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Will Talladega help NASCAR turn the corner?

Jeff Birchfield • Apr 30, 2019 at 8:56 PM

Part of the post-race analysis for Sunday’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway included the line, “It’s big for Chase Elliott. It’s big for Hendrick Motorsports and it’s big for Chevrolet.”

It was also big for NASCAR.

A race on NASCAR’s biggest track on a sunny April day gave the sport a shot in the arm it so desperately needed.

Elliott, the sport’s most popular driver, pulled out a thrilling win in an exciting finish in front of packed grandstands. NASCAR couldn’t have asked for a scene to play out any better.

After so much talk about sagging attendance and the dominance of two teams, the race finally gave NASCAR fans something positive to focus on. The question now: Can the success at Talladega carry over to other tracks?

The style of racing at Talladega and Daytona is different from the rest of the tracks. Drivers are dependent on working together and Sunday’s race had the big packs of cars clumped together. When that happens, you often see the spectacular multicar wrecks as a result.

A couple of the late-race crashes were Chris Buescher’s No. 37 Chevy slamming head-on into the outside wall and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 Chevy barrel-rolling down the infield.

Despite that, it was a banner day for Chevrolet, whose teams worked together to achieve a common goal.

Elliott broke through with the win ahead of Hendrick Motorsports teammate Alex Bowman with rookie Ryan Preece in third. It was a great weekend overall for the Bowtie Brigade with Austin Dillon winning the pole in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.

Beyond that, the race featured some of what makes Talladega such a fan favorite.

There were the two dominant teams battling for supremacy.

Defending NASCAR champion Joey Logano from the Team Penske camp raced side by side for the lead with current points leader Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing with just a few laps to go.

Busch was miffed after the race when his older brother, Kurt, abandoned him in the draft, leaving him to finish 10th.

Before that, there was heavy underdog Ross Chastain pacing the field in car owner Jay Robinson’s underfunded ride.

Top 11 finishers included rookies Preece and Daniel Hemric, part-timer Brendan Gaughan and Corey LaJoie in another underdog effort.

There were 38 official lead changes, well off the all-time record of 75 but far more than most races.

It was overall a good day for NASCAR, which hopes the momentum carries over to this weekend at Dover International Speedway’s concrete 1-mile track.

RAINOUTS CONTINUE

For the second week in a row, the racing program at Kingsport Speedway was rained out.

Looking ahead, the Friday forecast looks like a 50/50 chance for more showers. With three races this season in the books, current points leaders are Kres VanDyke (Late Model Stock), Kevin Wolfe (Mod Street), Kevin Canter (Mod 4), Keith Helton (Pure 4) and Doug Austin (Pure Street).

The aftermath of heavy rains from Friday forced the cancellation of Saturday’s races at Clay Valley Speedway in Coeburn.

Clay Valley Speedway has a $1,000-to-win Modified Mayhem headlining this Saturday’s program. Features are also scheduled for the KDRA Super Stock, Super Stock, Pure 4 and Crate Late Model divisions.

SMOKE-Y MOUNTAINS

Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart was a winner in East Tennessee last Saturday night, taking the USCS Outlaw Thunder winged sprint car feature at I-75 Raceway near Sweetwater.

Stewart’s No. 14 took the lead on the opening lap and led all 30 laps. He fended off challenges from points leader Mark Smith and two-time national champion Morgan Turpen for his second win of the season in the series.

VOLUNTEER SPEEDWAY

Sneedville driver Jordan Horton made a charge from seventh place to the lead to win last Saturday’s Crate Late Model feature at Volunteer Speedway.

Horton finished ahead of Virginia driver Michael Bland and Johnson City driver Tim Maupin to win the 30-lap feature on the four-tenths-mile dirt track. Three-time track champion Tim Byrd of Jonesborough won the pole and finished seventh. Johnson City veteran Jackie Hughes wound up ninth.

Other feature winners were: Russellville’s Aaron Guinn (Sportsman Late Model), Parrottsville’s Wayne Rader (Modified Street), Kentucky’s John Stevens (Classic), Morristown’s Austin Akers (Street Stock) and Clinton’s Walter Walsh (Mini Stock).

Volunteer Speedway is set to host a special $3,000-to-win FASTRAK Late Model Series race this Saturday. The FASTRAK Future Stars Series for drivers ages 12-19 also will debut. Features in the Classics, Mini Stock and Mod Street classes also are scheduled to run.

DIRT AND DRAGS

The Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series is also slated to return Saturday at I-81 Motorsports Park. The DER Racing Series has its season opener this weekend at Bristol Dragway. Friday will be a test-and-tune day with bracket races on Saturday and Sunday.

Email Jeff Birchfield at [email protected]

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