Talladega weekend almost here

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NASCAR institutes procedural change for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500

NASCAR implemented a new procedural change earlier this week for Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, the third and deciding race of the riveting Contender Round in the 2015 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The change results in a single attempt at a green-white-checker finish. Since 2010, NASCAR has allowed three attempts at a green-white-checker finish in all NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

“Following extensive dialogue with the industry, we have decided to make a procedural change at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend,” said NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell.  “In the event the race goes beyond the advertised distance due to a caution, we will use a single attempt at a green-white-checker finish. We take very seriously the responsibility of balancing exciting finishes and safety. We’re confident that this is a positive direction for both.”

Since 2010, only once has a race at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track gone to the maximum of three attempts allowed – the 2010 spring event in which current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion Kevin Harvick went to Gatorade Victory Lane. Only on one occasion has a race been extended by two green-white-checker finishes, that coming a year ago in October when Brad Keselowski was victorious.

At the checkered flag of Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500, the field of 12 eligible drivers for the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship will be reduced to eight and will advance to the Eliminator Round. Only Joey Logano has punched his ticket to the Eliminator Round. Second through 10th in the standings are separated by only 20 points. Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who triumphed in the GEICO 500 in May, and Matt Kenseth, all but need a victory Sunday in order to advance. They are 11th and 12th, respectively, in the title battle.

Talladega’s weekend kicks off on Friday (Oct. 23) with practice sessions for both the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series™ and the CampingWorld.com 500. Saturday’s (Oct. 24) slate includes Foodland/Food Giant qualifying for the CampingWorld.com 500 as well as qualifying for the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola race, which starts at 12 p.m. CDT. The race will feature veterans like Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter trying to hold off hard-charging young guns like Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick. The green flag will drop Sunday (Oct. 25) on the CampingWorld.com 500 at 1:30 p.m. CDT.

Another first-time winner could make history at Talladega Superspeedway

From its first race in 1969 to present day, Talladega Superspeedway, site of the CampingWorld.com 500 on Oct. 25, has been a track where both young and veteran drivers have earned their first – and sometimes only – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) victory.

Starting with Richard Brickhouse, who won the track’s inaugural race in 1969, through Brad Keselowski in 2009, 10 drivers have gone to Gatorade Victory Lane for the first time by winning on the 33-degree banks of NASCAR’s Most Competitive Track. Six of those 10 drivers only took the trip to the winner’s circle one time in their NASCAR careers.

The all-important third and final race in the riveting Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the CampingWorld.com 500, will be the center of everyone’s attention due to the 12 potential champions who will trim down the field to eight at the checkered flag. However, there will also be plenty of “outsiders” looking to become No. 11 on the list of TSS first-time winners.

Two drivers to consider have notched close fourth-place finishes the past two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the biggest, baddest track on the planet. A year ago in the CampingWorld.com 500, Landon Cassill showed strength, even took the lead at one point, while Ryan Blaney, driving the No. 21 for the famed Wood Brothers, was in the lead pack all day in the GEICO 500 this past May.

Other contenders to join the first-time winner’s club at TSS could include Austin Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Chevy for Richard Childress Racing (Childress is tied with Rick Hendrick as the all-time winningest car owner in TSS history); Kyle Larson, 2014 NASCAR Rookie of the Year and driver of the No. 42 Chevy for Chip Ganassi Racing who has been knocking on the Victory Lane door recently; and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the No. 17 Ford for  Roush Fenway Racing, who has a pair of TSS top-10 finishes, including a third place finish in the 2013 CampingWorld.com 500.

Here is a brief look at the initial 10 “first-time” winners at Talladega Superspeedway:

Richard Brickhouse. The journeyman driver, who raced just 39 times in his entire NASCAR career, won the first race ever run on the track on Sept. 14, 1969. His trip to Gatorade Victory Lane also made him the first of the six drivers who recorded their only career victory at NASCAR’s longest track.

Dick Brooks. Brooks held off Talladega legend Buddy Baker and the Silver Fox – David Pearson – to win the 1973 Talladega 500 (today known as the CampingWorld.com 500) and record his first and only victory in 358 career NSCS starts.

Lennie Pond. Piloting the Oldsmobile of noted car owner Harry Ranier, Pond edged two-time Talladega victor and Alabama Gang member Donnie Allison at the stripe to win the 1978 Talladega 500 (today known as the CampingWorld.com 500). It was his only win in 234 career NSCS races.

Ron Bouchard. Making just his 11th career start, Bouchard, running third at the time, shot by Darrell Waltrip and Terry Labonte through the tri-oval to win the 1981 Talladega 500 (today known as the CampingWorld.com 500) in what is still considered by many one of the greatest finishes in NASCAR history. It was his only triumph in 160 career starts.

Bobby Hillin, Jr. Won the 1986 Talladega 500 (today known as the CampingWorld.com 500) by three car lengths over Tim Richmond to record his only win in 334 career NASCAR starts.

Davey Allison. In storybook fashion, the Hueytown native and member of the Alabama Gang recorded his first career victory by winning in May of 1987 at his home track. It was also the first of an amazing 19 wins he recorded in just 191 career starts.

Phil Parsons. Went to Gatorade Victory Lane in May of 1988, a year in which first-time winners would sweep both races. It was his only win in 203 career starts.

Ken Schrader. Two months after Parsons’ triumph, Schrader took the second TSS race of 1988 for the first of his four career victories in 763 career starts.

Brian Vickers. In the fall of 2006 while running third on the final lap, Vickers tapped second-place Jimmie Johnson, who then ran into leader Dale Earnhardt, Jr. As a result, they both spun while Vickers was able to continue, recording his first of three career wins.

Brad Keselowski. Coming to the stripe through the tri-oval in the spring of 2009, Keselowski, a newcomer to the NSCS while driving for a low-funded team, got together with leader Carl Edwards, who spun while Keselowski continued on to record the first of his current 17 NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.

Talladega’s weekend kicks off on Friday (Oct. 23) with practice sessions for both the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series™ and the CampingWorld.com 500. Saturday’s (Oct. 24) slate includes Foodland/Food Giant qualifying for the CampingWorld.com 500 as well as qualifying for the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola race, which starts at 12 p.m. CDT. The race will feature veterans like Matt Crafton and Johnny Sauter trying to hold off hard-charging young guns like Erik Jones and Tyler Reddick. The green flag will drop Sunday (Oct. 25) on the CampingWorld.com 500 at 1:30 p.m. CDT.

Earnhardt, Jr. on verge of Chase elimination; likely must win Talladega to advance

The biggest and baddest race track on the planet and the Most Competitive Track in NASCAR -Talladega Superspeedway – is ready to host its pressure-packed, tension-filled NASCAR weekend in just a few days, Oct. 23-25, with the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) CampingWorld.com 500 and the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) event.

After his second consecutive win Sunday, Joey Logano is the only driver who has punched his ticket to the Eliminator Round in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. While he can breathe a sigh of relief, Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500 will be filled with stress and anxiety for the remaining 11 drivers in the Contender Round, which will see the Chase-eligible drivers trimmed to eight at the checkered flag. With a win, a Chase driver can automatically advance to the Eliminator Round of eight. Heading to Talladega, a couple of the sport’s biggest names will likely need just that – a trip to Talladega’s Gatorade Victory Lane.

Six-time Talladega winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who triumphed earlier this year in the GEICO 500, sits 11th in the standings, 31 points out of the eighth and final transfer spot while Matt Kenseth, who won at the 2.66-mile venue in 2012, is mired in 12th, 35 points behind first. No one other than Logano is guaranteed to advance to the next round because of the tight points battle. Second through 10th is separated by only 20 points, and with unpredictable Talladega, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is wide open at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track.

“I wouldn’t rather be going anywhere else than Talladega for the next race if we need a win,” said Earnhardt, Jr. after a disappointing 21st -place effort Sunday in Kansas. “That is a good opportunity for us. Even over Daytona, I think we can go to Talladega and do the job. There is a little more room there to be aggressive and make the moves you need to make. I got the car that won the 125 (qualifying race at Daytona), ran third in the (Daytona) 500, won Talladega (in May’s GEICO 500) and won Daytona (Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola).  That is a good enough car.  I wouldn’t want to be going anywhere else if it’s a ‘win and you are in’ kind of deal. Don’t count us out.”

Kenseth dominated at Kansas, leading a race-high 153 laps, but finished 14th after contact from Logano in the closing laps while he was leading the race.

“I’ve actually been one of his biggest fans – I’m certainly not anymore,” said a disheartened Kenseth about Logano. “It’s a shame, I’m glad the car’s not wrecked, we’ll just go on to Talladega and race them there.”

Here are the incredibly close Chase standings with the cut-off of eighth place:  1st – Joey Logano (secured spot in Eliminator Round); 2nd – Denny Hamlin (+18 ahead of ninth place), 3rd – Kurt Busch (+13), 4th – Carl Edwards (+12), 5th – Kevin Harvick (+7), 6th – Jeff Gordon (+7), 7th – Brad Keselowski (+7), 8th –  Martin Truex (+6), 9th – Kyle Busch (-6 behind eighth), 10th – Ryan Newman (-8), 11th – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (-31), and 12th – Matt Kenseth (-35).

Saturday’s fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola will also feature a hot and contested battle for the season-long NCWTS title with just five races remaining. Young gun Erik Jones leads the standings by just four points over veteran Matt Crafton, with defending fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola pole winner Tyler Reddick 16 behind. Neither of the trio has ever won at Talladega. Crafton’s best finish is fourth (2010). Both Jones and Reddick will be making their second start after solid runs in their initial attempt at TSS a year ago. Reddick was fourth while Jones was sixth.

Talladega’s weekend kicks off on Friday (Oct. 23) with practice sessions for both the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola and the CampingWorld.com 500. Saturday’s (Oct. 24) slate includes qualifying (9:30 am CDT) and the green flag for the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola (starting at noon CDT), with Foodland/Food Giant qualifying for the CampingWorld.com 500 at 3:15 pm CDT. The green flag will drop Sunday (Oct. 25) on the CampingWorld.com 500 at 1:30 pm CDT.

Here are other key news items for what promises to be an incredible weekend.

CampingWorld.com 500 Grand Marshal/Honorary Starter: Marcus Lemonis, successful entrepreneur, star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” as well as chairman and CEO of Camping World and Good Sam, will serve as both the Grand Marshal and Honorary Starter for the CampingWorld.com 500. After giving the 43-driver field the famous command to “Start Your Engines,” Lemonis will wave the green flag from the starter stand to get the much anticipated race started.

Sunday Star-Spangled Banner: Sunday’s National Anthem will be performed by the 313th  United States Army Band, founded in 1943. It will mark the second consecutive CampingWorld.com 500 that the 31-citizen-soldiers musical group will be at Talladega’s fall classic.

fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola Honorary Officials: Craig Barnes, Executive Vice President of Supply Chain, Logistics and Loss Prevention for fred’s pharmacy, which combines the best elements of a pharmacy, discount store and convenient mass merchant store, will serve as the Grand Marshal for the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola.  Serving as the Honorary Starter will be Erskine Casey, Vice President of Merchandising for fred’s.

Saturday National Anthem: Prior to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola race, the “Good Hope Trio,” from Good Hope High School in Cullman will perform the National Anthem. The group consists of Gloria Crauswell, Ty Parker and Rachel Roberts.

Church to Lead the Field Sunday: Country Music Association and four-time Academy of Country Music Award winner Eric Church, who is currently nominated for five CMA Awards, including Single of the Year for “Talladega,” will serve as the Honorary “Pace Car Driver” for the CampingWorld.com 500.

Freedom Trophy:  Talladega’s newest tradition – the Freedom Trophy – which represents the five branches of the U.S. Military – will be presented to the CampingWorld.com 500 race winner in Gatorade Victory Lane by Colonel Eric F. Buer, United States Marine Corp Pensacola, Fla.

Epic Music Entertainment: The infamous Saturday Night Infield Concert, near Talladega Boulevard will be headlined by Award-winning Mercury Nashville recording artist Easton Corbin. Tim Dugger will also be rocking the house as he opens up the concert after the conclusion of the fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola. The concert has become a popular event and it’s FREE with the purchase of a Sunday CampingWorld.com 500 ticket.

E!’s “The Soup”: E!’s “The Soup” will be LIVE from the infamous infield at Talladega Superspeedway on Friday, at 9 p.m. (CDT) in advance of the CampingWorld.com 500 and fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola events. “The Soup” host Joel McHale will be delivering the latest and greatest pop culture clips from NASCAR’s Most Competitive track, Talladega Superspeedway.

On the track:

Earnhardt, Jr., winner of the May GEICO 500, is not only looking for a Talladega sweep, he will also be trying to write his name into the track record book alongside his dad – Dale Earnhardt, Sr. – and Pete Hamilton. With a triumph, he will join the duo in NASCAR history as the only drivers to win three of the four races run at NASCAR’s “Super” Superspeedways – Talladega and Daytona International Speedway – in a single season. Hamilton did it in 1970 after capturing both Talladega Superspeedway (TSS) races in 1970 while Earnhardt, Sr., pulled off the feat in 1990.

A year ago, three drivers came to Talladega and had to win the CampingWorld.com 500 in order to advance in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski all put their cars at the head of the field, but in the end it was Keselowski who punched his ticket to the Eliminator Round of eight. On the flip side, Kyle Busch entered the event second in the point’s battle, but after a disappointing 40th place finish, failed to advance.

Jeff Gordon, who is tied with Earnhardt, Jr. for second on Talladega’s all-time victory list with six wins, will be making his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at Talladega in the CampingWorld.com 500 on Sunday. His last victory at TSS came in 2007.

Working closely with NASCAR and International Speedway Corporation (ISC), Talladega Superspeedway performed an extensive review of its facility and outlined significant safety enhancements that will be in place this weekend. TSS has installed more than 8,000 linear feet of Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) Barrier in 2015. SAFER Barrier will now cover the entire outside and interior retaining walls of the 2.66-mile facility.

Fan experiences and opportunities:

Permanent High-Definition Video Boards: A fourth permanent Sprint Vision Digital High-definition video screen will tower above an infield area near the Start/Finish line. In total, four of the five video boards that line the frontstrech at Talladega, are now permanent and showcase bigger, brighter, crisper and clearer views for all the fans in the grandstands. Two of the video boards are mammoth 40’ x 80’ in size – one atop Gatorade Victory Lane and one in front of the Media Center. The new board at the Start/Finish, along with the structure at the exit of turn four near the Care Center, is  26’x 52’. Mobile screens will be located in Turn One (18’ x 33’), along with the Alabama Gang Superstretch (20’ x 27’). The video boards are part of a multi-phase plan to implement video boards at other ISC facilities over the next few years.

Pit Pass Upgrade: Fans that purchase Talladega’s “Pit Pass Upgrade,” can have access to the pre-race driver introductions plus the Fan Q&A with some of NASCAR’s most notable drivers and personalities, prior to the start of Sunday’s CampingWorld.com 500. Scheduled to appear for Q&A are Chase Contenders Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch, along with Austin Dillon, Sam Hornish, Jr., Kyle Larson, David Gilliland, Rusty Wallace and Miss Coors Light. The session is set to begin at 9:40 a.m. and conclude at 11:30 am. Pre-race festivities are set for 12:50 pm.

Not only can fans get an up-close look at NASCAR’s finest with the Pit Pass Upgrade, but they can also take in other festive pre-race activities, which include the ability to witness the Red Carpet Entry into the Drivers Meeting and an up-close look at the cars lined up on pit road. The Pit Pass Upgrade is $75. To obtain, call 1-877-Go2-DEGA.

Roomy Chair-backs: In addition to the video boards, the first-class experience for fans is enhanced with every seat in the house having roomy 21-inch and 22-inch chair-back seats with drip shields.

Pricing: Kids 12-and-under receive $50 off all regular adult ticket pricing throughout the grandstands and towers for the CampingWorld.com 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. In Gadsden and Talladega Grandstands 2-day sections, kids 12-and-under can sit for free, when accompanied by an adult. Kids Grandstand and Tower seats for the  fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola are free as well. Tickets are required for all kids’ tickets.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Kids Autograph Session: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers Danica Patrick, Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney are scheduled to appear for a Talladega Superspeedway special youth autograph session on Saturday at 10:45 a.m. in the track’s Legends (Hospitality) Village, located behind the Birmingham Tower outside the frontstretch. The first 100 kids (12-and-under) to arrive will have the chance to get an autograph from each driver (limit one per child and time permitting). To pick up a wristband, go to the Main Guest Services Office located at O.V. Hill South Grandstand Section L. Participants will be allowed to start lining up for the youth autograph session at 10 a.m.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Autograph Session: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Autograph Session will take place on Friday from 4 – 4:45 p.m. at Legends Village. Guests will need to pick up a wristband on the day of the event at the Main Guest Services Office located at O.V. Hill South Grandstand Section L. Guests with a wristband will be guaranteed an autograph. Some of the scheduled drivers to appear include: points leader Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Daniel Hemric, Austin Hill, Cameron Hayley, Chad Boat, Christopher Bell, Mason Mingus, Tyler Young, Brandon Jones, John Wes Townley, Matt Tifft, Ray Black, Jr. and Spencer Gallagher.

The Big One on the Boulevard: The wildest Mardi-Gras style event in the South will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the infield on Talladega Blvd. Fans have the chance to join in on some fierce competitions such as the ‘Big One’ Eating Contest that will feature the track’s famous 1-pound “Big One Meatballs.” Or, they can get down and dirty in “The ‘Dega Cherry Chase,” a one-of-a-kind obstacle course, as well as compete in front of NASCAR’s top drivers in the traditional Costume Contest. Scheduled drivers to participate in on the festivities include Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Austin Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and many more. The parade is open to all infield guests or fans that have infield admission.

NBC NASCAR “Bumper” Cars: NBC Sports is giving fans the chance to get in the driver’s seat and hop behind the wheel with “Bumper NASCAR,” an interactive bumper car experience where fans can face off and compete just like their favorite drivers.

Horsepower Plaza, where the custom track is onsite, is the perfect place for kids and adults to experience a racing adventure with licensed bumper cars.

Fanatics NASCAR Trackside Superstore in Horsepower Plaza. Fans will see the all-new revolutionary Fanatics Superstore located on the north side of Horsepower Plaza (outside the frontstretch). Patrons will be able to enjoy an enhanced, experiential shopping environment – the ultimate shopping experience for NASCAR fans to find a multitude of driver items.

“The Big One” Meatball: Race fans can sink their teeth into this “softball-sized” menu item. “The Big One” Meatball has a center of blended Mozzarella and Pepper Jack Cheeses mixed with smoked BBQ Pulled Pork and a little house BBQ sauce for an extra kick. It is then covered by a layer of ground beef, rolled in a panko bread crumb and Parmesan mix before being deep fried to a golden brown. It’s topped off with a dollop of BBQ sauce and a spaghetti garnish. This mammoth meatball, like Talladega Superspeedway, is the biggest of its kind and weighs in at over one pound. Purchase “The Big One” Meatball at concession stands in the Gadsden and O.V. Hill South Grandstands along the frontstretch.

“Bama Bier Garden.” “Bama Bier Garden” offers Talladega Superspeedway fans a place to indulge in on some great local refreshments. Located in Horsepower Plaza outside the track behind the frontstrech, fans will have a chance to partake in the “Bama Bier Garden’s” 40-foot full bar stocked with the traditional spread of Miller, Coors and Budweiser beers as well as a selection of savory beers that are brewed right here in Alabama. Local flavors to be featured include Back Forty Beer Company based out of Gadsden and Trim Tab Brewing Co., out of Birmingham. Fans will have three days’ worth of opportunities to quench their thirst at “Bama Bier Garden.”

Back Forty Beer Co. Paddock Club. Located just behind pit road adjacent to Gatorade Victory Lane, the Back Forty Beer Co. Paddock Club has been a mainstay at NASCAR’s Most Competitive track for many years. Featuring two covered grandstand seating areas with food and beverages throughout the day, and many other amenities, fans in the Back Forty Beer Co. Paddock Club will be treated to new special upgrades which include, but not limited to: guided garage tours, built-in Flat-screen TVs, games, entertainment, giveaways and access to NASCAR Driver Introductions. Back Forty Beer Co. Paddock Club Packages are still available for Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola (which includes Coors Light Pole Award Qualifying for both the CampingWorld.com 500 and fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola) by calling 1-855-518-RACE (Press Prompt “1” for ticketing).

Camp for Free!: Talladega Superspeedway offers over 15,000 free camping sites in three conveniently located parks that opened this week. All-day parking on Talladega Superspeedway property remains free.

Campground Concerts:  “A Band Called River” will be featured in Talladega Superspeedway’s South Park campground. “House of Thomas” will be the featured band in North Park. All programming is scheduled to start after 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23.

Throughout the grandstands designated smoking areas will be set up under the grandstands and towers.

Team Chevy and American Cancer Society Breast Cancer Awareness Program. On Saturday, Chevrolet and American Cancer Society will team up to provide an onsite Breast Cancer Survivor/Awareness program. The program will consist of survivor Pink Pace car rides, a private autograph session and brunch afterwards in Legends Village.

Chevy Driver Intro Vehicles. Chevrolet will be providing Silverado Trucks to be used for driver introductions each day. 

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