Talladega finish highlights growth of newer teams in Cup

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Talladega finish highlights growth of newer teams in cup
© Provided by NBC Sports

TALLADEGA, Ala. — A new team nearly won Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway. Instead, it was a team in its second season that triumphed.

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Sunday’s finish was what NASCAR seeks, showing that new teams — or new owners — can succeed quickly. While it’s easy to say that superspeedway racing offers such opportunities, this was not a new occurrence this year.

In eight of the first 10 Cup races this season, there has been at least one newer team in the top five. Richmond is the only race this season that didn’t have any of the newer charter teams — Trackhouse Racing, 23XI Racing, Live Fast Motorsports, Kaulig Racing and Petty GMS Motorsports — in the top 10.

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Sunday, Erik Jones lamented coming a “few thousand feet” short in a 500-mile race for Petty GMS Motorsports. The new organization, a combination of Richard Petty Motorsports and GMS Racing, appeared headed for its first Cup win with Jones leading on the last lap. Instead, he finished sixth.

Ross Chastain won the sprint to the finish line, scoring his second career Cup victory and the second for Trackhouse Racing. Justin Marks started the team last year and had its cars based at Richard Childress Racing. After adding Pitbull as a co-owner, Marks bought Chip Ganassi Racing and retained many of the employees, including Chastain. 

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Enticed by NASCAR’s charter system that provides teams with a set amount of money based on a variety of factors, including  past performances, and Cup’s move to the Next Gen car this season, the sport has seen an influx of new owners.

That group includes, Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin with 23XI Racing, Matt Kaulig at Kaulig Racing, Maury Gallagher at Petty GMS Motorsports, Matt Tifft and BJ McLeod at Live Fast Motorsports and Marks.

“If we’re doing great things out there, and it attracts people to 

emulate or inspires new ownership or other teams to do things, then I think that’s all good,” Marks said after Trackhouse Racing’s win at Talladega.

The newer teams have had a number of good days.

Auto Club Speedway saw Jones (Petty GMS Motorsports) finish third, Daniel Suarez (Trackhouse Racing) place fourth, Kurt Busch (23XI Racing) finish fifth and Daniel Hemric (Kaulig Racing) finish ninth.

“We want to be one of the bigger teams in NASCAR,” Kaulig told NBC Sports a year ago — before he announced the purchase of two charters to go full-time Cup race in 2022. 

“That is our goal. We do want to dominate. We do want to win races. We look at the other organizations out there like Gibbs, Penske and Hendrick. We want to be like those organizations.”

Marks often has said he wants to be a disrupter. Two wins in the first 10 races this season is just that for the second-year Cup owner.

“We’re trying to establish ourselves, Trackhouse, as a company that can contend for championships in this sport for decades to come,” he said.

Chastain and Daniel Suarez have combined to give Trackhouse Racing top-five finishes in seven of the first 10 races. Marks acknowledges that there will be challenges ahead for his organization. 

“There’s going to be times when — and it can happen at any point — other teams are strong, other (manufacturers) are strong,” he said. “We have to build a strong foundation so when those headwinds come, we can navigate them. We’re not a flash in the pan.”

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A pit road speeding penalty put Ross Chastain well behind the field just past the halfway mark of the 60-lap opening stage.

Running with Michael McDowell, the two were caught by the field with nine laps left in the stage. While McDowell stayed low on the track, Chastain went to the middle, forcing the field to split him. The low line had to go above McDowell to pass and then under Chastain to clear him.

Chastain made the move to disturb the field, knowing he was battling McDowell and Brad Keselowski for the free pass at the end of the stage.

“I knew I had to race (McDowell) for the free pass, Brad was in the pack, at the tail,” Chastain said. “Off of (Turn) 2, I started dragging back to get gapped off of Michael, get a little momentum for him.

“Into (Turn) 3, it’s a decision I made on my own. I offset to the right of Michael, so he was on the bottom, and I went to the right. I’m about a car length or a little bit less back.

“I knew that that put everybody either going two-by-two above me, which I would probably have to give it to them. When I saw (leader Kyle Larson) split to the bottom, I disrupted the field. That was my goal, was create turbulence where I can catch up and they don’t put me all the way to the back.

“I mean, I thought about it for a few laps. It’s not something I would do every time. In that situation I felt the risk of what I was doing was enough to get the free pass at the stage break, to get around (McDowell) and stay ahead of Brad. Turns out it probably wasn’t enough.

“They both got their laps back a couple cautions later. I knew to get the first free pass at stage one end, I had to disrupt the field. If not, they would blow by me. Michael, me and Brad would all be at the back of the line, then we’d be stuck. If I was behind one of them, I’d never pass them.

“Yeah, I’m sure Kyle (Larson) wasn’t super happy with me. Might have cost him the lead. I felt like it was a risk worth taking and it was on purpose.”

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Talladega Superspeedway had its largest crowd for a spring Cup race since 2017, track president Brian Crichton told NBC Sports. 

Crichton said Sunday’s race was up “about 10%” from the 2019 spring race, the track’s last spring event before the pandemic. He also said that the infield RV lots, numbering about 2,700, all were sold out for the event.

Read more about NASCAR

Talladega winners and losers Erik Jones sees victory slip away in final moments at Talladega What drivers said at Talladega Superspeedway

Talladega finish highlights growth of newer teams in Cup originally appeared on NBCSports.com

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