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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

Who’s Hot & Who’s Not in NASCAR: ‘Dega Dominance By Ford, Stewart-Haas Racing

Aric Almirola got his first win for Stewart-Haas Racing in overtime on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ 1000Bulbs.com 500.

On a day Fords dominated, playoff drivers Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Ryan Blaney all ran out of fuel while the laps ticked down to the checkered flag.

Finishing second was Almirola’s teammate Clint Bowyer, and third was Roush Fenway Racing’s plate specialist Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a podium sweep for Ford.

The highest-ranked Toyota driver was Denny Hamlin in fourth for Joe Gibbs Racing, and Team Penske’s Joey Logano rounded out the top five.

Finishing sixth through 10th were JTG Daugherty Racing’s AJ Allmendinger, Hendrick Motorsports’ Jimmie Johnson, JGR’s Erik Jones, Wood Brothers Racing’s Paul Menard and Leavine Family Racing’s interim driver Regan Smith.

Menard was the highest-running non-SHR car in fifth late in the race, but he didn’t work with his alliance teammates from Team Penske, ruining their attempt to side-draft to the front and indirectly ensuring that the SHR drivers would race among themselves for the win.

The Stewart-Haas Racing drivers started 1-2-3-4 and stayed that way for all of the green-flag laps in the first two stages. Kurt Busch won the opening stage, while Harvick won the second stage.

There were 15 lead changes in total among 10 different drivers.

HOT

The SHR cooperation was mesmerizing. It wasn’t a typical Talladega race at all, but the way they crushed the field was spellbinding – if not for the final caution, they would have led the field by over two seconds at the checkered flag, which is an eternity at a plate track. Out of 110 total stage points awarded on Sunday, SHR captured 68 of them. Kurt Busch, Almirola and Harvick combined to lead 155 of the 193 laps.

For the season, SHR has 11 wins, eight poles, 37 top-fives, and 72 top-10s, with 20 stage wins and roughly three thousand laps led (2,868 to be exact).

NOT

Hendrick Motorsports has to be thrilled that restrictor plates won’t be a thing in the future. Jimmie Johnson spun early by himself, Alex Bowman and William Byron were involved in the only big wreck of the day (which was extremely minor by ‘Dega standards) and then Chase Elliott’s car was damaged on the final lap.

Every 2018 plate race – the four points races, the Clash, the Duels, and the All-Star Race – featured at least one Hendrick car wreck, and so did every 2017 plate race except for the Duels. That’s a lot of torn sheet metal.

HOT

JTG Daugherty Racing is good at plate tracks. Allmendinger and Chris Buescher both earned top-10s at the Daytona 500 in February, Buescher was 11th at the spring ‘Dega race, both he and Allmendinger picked up top-fives in July at Daytona, and now Allmendinger was sixth on Sunday.

Those are good results for Allmendinger’s resume, if he’s wanted to stay in NASCAR. Maybe Buescher can give Ryan Preece some tips for superspeedway racing next season – in four XFINITY Series starts at Daytona or Talladega, he has three DNFs, two due to parts failures. But his most recent Daytona start came from the pole, so that’s promising.

NOT

Chip Ganassi Racing also has to be relieved that they don’t go back to Talladega until the spring. Kyle Larson lucked into an 11th-place result and Jamie McMurray finished a lackluster 35th after both cars were terrible all day and battling tire failures, and McMurray crashed twice during the spring Talladega weekend, finishing 28th, while Larson was scored in last place following the first of many wrecks.

HOT

Regan Smith has an average finish of 18.2 in the Leavine Family Racing No. 95, and picked up his first top-10 since running third at Pocono in 2016 (Buescher’s fog-shortened win). It was his third top-10 at Talladega for his career. LFR has to be pleased with the late-season momentum leading into 2019’s alliance with JGR with Matt DiBenedetto behind the wheel. Ironically, Smith also drove the No. 78 Chevy to Furniture Row Racing’s first success before they entered into their alliance with JGR, winning the 2011 Southern 500 at Darlington.

NOT

Front Row Motorsports has their sole win as an organization at Talladega, but they’re always a threat at the superspeedways. That wasn’t the case this weekend, as mechanical issues relegated David Ragan and Michael McDowell‘s Fords to the final two positions on the grid. Adding insult to injury, J.J. Yeley‘s former BK Racing No. 23 (which FRM now owns), running its first race as a Ford, was involved in a late incident and clocked in at 36th place.

Ragan’s engine failed in the Daytona 500, and then McDowell crashed out of both the spring Talladega and July Daytona races. It’s been a disappointing season for FRM, and this certainly didn’t help.

Paint Scheme of the Week

Canadian racer DJ Kennington was back this weekend, piloting the No. 7 Chevy for Premium Motorsports with sponsorship from Wilride Transportation, a trucking company based in Guelph, Ontario.  The gradient along the lettering caught my attention, and with all the various shades of blue cars we see each weekend, sky blue isn’t used that often.

Predictions

The MENCS and XFINITY Series travel back to Kansas this weekend.

With Keselowski and Truex on the bubble, it seems that one championship contender will fail to make the semifinals. This theme will be beaten to death over the week by Fox and NBC analysts, and even more so during the actual race.

Nine active drivers have won at the 1.5 mile oval, and a good bet would be Kevin Harvick as a three-time winner.

The Hollywood Casino 400 will be Sunday, Oct. 21 at 2:30 p.m. ET, with TV coverage on NBC.

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About Wesley Coburn

Wesley Coburn
Wesley loves well-told stories in whatever format he finds them. Aside from NASCAR, he enjoys reading, country music, OKC Thunder basketball and superhero TV/movies. He has a BA in Liberal Arts/English and currently lives in eastern Oklahoma.

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One comment

  1. Good to see Hendrick struggle. Especially the little hot head “fan favorite” Elliott. Also, NBC needs to get rid of Burton and “most popular’. Hard to watch a race with sound muted to keep from having to hear those two.