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NASCAR at Talladega: Hamlin in Cup; Haley in Xfinity; Lessard surprise winner in Trucks

NASCAR Cup Series Race YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway
• Denny Hamlin prevails in triple-overtime thriller at Talladega

Note: I did watch this entire race much to my chagrin. I have never liked the way these races at Talladega turn into crash-fests in which the winners are the lucky ones who survive the carnage. To me, this is not what racing should be about. During the race, I made a vow to never watch, in person or via television, another race from this hell-hole of a race track. Accordingly I have chosen to not write a report on this dismal affair. Rather the report below is courtesy of NASCAR Wire Service.

Talladega, AL, Oct 4/20 (report from Reid spencer/NASCAR Wire Service): For the second time in as many seasons, Denny Hamlin broke Matt DiBenedetto’s heart, before NASCAR removed the pathos from the situation with a post-race ruling. At the end of a third overtime at Talladega Superspeedway, Hamlin beat DiBenedetto to the finish line to win by .023 seconds — roughly two feet — in Sunday’s YellaWood 500 NASCAR Cup Series Playoff race at the 2.66-mile track.

But NASCAR erased the close call by penalizing DiBenedetto for forcing William Byron below the yellow line separating the racing surface from the apron in Turn 4 on the final lap. That made a runner-up of Erik Jones and dropped DiBenedetto to 21st at the finish.

With a comfortable playoff point cushion, Hamlin started from the pole but spent the vast majority of the race riding in the back. However, the driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took advantage of high attrition, a fast car and a fresh set of tires to pull out his seventh victory of the season, his second at Talladega and the 44th of his career, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott for 18th all-time.

“Just a lot of attrition,” said Hamlin, who beat DiBenedetto at Bristol with a late pass last year. “We just played the strategy and the numbers game to run in the back until we were locked in. Just things worked out. We finally got one back. This one was unexpected to say the least, but proud of this whole FedEx team, Toyota and everyone at JGR for bringing great race cars.”

Playoff driver Chase Elliott initially was penalized for passing below the yellow line on the final lap, but NASCAR reviewed the video and rescinded the penalty after determining Elliott was forced below the boundary. NASCAR also reviewed Hamlin’s trip to the apron in the final corner but determined that he had had been forced to go there to avoid a wreck.

“A lot of stuff happened, for sure,” said Hamlin, who clinched a spot in the Round of 8 with the win. “I don’t know if the 21 (DiBenedetto) was running out of gas, but they obviously got shuffled there. They were crashing up top. I think the 20 (Jones) hit the wall and then started coming back down, which forced, I think, me and the 24 (William Byron) down to the apron.

“Just was able to overcome. This is one of those that you don’t plan on winning, but we got away with one today.”

After the penalties, Ty Dillon was credited with third place, Byron with fourth and Elliott with fifth, as multi-car wrecks made mincemeat of the fortunes of the majority of playoff drivers.

An 11-car wreck on Lap 108, 11 circuits before the end of Stage 2, had a dramatic effect on the playoff landscape. While attempting to push Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet in the tri-oval, Clint Bowyer turned the No. 48 of the seven-time champion, igniting a melee that eliminated Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez and Brendan Gaughan from the race.

Busch, last Sunday’s Las Vegas winner, was launched over the hood of Custer’s Ford, but landed on his tires, his No. 1 Chevrolet destroyed. Brother Kyle Buch, already damaged in two earlier incidents, trailed the wreck but couldn’t avoid it and sustained additional damage after contact with Gaughan’s Chevrolet.

Kyle Busch persevered, only to be collected in a massive wreck that caused the 12th caution and sent the race to overtime. He finished 27th and enters the final race of the Round of 12 tied with Austin Dillon, 21 points below the current cutoff for the Round of 8.

“The car was just real slow due to all of the damage, obviously, so I’m just holding up the line,” Busch said of his final wreck. “I was trying to draft off the guys in front of me, and I’m pushing too much backwards on the guys that are trying to push me forwards and it creates a wreck.”

Austin Dillon recovered from multiple accidents to come home 12th, the third-highest finish for a playoff driver.

As the cars jockeyed for position near the end of Stage 1, Bowman — pushed aggressively by Logano in the top lane — pinballed into the rear of race leader Aric Almirola’s No. 10, sending it into the outside wall on the backstretch on Lap 58.

Kyle Busch, and Ryan Blaney were innocent victims of the accident, but both drivers were able to continue, as was Bowman, who finished 14th and is 22 points above the Round of 8 cutline.

Almirola wasn’t as fortunate. Knocked out of the race by the accident, he fell to 12th in the standings, 48 points below the cut line and almost certainly will have to win next Sunday at the Charlotte Roval to advance to the Round of 8 in the Playoff.

“I’m just disappointed,” Almirola said. “We were doing everything we needed to do. We were closing in to the end of stage one, and it looked like we were going to score a lot of points there, which is exactly what we needed to do. It looks like he got to my outside and my car started to turn to the right, so it’s unfortunate.

“I don’t know if he got in the back of me and hooked me or how that played out, but my car just made a hard right into the fence. It’s unfortunate. I had a lot of confidence going into today. I thought we were going to have a good shot to win. Our car was so fast, but unfortunately the Good Lord had different plans for us today. We’ll go onto the Roval and try one more time.”

In a race that went 12 laps beyond its scheduled distance and featured 58 lead changes among 18 different drivers, Ryan Newman, Tyler Reddick, John Hunter Nemechek, Brennan Poole and Ryan Preece finished sixth through 10th, respectively.

Like DiBenedetto, Chris Buescher, who led three times for 15 laps, was penalized for forcing a car below the yellow line on the final lap. He was dropped from sixth to 22nd, the final position on the lead lap.

• Click HERE for the results of the NASCAR Cup Series race from Talladega

• The Cup Series’ next race is the Bank of America Roval 400, scheduled next Sunday, October 11, at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Road Course. Four drivers will be eliminated from post-season contention after that event, the sixth of 10 races on the playoff schedule.

 PHOTO NXS TSS Final 100320Justin Haley, driver of the #11 LeafFilter Gutter Protection Chevrolet, leads the field during the Ag-Pro 300 (Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NASCAR Xfinity Series Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega Superspeedway
• Briscoe dominates but Halley wins

Talladega, AL, Oct 3/20 (GRW): Chase Briscoe had command of this race leading 73 of the race’s 113 laps but a pair of encounters with Noah Gragson saw him falling back while Justin Halley shot forward to take the race win, having led for only the final two laps of the race under caution after a number of cars crashed on the white-flag lap

Michael Annett was second but he was disqualified after the race for a technical infraction. This elevated Ryan Sieg to second, Gragson third and Brandon Jones fourth.

When the race started, Briscoe and his semi-teammate Austin Cindric – they were the only two in the race driving Ford trucks – took command at the front. It was evident that Briscoe was stronger here but Cindric did a good job of staying in his wake. They finished the first stage one-two but Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton beat Cindric out of the pits, leaving him to take the restart in fourth place – but he immediately moved back into line behind Briscoe again.

The second and third cautions came one right after the other and the second one turned into a red flag period. But the Briscoe-Cindric pair resumed their run at the front and, when the second Stage ended a couple of laps later, Briscoe was once again the Stage winner ahead of Cindric.

Briscoe and Cindric had come out of the pits during this end-of-Stage cycle in second and fourth place but A.J. Allmendinger had gained the lead by pitting out of sequence. On the restart he continued to lead with Gragson behind him – while the two Ford drivers who had started on the lower line were all by themselves and the fell back out of the top ten.

This continued until it was time for the mid-Stage round of green-flag pit stops but just as the first of them were getting set to come into pit lane, the fifth yellow of the race came out on lap 77. These cars were committed to coming down pit lane even though a crash had produced a caution and the pit lane was closed. Most of those who came down pit lane drove straight though without stopping but, in the confusion, three cars – including Halley – stopped and they were penalized. Cindric was knocked out of the race at this point and he was scored in 35th place.

This produced a jumbled up order for the restart with Brandon Brown and Justin Allgaier at the front and Briscoe back in fifth place. The next caution came just ten laps later but, by now, Briscoe was back in front.

Briscoe held onto the lead on the restart but now Gragson was making a run up from well back and he caught up to Briscoe – and he closed right up on him. He touched Briscoe nudging him up into the wall as a number of cars, led by Halley, were catching them up on the lower line.

On the second-last lap Gragson hit Briscoe again and they slowed. This let Halley, Annett and Sieg speed past them into the lead where they took the checkered flag. Gragson finished right behind Sieg but, Briscoe fell back to 19th at the finish.

“We had that penalty there and we struggled to get back — just bunny-hopping,” Haley said. “Thankfully, Kevin Hamlin, my spotter, was able to guide me through the bunny-hops and be able to go from the bottom (lane). We were so far back with 10 to go. Matt Kaulig (team owner), we love you. Three in a row. I guess I told you earlier I wasn’t saying it’s luck, but three in a row is pretty hard to do on luck. Just super thankful. This is such a blessing.”

• Click HERE for the amended results of the Xfinity Series race at Talladega.

• The next Xfinity race will be run on the Charlotte ‘roval’ next Saturday, October 10.

PHOTO NGROTS TSS Win 100320Raphael Lessard, driver of the #4 Canac Toyota, and Trevor Bayne, driver of the #45 Plan B Sales Chevrolet, race during the Chevy Silverado 250 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images) 

NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Talladega Superspeedway
• Lessard breaks though in a last lap scramble

Talladega, AL, Oct 3/20 (GRW): The Talladega speedway is known for having surprise endings – often with first time and one-time race winners. The young Quebec driver Raphael Lessard broke though here on Friday, taking his first win in the Truck Series in his first full-time season in the series. How unusual was this win? Given that he took the lead only momentarily on the final lap, he is not recorded a leader for a single lap in NASCAR’s tally of lap leaders – but he was in the lead at the critical moment when the yellow (again, not recorded in the official tally) flew on the last lap of the race.

On lap 90 of the 94-lap race, Sheldon Creed, who looked to be on his way to the win, had a tire failure and had to pull into the pits. The damaged tire on the track caused NASCAR to throw the yellow with its subsequent restart.

When Creed fell back, Steward Friesen, who had been battling him for the lead, took over. He lined up for the restart on the front row of the lower line – behind him in this bottom row were Lessard and Trevor Bayne. When the restart came with two laps to go, this bottom row shot out into the lead making this threesome one-two-three and battling for the win. Halfway around the white flag lap, these three spread out in a three-way side-by-side formation. Friesen fell back and was hip-checked by another truck (Kraus?). And he went spinning.

This left Lessard and Bayne battling side-by side for the win. The yellow came out and the race was over mid-lap. These two continued around to the finish line not knowing which of them would be declared the race winner. Soon word came that Lessard was being credited with the win and Bayne would have to settle for second place.

This was a dramatic finish, an unexpected result, and so typical of the exceptional finishes of the races here. But all congratulations to Lessard, who won the race fair-and-square under NASCAR’s rules.

“Oh, my gosh, that was awesome,” said Lessard. “First of all, I just want to thank everyone at home, my team — Kyle Busch Motorsports. I can’t believe it. It’s just my second superspeedway race. To get my first Truck Series win here is amazing. I don’t know who was behind me [it was Ben Rhodes], but he gave me a heck of a push. I can’t thank him enough. He pushed me as hard as he could, and I was just along for the ride. The caution came out at the right time. I’m so happy. I got to do a burnout after the win. I’m hoping I can do some more.”

As is typical of races here there never was a single driver who took command of the race as the trucks sped around in multi-truck packs including most of the field and in which the order shuffled all the time. The rookie Derek Kraus led the most laps at 19. Jennifer Jo Cobb (a name we don’t often see among the front-runners) was next at 16 laps. A total of ten drivers were credited with leading laps – not including Lessard, who actually never once crossed the finish line in the lead.

The race’s first caution came on lap 14, only a few laps before the first Stage ended on lap 20. The then race leaders Creed and Austin Hill got a bit squirrelly which set off an accordion effect further back, taking out seven trucks including Zane Smith. The restart came with jut one lap to go to the end of the first Stage – which was won by Hill.

Somehow, in the shuffle of these two cautions in quick succession Lessard was lined up alongside Kraus for the restart which began the second Stage – but he was not able to maintain this and he soon fell back out of the top ten – while Kraus took over the lead for the next 19 laps.

The third caution came on lap 38 and Brett Moffitt won the race off pit road and took over the lead for 13 laps through the fourth yellow which came when Todd Gilliland’s engine blew. Now they were in the third and final Stage, a Stage long enough to require pit stops for fuel. This came under green and, in three consecutive laps, most of the trucks pulled in in their brand groups – Toyota-Chevrolet-Ford.

Soon after this cycle of green-flag pit stops, Creed emerged as the race leader. He seemed to be the likely race winner until, after six laps in the lead, his tire failed and his run at the front was over.

Creed’s problem triggered the final caution and the restart that led to Friesen almost winning and then Lessard nipping ahead of Bayne to be credited with the victory.

This was the final race in the ‘Round of 10' and the two playoff drivers with the fewest point were to be eliminated going into the start of the ‘Round of 8' which begins in two weeks time at Kansas. The two drivers eliminated were Christian Eckes and Todd Gilliland – Gilliland by his engine failure and Eckes in that last-lap crash.

• Click HERE for the results of the Truck Series race at Talladega

• The next Truck Series race will be held at Kansas Speedway in two week’s time, on Saturday, October 17.


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