scenes look at Sawalich’s 2023 season.
- RACE INFO: The AMS Atlas 200 at BMS will take place at 7:30 PM ET on Saturday, September 30. The race will be broadcasted on Fox Sports 2 and FloRacing.
From the Driver’s Seat:
William Sawalich: “Bristol was really fun, but I’m looking ahead to this week at Salem. We’ve had some great short track runs recently so I know the guys will bring a good car and we’ll go out and battle to try to end the night in Victory Lane.”
Christopher Bell - No. 20 DEWALT Electrical Solutions Toyota Camry TRD Preview - Talladega Superspeedway
No. 20 DEWALT Electrical Solutions Toyota Camry TRD News and Notes:
- BELL AT TALLADEGA: Christopher Bell will make his eighth NASCAR Cup Series (NCS) start at Talladega Superspeedway (TSS) this weekend. Bell earned back-to-back poles in 2022 at Talladega and overall in his previous seven NCS starts he has earned one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
- BELL’S HISTORY AT TALLADEGA: Bell has two prior NASCAR Xfinity Series (NXS) starts at Talladega earning one top-five and one top-10 finish. In addition to his NXS races, Bell has three prior NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series starts at TSS earning one pole, one top-five and two top-10 finishes.
- PLAYOFFS SO FAR: Bell heads into Talladega ranked fourth in the Round of 12 Playoff point standings. Bell kicked off the 2023 Playoffs by claiming the pole position in the first three races and kicked off the Round of 12 with a fourth-place finish at Texas.
- DEWALT ELECTRICAL SOLUTIONS: The No. 20 has a new look this weekend featuring DEWALT ELECTRICAL SOLUTIONS. DEWALT offers Total Electrical Solutions to help automate repetitive tasks and simplify complex cable installation.
- DEWALT HOOD: DEWALT will feature Shoals Outdoor Sports on the lower hood of the No. 20 Toyota Camry TRD at Talladega. For more information visit: https://www.shoalsoutdoorsports.com/
- DEWALT DECKLID: The 20’s decklid will feature Inglett & Stubbs Electrical Construction. For more information visit: https://www.inglett-stubbs.com/
- TEXAS RECAP: Bell left his home track of Texas Motor Speedway with a fourth-place finish to kick of the second round of the NASCAR Playoffs. Bell qualified ninth and had good balance throughout the race but needed a little more overall grip. The team made the right adjustments and had him in position at the end to make a run to the checkered flag and earn a top-five finish.
- JGR AT TALLADEGA: JGR has claimed five NCS victories at Talladega. In 167 combined starts at the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the organization has tallied 42 top-five finishes, 63 top-10s and 1,512 laps led. The championship-winning organization has an average start of 14.9 and average finish of 17.5.
- RACE INFO: The YellaWood 500 at TSS begins at 2:00 p.m. ET on Sunday, October 1, 2023. The race will be broadcast live on NBC, Sirius XM 90, and MRN Radio.
From the Cockpit:
Christopher Bell: “We need to take advantage of our points position going into Talladega. I’m excited about the task in front of us and am looking forward to the challenge.”
Winning the Oct. 7 CARS Tour race on his home track at South Boston Speedway would be special for Bobby McCarty
There is likely no other driver among the CARS Late Model Stock Car Tour competitors that is looking forward to the AutosByNelson.com 250 presented by Virginia Is For Lovers on Saturday night, October 7 at South Boston Speedway more than Bobby McCarty.
McCarty started his racing career at South Boston Speedway, winning the track’s Limited Sportsman Division crown in 2012, and he has nine career wins in NASCAR Late Model Stock Car Division races at the .4-mile oval.
McCarty prevailed in a must-win situation in the October, 2021 CARS Tour event at South Boston Speedway, fending off Kaden Honeycutt to win the final race of the CARS Tour season and capture his third career CARS Tour championship.
This season at South Boston Speedway, McCarty won the 200-lap Virginia Late Model Triple Crown opener at South Boston Speedway in July and finished fourth in a 150-lap race on September 2.
“We always love coming to South Boston Speedway,” McCarty remarked. “It’s my home track. It’s where I started, and I have a lot of great memories and done a lot of cool things there. I have a ton of confidence.”
Winning the upcoming October 7 CARS Tour race at South Boston Speedway would be huge.
“If we can come back to South Boston Speedway and get another win I’d be over the top,” McCarty said with a big smile. “It would mean a lot. The competition on the CARS Tour has gotten much stiffer this year. There are a lot of good cars, a lot of fast cars, and a lot of good drivers. Winning one of those races now means a ton more than it did two years ago.”
Earning the win in the 200-lap race in July was big for McCarty.
“Getting the win for that 200-lapper is a big deal,” McCarty said. “I won it once before. You always think you know what it’s like to win that race until you win it a second time. It was a really cool deal. Those Triple Crown races are a really big deal for all of the drivers.”
While McCarty earned the win in the 200-lap race as the result of the disqualification of apparent winner Carson Kvapil, it was still a great result.
“I hate to get a win that way,” McCarty pointed out, “but I had one stripped from me earlier in the year for kind of the same deal. We did have a really good car. We were a little too tight towards the end of the race to make a really good run at Kvapil for the win. Second place with the car count and the caliber of cars that were here was a good run for us.”
McCarty enters the 125-lap Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Tour race on October 7 standing fifth in the series points standings. In his 13 starts he has a win, five Top-5 finishes and 9 Top-10 finishes. Unfortunately, three DNFs have dashed his hopes of winning the 2023 CARS Tour title.
“We’ve had a really good season,” McCarty said. “We’ve had three DNFs which hurt our championship hopes. Other than the transmission breaking at Ace Speedway we have finished outside the Top-10 only once since then. That’s a really strong stat running the CARS Tour.”
McCarty says he and his R&S Racecars team are in a good place.
“We’re learning some things with the racecars,” McCarty noted. “We’re trying new things that are working. My R&S group has really turned it on these last few months. We’ve had a lot of really good runs with the Triple Crown and the CARS Tour in general. We’re in a really good place. It’s good to be getting back to some places that are familiar to me.”
The October 7 AutosByNelson.com 250 presented by Virginia Is For Lovers at South Boston Speedway includes a 125-lap race for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Late Model Stock Tour, a 100-lap race for the Solid Rock Carriers CARS Pro Late Model Tour and a 25-lap race for the touring Virginia Mini-Cup Racing Association.
Advance adult general admission tickets for the AutosByNelson.com 250 presented by Virginia Is For Lovers CARS Tour event are priced at $17 each and may be purchased online on South Boston Speedway’s website, www.southbostonspeedway.com or by calling the speedway office at 434-572-4947 or toll free at 1-877-440-1540 during regular business hours.
Tickets at the gate on race day on October 7 will be $20 each. Seniors ages 65 and older, military, healthcare workers, and students (with ID) can purchase tickets for $17 each at the gate on race day.
The tentative race day schedule has practice for the CARS Tour Late Model Stock Car and Pro Late Model series running from 11 a.m. until 1:15 p.m. Practice and qualifying for the Virginia Mini-Cup series is set from 3:30 p.m. to 3:50 p.m.
All spectator gates will open at 3:45 p.m. CARS Tour qualifying starts at 4:15 p.m. A driver autograph session will be held on the frontstretch from 5:30 p.m. until 6:15 p.m. Driver introductions and pre-race ceremonies start at 6:30 p.m. and the first race is set to get the green flag at 7 p.m.
The latest news and updates about the Saturday night, October 7 AutosByNelson.com 250 presented by Virginia Is For Lovers CARS Tour event and other events can be found on the speedway’s website, , www.southbostonspeedway.com, and the track’s social media channels. Information may also be obtained by phoning the speedway at 434-572-4947 or toll free at 1-877-440-1540 during regular business hours.
George Bessette, Jr. & Brian Sullivan Head Into NAPA Championship Night at Stafford Tied In SK Light Standings
With NAPA Championship Night on the horizon for this Friday, September 29th at Stafford Speedway, the fight for the SK Light championship will come down to the #39 Lasco Roofing and Sheet Metal team of George Bessette, Jr. and the #46 Monaco Ford team of Brian Sullivan. The two drivers are tied for the lead in the championship standings with Tyler Chapman mathematically still in the hunt although he is a longshot at 40 points behind Bessette and Sullivan. Both Bessette and Sullivan have claimed championships at Stafford in prior seasons with Bessette taking the 2018 Street Stock title and Sullivan taking home the 2020 SK Light championship and both drivers are looking forward to their championship duel.
“We’re going to do what we’ve normally done every week,” said Bessette. “We just have to beat Brian for that one spot so it should be good and we’re going to have a lot of fun no matter what happens. We’ve had a great year so I can’t complain about anything. I think we’ve had some good luck with our car setups and the weather so I guess you could say that things have fallen into our hands. We’re excited for this Friday and hopefully we can come out on top with the trophy at the end of the night.”
“I was in the same situation a couple years ago when there were 3 of us tied so I just need to have the mindset of we have to finish in front of George,” said Sullivan. “At the start of the year our goal was to win races and that’s still our goal. We’re there to win the championship, don't get me wrong, but we still want to win the race as well as finishing in front of George. We’ve been in the top-5 for most of the season and I think George and I have almost the same number of wins and top-5 finishes this season. We made a few changes on the car to hopefully make the car a little faster and with the handicapping system, I think George will have to start behind us so he’ll have to get to us and he’ll have more cars to pass than we do.”
With not only the experience of being in a championship race but winning a championship race at Stafford in prior seasons, both Bessette and Sullivan are not feeling any pressure and both drivers say that they just have to keep on doing what has gotten them both to this point in the season. Bessette enters the final race with momentum on his side with 3 wins and 2 second place finishes in the last 5 races while Sullivan started the season out with 3 wins in the first 4 races.
“If anything we need to be patient,” said Bessette. “We did that back in 2018 with the Street Stock and we’re doing the same thing this year. We were racing Brandon Michael for the championship that year and the focus was to finish in front of him and we ended up winning the championship so hopefully we can do that again. We’ve stuck to what we know this season and we haven’t really shot ourselves out of the ballpark. That has paid off for us a lot.”
“There’s no pressure or worries we’re feeling,” said Sullivan. “We’re going to approach this race just like we have every other race this season. We don’t have a 20 point lead that we can afford to blow and I know it’s going to come down to whoever finishes in front of each other. We just have to be better but we’re not going to change up anything we’ve been doing. George has been a little better than we have lately in the second half of the year so we have to make some changes on the car and get that figured out. I feel pretty confident we should be able to make the right adjustments for the final race.”
Both Bessette and Sullivan are in search of their second track championships at Stafford and needless to say they both would be ecstatic if they are the championship winner.
“It would be pretty sweet to win the SK Light championship,” said Bessette. “I feel like the SK Lights are right up there with the SK’s. The car count has been unreal all year long with 30 cars minimum every night and it’s been very competitive all year long. A lot of guys who come to the track every week just want to win a race and for us to have 4 wins and be fighting for the championship, you almost have to pinch yourself.”
“It would be great to win again,” said Sullivan. “I think this will probably be my last season of full-time racing at Stafford and to go out on top for my last full season would be pretty cool. Even if we don’t end up winning, we have nothing to hang our heads about because in the three seasons that I’ve run full-time in the SK Light division we won the championship in 2020, lost the championship on a tie-breaker with Derek Debbis in the second season, and now we’re tied for the championship lead going into the last race. We’ve had a real good year and the car has been in one piece all season, we just had that one DNF that really has caught up to us. But first or second, there’s nothing for us to hang our heads about.”
NAPA Championship Night is set for this Friday, September 29th and tickets are available now online at StaffordSpeedway.com/tickets and tickets will also be available for purchase at the admission gates. Tickets for the NAPA Championship Night are priced at $20.00 for adult general admission, $5.00 for children ages 6-14, children ages 5 and under are admitted free of charge when accompanied by an adult, and reserved seating is priced at $25.00 for all ages. Pit passes are $40.00 with a valid 2023 Stafford Competition License and $45.00 without a Stafford license. If you are unable to attend the event, tune into the live stream on FloRacing, the official streaming partner of Stafford Speedway.
For more information, visit staffordspeedway.com, follow Stafford Speedway on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or contact the track office at 860-684-2783.
Stafford Speedway PR
Daniel Dye will make his first NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series start at Talladega on Saturday.
2023 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Season Stats
Starts: 20; Best start: 5th (Milwaukee); Best finish: 11th (Gateway); Laps led: 5; Current points position: 18th
About KIX Country
Last year, in the first time that Dye competed at Talladega Superspeedway, he came ever-so-close to scoring his second ARCA Menards Series victory. Having positioned himself in a great spot to make a move, it appeared that everything had lined up in his favor. On the white flag lap, Daniel took the lead of the race for a brief moment in turns 1-2, but an untimely block saw him spinning down the backstretch, resulting in a 17th place finish. He looks back on this race as one of the toughest moments of his 2022 championship run, where he finished runner up to Nick Sanchez by only 14 points. A good result in the Truck Series race has been high on his list of races that he would like to perform well at.
Bainbridge at Dega
Blake Bainbridge often looks forward to returning to Talladega because of how close the racetrack is to his hometown. Bainbridge was born in nearby Hueytown, Alabama, which is less than one hour away from the site of Saturday's race. Hueytown has been well-known for its crop of NASCAR legends that call it home, including 'Alabama Gang' members Bobby Allison, Donnie Allison, Davey Allison, Neil Bonnett, and Red Farmer, among others.
Blake has called two races in his career as a crew chief, including one NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2005 and more recently, an ARCA Menards Series race in 2020. The ARCA race resulted in the better finish of his two starts, where Taylor Gray started eighth and finished 13th. This weekend will be Bainbridge's first Truck Series start at Talladega.
From the Driver's Seat
You were so close on winning here last year in the ARCA Menards Series race, so does that give you any added confidence to return here in a truck?
“I’m looking forward to getting back to Talladega in a different vehicle than I had there last time. We had good speed there with GMS last year and got towards the front of the pack. I was close to having a shot to win the race before I made a mistake that took us out of contention. But I definitely learned a lot in the two super speedway races I ran last year in the ARCA car and the one at Daytona this year in a truck. I’m hoping to use all the things I learned in those three races and have ourselves a good finish. We are still looking for our first top-10 of the year, and Talladega presents itself as an opportunity to either have a great day or an awful day. Hopefully we’ll be on the great side this time.”
Daniel Dye PR
Justin Haley, No. 31 Morris-Shae Bridge Co., Inc. Camaro ZL1
"Talladega is a place where I've made many great memories. It’s where I made my first Cup series start and have won at in the Xfinity Series. Superspeedways are tracks we’ve been able to excel at as an organization at Kaulig Racing. We’ve had fast Chevrolets so far this season, and I’m looking forward to getting there and putting together a solid weekend."
- Justin Haley on Talladega Superspeedway
Kaulig Racing PR
NASCAR heads to its final superspeedway of the season at Talladega as the Cup Series and CRAFTSMAN Truck Series playoffs continue. NHRA goes back to the Midwest and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, reaching the halfway point of its Countdown to the Championship.
NASCAR National Series – NCS | NCTS
Three drivers above cutline as Round of 12 continues … Heading into the second of three Round of 12 races, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell and Martin Truex Jr. are above the playoff points cutline – all three 19 points or further in the clear. The other two Toyota playoff drivers, Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, are two and three points under the cutline going into this weekend. Wins by any of the five secure themselves a spot in the Round of 8, with the next cutoff race next weekend in Charlotte.
Toyota pole streak continues to Talladega … With Wallace’s pole at Texas last weekend, Toyota has earned pole position in the last four NASCAR Cup Series races. Leading the charge for the fifth in a row will be Hamlin, who has four of the last six Cup Series poles at Talladega. Toyota has also won more poles among the three manufacturers this season with 12.
Approaching a historic NASCAR milestone … With the pole last weekend, Toyota is now just three away from 500 in NASCAR competition. And if recent weeks have any indication, the mark could be reached sooner rather than later.
Heim’s top-10 streak heads to Talladega … Trucks Series points leader, Corey Heim, comes off his third victory of the season in Bristol. The Toyota development driver locked his spot in the Championship 4 with the win. The victory also continued his impressive streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to 13. That run is pushing toward top-10 all-time in Truck Series history. Heim is making his second career Trucks Series start at the superspeedway.
Toyota seeks 11th Truck Series win at Talladega … Should a Toyota driver take victory at Saturday’s Truck Series race, Toyota would claim its 11th win at the famed superspeedway, continuing its run as the winningest Truck Series manufacturer at Talladega. Todd Bodine captured Toyota’s first Talladega Truck Series win in 2007.
NHRA – Top Fuel | Funny Car
Toyota Top Fuel drivers continue win streak … Capturing his second consecutive Top Fuel victory on Sunday in the Carolina Nationals, Doug Kalitta made it seven category wins in a row for Toyota. Toyota has also been in 19 straight event finals in Top Fuel and/or Funny Car dating back to October 2022.
Leading the points halfway through the Countdown … Approaching the third of six races in the NHRA Countdown to the Championship, Kalitta is now the Top Fuel points leader after his tremendous weekend in Charlotte. He is closely followed by fellow Toyota drivers Steve Torrence and Justin Ashley. In Funny Car, Ron Capps currently sits third in the points.
Steve Torrence, Toyota head back to favorable Gateway … World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway has been a consistent favorite for Torrence and Toyota. The 40-year-old is looking for his third straight Top Fuel victory at Gateway (and five of the last seven), and Toyota is seeking its fourth consecutive Top Fuel triumph at the Midwest drag strip.
RYAN BLANEY, No. 12 Menards/Pennzoil Ford Mustang – IS THERE ANYTHING YOU CAN DO DIFFERENTLY TO TRY AND PREVENT PIT ROAD SPEEDING PENALTIES? “Yeah, it was definitely unfortunate, and I really didn’t think I was speeding. Like sometimes you’ll have those times when you’re coming to pit road or you kind of get bouncing on pit road and you lose your lights and sometimes you get nervous and you’re like, ‘I hope they don’t call my number.’ But that wasn’t one of those times. I never thought that I was gonna be over the limit. I feel like it’s one of those things I was kind of tucked behind the 11 and just trying to be as good as I can and as close to my lights and just barely went over. It’s one of those things. Those things do happen, but I never thought I was speeding as opposed to other times you think you are and sometimes you get away with it as far as you give enough back, but I just never thought I was to the limit. That obviously ruined our day from my mistake to going in the back and then getting caught up in the wreck after doing a good job by our team all day to get up through the field, to have great strategy calls, get good stage points, looking like we were gonna be able to run for a decent finish, maybe even contend for the win, and to throw it away like that and then just that extra gut punch of getting caught up in the wreck. It was self-induced by the driver, but it’s one of those things that unfortunately we’ll have to battle back from.”
DOES ANYTHING CHANGE FOR YOU AT THE END OF THE RACE AS FAR AS HOW MUCH HELP YOU MIGHT GET BY BEING THE ONLY TEAM PENSKE DRIVER STILL IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? “Obviously, I think a perfect world scenario is we can get all three of us and the Wood Brothers car with Harrison kind of controlling the race. I think that’s all you can ask for is for all of us to survive until the end and for all of us to be up towards the front to where we can really utilize our numbers, so I hope we work together well as a team. We also do in that regard and that’s what has made us really successful on speedways as an organization is working well together. All of the Fords I think do that. Obviously, you have to rely mostly on your teammates. You have a little bit more comfort knowing that they’re behind you and knowing that they’re most likely gonna go with you and stick with you and help you out, so we’ll see. I mean, it’s just a matter of all trying to find each other and then being up towards the front to where you can either protect or try to make moves to get to the front and get to the lead when it counts.”
THE LAST 6 RACES AT TALLADEGA THE CAR LEADING GOING INTO THE LAST LAP HASN’T WON. IF YOU’RE NOT LEADING WHAT IS THE PATIENCE LIKE TRYING TO GET TO THE FRONT? “I think you kind of just understand whatever situation you’re in, whether you’re the leader coming down to the end, whether you’re in the top couple rows, if it’s side-by-side, and then I think if you’re 10th on back your mindset changes a little bit to where you have to be more aggressive to try to get to the front, but it’s all about positioning. I feel like the last pit stop happens and you have to be in a pretty good position and that’s what we’ve been able to do the last couple races there. I look back at the spring race this year. I look at the fall race last year. We did a really good job in the last stage of being there and having a good strategy day of where you can kind of establish yourself up front, your car is fast enough to where you can lead a lane well or you can push well to try to move a lane. You’re not really doing anything if you’re not in the first three rows of a lane. If you’re the third guy in a lane, you’re helping the second-place guy push the leader of the lane. Those are the only three cars that matter. If you’re fourth on back, your job is just to stay as tight as you can. You don’t want to be shoving on the guy in third and push him through second and first and cause a wreck. You see that all the time, but your sense of urgency definitely changes with wherever you’re at. I’ve always been most comfortable leading these races coming down to the end. It’s harder to defend in this car if you’re the lead, that’s for sure, but trying to find yourself in the first two rows is huge. Yeah, it is hard to be patient. It’s one of those things you have to be understanding of the situation and be patient, if you are in the second row, of not going too soon. Honestly, I look back in the spring and I probably went a little early on the 23 into one. We still had pretty much a whole lap to go, but it’s hard not to take those runs if you have them and try to establish yourself in the lead in case there is a wreck and you want to be leading. It is hard to kind of discipline yourself sometimes when you want to go, but I feel like patience pays off a lot at those racetracks, especially throughout the race. For the first two-thirds of the race patience is huge and then you get more aggressive at the end but have to pick your spots wisely.”
HOW HAVE YOU FOUND IT TO GET OVER THINGS MENTALLY WHEN YOU FEEL THEY COULD HAVE GONE BETTER? “Honestly, it’s hard. I was bummed out, but it’s 100 percent my fault that I sped on pit road and put us back in the pack, and then the snowball effect you get in a wreck. So it’s like, ‘Man, if we didn’t speed, obviously this would have happened, this would have happened and this wouldn’t have happened.’ So you’re hard on yourself, but you pick yourself up quickly and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got two more of these things in this round that you can make up for it.’ So I think a short-term memory is really good in these playoffs when things go bad. You learn from it. Obviously, you try to learn from your mistakes and get better at that stuff, but just moving on and looking forward to the next week and the next race and keeping your guys fired up and things like that. It’s easy to kind of dwell on that stuff, but you have to understand that there’s a race the next week and you have to be mentally strong going to the next weekend knowing that you have to kind of make up for it and show what you’re made of.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS NOT TO SPEED? “Obviously, don’t speed and put yourself in that position and, honestly, I’m not one that usually does speed very often. I always try to give myself a little tiny buffer. Maybe I’m not the fastest rolling time down pit road, I might give up a few tenths of a mile an hour here and there just to make sure I don’t speed and it’s just one of those things where we were up in the top five, I think we were fourth at the time. You’ve got to have a good pit stop and maybe you come out on the front row and you have a shot to go win this thing and move onto the next round. It’s the playoffs and you’re pushing everything and you’re trying to do your best to optimize everything, so it is tough. For people who don’t know, we don’t have a mile per hour gauge in there or a pit road speed limit or button. You’re literally going off of lights. Everyone does it different, but either a bar or dots where your dash is set up to where you run this amount of dots and maybe you have an extra dot to where if you flash it you’re getting close and if you hold it you’re gonna be speeding, so it’s hard to kind of judge that. These things don’t run incredibly smooth down pit road sometimes. Pit road is rough. They kind of get bouncing and stuff like that and it’s hard to regulate that stuff, and also you’re looking forward and then down at your tach and then forward again. It’s a tough thing to do, but we’ve done it so many times. It’s one of those things you’re pushing as hard as you can and you just barely step over. The penalty is way worse than the hundredths of a mile an hour that I was going faster than, so you just think of, ‘what are you doing?’ But in the moment it’s hard not to push. You’re trying to get everything you can and try to put yourself in a spot to win the race.”
WHEN IT COMES TO THE SCHEDULE IS THERE SOMETHING YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE ON IT? “Everyone has been kind of biting their nails waiting on the schedule to come out. I don’t know. I think of it every now and then. I really only think of it when I get asked that question. Some places I think would be very beneficial to us and our sport to go to is somewhere international, whether that’s up north or south. Those are kind of the rumors going around. Either one of those, I think, would be fantastic for our sport and I think the fans would really appreciate it too. I raced up north in MoSport. I did a truck race up there and they were amazing. The fans loved the event and I think it would be massive if we were able to bring a Cup race up to that area, whether it’s Montreal or whatever, or even Mexico City, where the Xfinity cars used to race. I never raced down there in that area, but I heard it was fantastic and people really enjoyed it – the fans did. So, I think that’s one of the bigger things that I would love to see. I think it would be huge for the sport. I think the international fan base would really enjoy it, so it’s probably the top of my list of what would be really neat if we could make that happen.”
WITH WHAT YOU HAVE BROUGHT TO THE ROAD COURSES THIS YEAR WHERE IS YOUR CONFIDENCE THAT YOU COULD HAVE THE DAY YOU MIGHT NEED TO ADVANCE AT THE ROVAL? “It’s hard to tell. I feel like honestly our road course program this year we’ve definitely not been the best. I look at the Glen, I look at Indy, COTA and even Sonoma. We’ve kind of struggled at the road courses this year, which last year I thought we were a little bit closer and this year we just lost a little bit of pace at those racetracks. We’ve been working really hard ever since the Glen and after all of them because if you don’t run good you’re constantly trying to do new things for each road course, but especially after Indy and the Glen you try to figure out because you know you’re gonna get to the Roval at some point and you hope you’re still in the playoffs and you have to compete there. You have to run well, so hopefully the changes we made, we’ve been working really hard to get that stuff better, but I have all of the good confidence in the world that we’ll do the best we can and come with some stuff that hopefully will have a little bit more pace than what we’ve had at the other road courses and see where we’re at. You never know where you’re gonna be points-wise after this weekend, so you just have to be prepared to go to the Roval and try to compete for a win. We’ll have a better idea next week about it.”
DOES THE TALLADEGA PLAYOFF RACE RUN DIFFERENTLY THAN THE SPRING RACE THERE? “Not a huge chance, I feel like. It’s an interesting one because it’s the second race of the round, so you don’t have any guys eliminated and needing to win like you do at Bristol with that being the last race of the round. Usually any last race of a round you have guys that are more than 30 points out you probably need to win the race, or like the Daytona race, the last chance to get in the playoffs. I think that one always gets wild and hectic because you have a ton of guys who need to win to get in the playoffs and that race always gets wild for that reason. This one, I don’t feel it’s much different. I feel like with this car it’s been more racy as far as like you don’t have guys hanging out in the back trying to survive. You might have that with a couple guys this weekend, but it’s harder to get to the front now. With the old car you could get to the front a little easier if you just kind of hung out and rode in the back and then tried to go forward at the end of the race. It’s hard to do that if we get two-wide and everyone is pushing hard and the speed is really fast the third lane it’s hard to move forward. That third lane really moves forward when guys are saving gas and to get down to the end of the race guys aren’t saving gas, so the third lane isn’t gonna really exist too much, so I feel like everyone is a little bit more focused on trying to get to the front, which could make it a little bit more hectic in trying to establish your position at the front of the field, and obviously at the end of the stage the stage points are huge, so you’re gonna have guys be aggressive for that, but I feel like they always are. Stage points are important no matter what race it is, whether it’s the spring or fall race, so I do think it gets a little bit more exciting than spring, but not like the Daytona race where guys are throwing haymakers trying to get the win. I feel like it’s a little bit calmer, but always exciting. Every plate track is exciting and we’ve seen that year after year.”
JOEY SAID THE OTHER DAY THAT THE REALITY CREWS CAN BE INVASIVE. WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE WITH THOSE CREWS SO FAR? “It’s been fine. It’s a little bit different in my situation than Joey’s. He’s got a few kids and you’ve got people in your house filming you and your kids. I feel like that could be a little bit more like, ‘Uh, I don’t want these people in my home with my children.’ It’s just me and my dogs and Gianna in here, so it’s a little bit more comfortable for me just by not having the kid aspect, but I understand what it is. I understand that these guys are gonna want to be around a lot, whether it’s at your house, around what you’re doing during the week at the racetrack. They’re always kind of there, so you just kind of learn to accept it and not even really notice them. That’s the best way to be is just they’re there, they’re gonna get their stuff, just don’t even really notice them. Just go about your deal, especially on the weekends, but the house stuff it’s all right. They keep asking me, ‘What do you do during the week? What fun stuff do you do?’ I tell them I stay at house. I go play golf. I hang out with my dogs and I work in my barn. I’m not traveling everywhere all the time. It’s not as exciting as you guys think, but it’s been fun. They’ve been filming some pretty unique stuff. I think people enjoy seeing kind of just the ins and outs of it, but I don’t really have a problem with it. I’ve done it a good bit, so it’s no big deal to me, really.”
HOW VALUABLE DO YOU THINK THIS KIND OF PROJECT CAN BE FOR NASCAR? “I think it’s good. Look what Drive to Survive did for Formula 1, especially in the U.S. I can’t speak for how it affected around the other parts of the world, I can just speak on experience because I live in the United States, but I had tons of buddies who don’t even watch racing in general, any form, and they’ve watched Drive to Survive on Netflix and they’re like, ‘Oh, man. I’m super into F1, NASCAR and IndyCar now. I just can’t get enough of it.’ I think that’s really neat. It kind of grabs a certain audience and so many people that stream on that source and you never know who it’s gonna grab their attention and pull them in because they like, whether if it’s they like the person, they love the sport. Maybe they don’t love the person, but they’re wanting to watch it. I think it can grab so many people and get their interest at a huge scale, at a big, big level across the whole world, so I think it’s great. I mean, why not do it, really? I think it’s gonna be good for the sport and I think it’s gonna give people, whether they’re fans of the sport or not, they’re gonna get a unique look at home life for us, the intensity and the toll these playoffs take on drivers and teams and families of how intense it gets. I think it’s gonna be a really unique look at the pinnacle 10 weeks of our sport and that’s something special to see, I think. Not many people have ever gotten to kind of be a part of that and see that. Now, a lot of people are gonna be able to see it.”
IS BEING 11 POINTS BACK AFTER ONE RACE STRESSFUL? “You’re gonna find yourself behind at some point in the playoffs, whether it’s in round one, round two or round three you’re gonna find yourself behind at some point and you’re gonna have to find a way to make up points and have really good days. I feel like I’ve been in this spot before. Heck, I was in this spot in 2019 I think it was after Dover. We had a mechanical failure and I was like 20-something points out and was probably gonna have to win, but Talladega was the second race and we ended up winning Talladega, so it’s like you have moments that you’re behind and you have to go run well. We don’t have to go win Talladega. We’re not in that spot. I was surprised I was only 11 points down after I saw the points after I wrecked, which shocked me. I thought I was gonna be way more out of it, so just understanding that you’re gonna have these moments and it’s kind of how you respond to them and how you rebound after a bad week and realize you still have two weeks to make it up. You still have two races to try to go run well and make up the points you lost. It’s just the way it goes sometimes and you have to be prepared, whether it’s protect your points or try to fight from below the cut line. You’re gonna have both if you continue to go in the playoffs. It’s not always gonna go great. You have to be ready to manage some down times and make up for it.”
WAS IT JUST A CHAIN REACTION AS FAR AS THE WRECK AT THE END OR WAS THERE SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED THAT YOU FELT SHOULDN’T HAVE HAPPENED? “I haven’t seen a great replay of it yet, but from what I kind of saw and piecing together was I guess Reddick went in the wall off of four, got high and got in the slick stuff and hit the fence. I was a car length behind the 43 and I guess he got high and hit the wall. I was kind of watching him, but I didn’t think he was in big trouble. He didn’t look to be in big trouble, like he was going to hit the fence until the last 50 feet before he hit the fence and if you get up in that stuff it’s like, boom, you’re gone and you’re already wide-open and then before I know it I’m in his bumper. I think a couple guys got high and just ran into the fence and I, unfortunately, was on the top and didn’t have time to even realize that he was in the fence. It was just such a quick kind of him in the fence, me hitting him, so just no one’s fault really, just a couple guys got a little high.”
Ford Performance PR
The iconic Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – nestled in the Birmingham hill country – is fast and furious, a bucket-list venue for NASCAR fans and a resume-maker for NASCAR drivers. And Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) plays an important role not only in the sport’s illustrious and longstanding Talladega tradition but in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series championship run.
The 2.66-mile Talladega high banks makes it the largest and fastest oval track the sport competes on. It is its own brand of competition in strategy and bravado. And inevitably after hours of dramatic back-and-forth it’s the final handful of laps that will either secure a Playoff driver’s position in the next round or triumphantly represent a career-maker for one of the other drivers hoping to chase the championship another year.
Even among the variety of Playoff venues, Talladega is perpetually top-of-mind among the competitors.
“I don’t think you can pick a guy that is a favorite at Talladega because you never know what can happen there," said Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, a back-to-back Talladega (2019-20) winner and current Playoff driver.
“We had had good runs at Talladega, but you never know what can happen. I think the best thing that we have talked about for that race is to try to control it like we have in the past and get a few of our cars up there and control the front of the pack.
“Hopefully, you can maintain that. We kind of see it is difficult to go from the back to the front now at speedways, so you try not to bury yourself."
Talladega represents an interesting phenomenon among competitors. No matter what their thoughts are on the tightly packed high-speed racing, it seems more advantageous to simply embrace the challenge.
It’s one of the few places where reality actually lives up to legend. And Talladega is legendary.
From the very beginning this track has claimed large-font headlines. Richard Brickhouse won the inaugural event in 1969 – by a full 7-seconds over Jim Vandiver - a race that featured many non-NASCAR regulars. The likes of Richard Petty, Bobby Allison and LeeRoy Yarborough had refused to race in protest of a worrisome tire situation.
The drama and action only intensified from that dramatic start with Talladega Superspeedway earning its place as one of the most iconic race tracks in all of auto racing.
The late seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Dale Earnhardt is the all-time winningest driver with 10 victories – including the last great triumph in his career, winning this Fall race in 2000 with a legendary rally - passing 17 cars in the final five laps for the victory. And his son, fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer and current NBC Sports broadcaster, Dale Earnhardt Jr., would nobly carry on that Talladega tradition earning five wins of his own including a record four consecutive from 2001-04.
In the last 10 years, there has been a range of drivers who specifically fare well on the high-banks and those that count as surprise winners able to take advantage of the unpredictable pack racing there.
The defending race winner, Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott has two wins at Talladega in the last decade.
Current Playoff driver Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers with six Talladega trophies, earning his very first career NASCAR Cup Series win there in 2009. Seven of the current 12 Playoff competitors – Blaney, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Bubba Wallace and Ross Chastain have Talladega victories.
And Busch, who earned his first Talladega win in 2008 and his second this Spring – a span of 30 races – makes no bones about the competitive challenge of the big track. Playoff time or not.
“Talladega is a stress-ball of emotions," said Busch, a three-time winner in his first season driving the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet who goes into the weekend’s race ranked last (12th) in the Playoff standings after a DNF at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron picked up his series-best sixth win of the season last weekend at Texas to secure his position in the next round of the Playoffs. Although that gives him some breathing room in this second race of the three-race round, he says he absolutely expects Sunday’s Playoff race at Talladega to have a different, unmistakable feel than the Spring non-Playoff race there.
“It is [a different vibe] for sure," said Byron, whose best Talladega finish is runner-up in the 2021 Spring race.
“I think it’s even more difficult to get track position. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about Talladega in the Fall. It’s not like you can just drive up there and steal something from somebody. It’s definitely going to be tough getting to the front and I feel like we’ve personally struggled with that in the past. It’s not been our best superspeedway race in the Fall.
“I think being a Playoff race, it’s important to get up to the front and control the race. It’s not like the Spring where there’s a lot of different agendas and not everyone is taking it as serious.
“It’s definitely intense."
In an expansion of its partnership with bp and its Castrol lubricants brand, RFK Racing has announced that TravelCenters of America will be the primary partner for Chris Buescher’s No. 17 Ford at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 15, 2:30 p.m. ET, NBC).
“bp and RFK Racing have a strong, ongoing relationship and it is exciting to extend the partnership to our new TravelCenters of America network,” said Debi Boffa, CEO of TA. “Next month’s race is a great opportunity to showcase the strong TA brand, allowing our team members and guests to take pride in seeing us on a national stage.”
TravelCenters of America, part of the bp family of brands, is a full-service travel center network operating under the TA®, Petro Stopping Centers® and TA Express® brands, with offerings including diesel and gasoline, truck maintenance and repair, convenience stores and restaurants under a variety of brands.
To kick off the new partnership, Buescher appeared at the company’s annual Operations Leadeership meeting this week at the Kalahari Resorts & Conventions in Sandusky, Ohio, offering its team members a sneak preview of the No. 17 car, and insight into Buescher’s everyday life as a NASCAR driver.
Buescher, a three-time winner this season, will make his 14th Cup Series start at Las Vegas next month.