Sparks 300 at Talladega – NASCAR Xfinity Series

    In the second race of a Saturday doubleheader, the Xfinity Series field took on the daunting Talladega Superspeedway in hopes of securing a spot into the Round of 8. With risks of rain and darkness threatening to end the race early, it was a fight to the finish between all of the surviving cars. 

    Just like in the truck race earlier in the day, the starting lineup was determined by the formula used in nearly every race this season. Starting position was determined as 25% driver’s finishing position from the previous race, 25% owner’s finishing position from the previous race, 35% team owner points, and 15% fastest lap from the previous race. This placed the 7 of Justin Allgaier in the pole position with the 22 of Austin Cindric starting beside him. The 1 of last week’s winner Josh Berry, the 9 of Noah Gragson, and the 16 of AJ Allmendinger filled out the top-five. 

    Initially, it was announced that all 40 cars passed pre-race inspection within two tries, meaning no one was sent to the rear to start. However, it was later stated that the 11 of Justin Haley would have to drop to the rear and serve a pass-through penalty for an improperly placed decal. NASCAR stated that the rear roof decal was in violation in a way that would impact the aerodynamics around the car, giving him an advantage. 

    With that, the green flag was dropped at 4:50 p.m. with Allgaier on the outside and Cindric on the inside. Cindric took the early lead on lap one as Haley passed through the pits to serve his penalty. Crossing the line at lap three, Berry picked up right where he left off last week and took the lead. 

    At lap ten, the 16 of Allmendinger found his way up to the front and took the lead from Berry. The pack had caught up to Haley at lap 16, but he wasn’t going down a lap without a fight. Blocking the 19 of Brandon Jones, he was able to hold on for two more laps before finally being passed. At lap 24, it was the 54 of John Hunter Nemecheck in the lead in his second race of the day.

    On the final lap of the stage, the 02 of Brett Moffitt got into the 8 of Sam Mayer, sending him up the track and hitting the wall hard. Collecting Allmendinger in the wreck, the two would be out of the race early. As the stage ended under caution, Nemecheck was crowned the winner. Haley was the free pass, and was able to catch back up to the pack.

    Most leaders pitted at the stage break, taking a mix of two tires, four tires, and fuel only. At lap 29, still under caution, the red flag was brought out to clean up the Mayer-Allmendinger wreck and make repairs to the safer barrier in turn three. When the green flag was brought back out, it was the 98 of Riley Herbst in the lead with Nemecheck beside him. 

    The front of the field had fallen single file by lap 40, with Herbst still leading. Four laps later, another line formed at the bottom with Moffitt leading it. At lap 50, the 23 of rookie Blaine Perkins found himself at the front of the bottom lane with Our Motorsports teammate Moffitt pushing him from behind. Holding off Herbst, Perkins earned his first career stage victory by claiming stage two. Haley had recovered nicely from his penalty, breaking into the top-ten to finish the stage. 

    Most of the leaders came down pit road at the stage break for two or four tires. The 19 of Brandon Jones was sent to the rear after his stop for running over equipment. Taking only fuel on his stop, The 11 of Haley found himself on the front row for the restart with Allgaier on his inside. 

    Allgaier had the better push with fresher tires, and took an early lead. He quickly gathered his JR Motorsports teammates, Noah Gragson and Josh Berry, behind him and held onto the lead. The 22 of Cindric, fifth at the time, began to leak water as he overheated in the top lane. Reaching fresh air, he was able to recover and even take the lead from Allgaier. 

    Needing to make green flag pit stops in the longer final stage, JRM teammates came down first on lap 68 for fuel only. There wasn’t much organization in the rest of the stops as teams and manufacturers were split over two laps. As the last group came down for their stops, the 15 of Bayley Currey was stalled on pit road, forcing the caution to come out. 

    Having just pitted, all but Ryan Sieg, Blaine Perkins, and Jeremy Clements stayed out. Championship contender Clements had to come down for a downed cylinder, forcing him even farther below the cut line. The restart saw Herbst on the outside and Gragson on the inside, with Gragson taking the early lead. 

    “The Big One” of the race came on lap 89 as the 10 of Jeb Burton tapped the rear of Brett Moffitt, turning him into Gragson. Gragson hit the outside wall hard and collected 12 others in the process. The red flag was brought out once again as crews cleaned up the damage. Gragson was checked and released from the infield care center shortly thereafter. 

    The restart saw the 10 of Burton on the outside with the 19 of Jones on the inside. Getting no help from his line, Burton fell quickly as Jones took the lead. The 0 of Jeffrey Earnhardt got into the wall near the back, but was able to pit before the caution needed to come out. 

    Getting help from the 31 of Jordan Anderson – who was in his second race of the day – the 68 of Brandon Brown found himself at the front by lap 100. Taking the field three-wide, it was Brown leading on the inside, Jones second on the outside, and Allgaier third in the middle when the caution was brought out for another wreck. This time, the 20 of Harrison Burton was spun by the 02 of Moffitt who had gotten shoved by Nemecheck. Ten cars were involved, including championship contenders Jeb Burton, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, and Riley Herbst.

    As the cars rode around the track waiting for the damage to be cleaned up, NASCAR officials began asking teams whether or not they felt it was safe to continue. Darkness had fallen all around the track and the threat of rain was looming. After five caution laps, the race was called and Brandon Brown earned his first Xfinity Series victory for his family-owned team, Brandonbilt Motorsports. 

    Not a championship contender, Brown was not able to lock himself into the next round. However, the 22 of Austin Cindric was able to do so on points, and now sits 77 points ahead of the cut line. Allgaier, Hemric, Allmendinger, Haley, Jones, Gragson, and Harrison Burton all find themselves on the right side of the cut while Jeb Burton, Myatt Snider, Herbst, and Clements all sit below. 

    The next Xfinity Series race will take place on Saturday, October 9th at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Road Course. A cut off race, it will determine the eight drivers who will advance to the next round of the playoffs. 

Featured photo from @TALLADEGA on Twitter.

Published by Madelyn Hipp

Madelyn is a recent graduate of Purdue University in Aviation Management. Her favorite drivers are Ryan Blaney, Justin Haley, and Christian Eckes. Her other interests include Major League and college baseball, hockey, golf, and air racing. She is the founder, editor, and a writer at Pit Box Press.

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