Talladega Weekend Preview: Stenhouse needs a Talladega sweep

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 07: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, celebrates wnning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Sitting in last place on the Monster Energy NASCAR Playoffs Grid – 10 points behind Jamie McMurray on the cutoff line – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. could use a win in the next two races to advance to the Round of 8.

His best chance at a visit to Victory Lane is in Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC) – the site of his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win in May.

“I’m definitely looking forward to Talladega this weekend,” said Stenhouse, who’s from nearby Olive Branch, Mississippi. “Last Talladega was really special for me. Talladega is considered my home track so it meant a lot to me to have my dad and friends there to help celebrate my first Cup win.”

Stenhouse passed 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch on the final lap on his way to the checkered flag. He followed up his Talladega win with another restrictor-plate triumph at Daytona International Speedway in July. A win by the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing driver on Sunday would give him three victories in the four restrictor-plate contests on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule.

In addition to his win, Stenhouse claims three top fives, five top 10s and a 10.4 average finish in eight career starts at the 2.66-mile behemoth. He enters the race coming off a 13th-place finish in the Round of 12 opener at Charlotte.

“It would be nice to be able to get our Ford back in Victory Lane and secure a spot in the next round, but, if not, I think it’s a race track that we could still gain a lot of points,” Stenhouse said. “Nothing is guaranteed when you go there. I’ve been crashed out of them just as easy as finishing well, but I definitely think our entire team is excited about getting back to Talladega.”

Grala goes for another superspeedway win

In the February NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Kaz Grala – then 18 years, one month and 26 days old – etched his name into the record books as the youngest driver to ever win at Daytona.

Kaz Grala, driver of the #33 KiklosGreekExtraVirginOliveOil Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series NextEra Energy Resources 250 at Daytona International Speedway on February 24, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Getty Images)

Now, the GMS Racing driver will try to advance to the Round of 6 in the series Playoffs with another superspeedway win in Saturday’s fred’s 250 at Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. ET on FOX).

Grala currently sits seventh on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings, eight points behind Austin Cindric on the cutoff line. He heads into the contest riding a four-race top five streak, including a fifth-place showing in the last event at Las Vegas. Saturday’s race marks his first career start at Talladega.

“Obviously it’s cool knowing that the last superspeedway race we were able to get the pole and the win, but anything can happen in these types of races,” Grala said. “You can have the fastest truck or be the best plate racer, but we’ve seen it time and time again in every series, that doesn’t guarantee you any sort of favorable finishing position. We’re looking at this race as a wild card, just like everyone else is.”

Talladega Race Weekend Guide

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Race: Alabama 500

Place: Talladega Superspeedway

Date and Time: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 2 p.m. ET

Tune-in: NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 500.08 miles (188 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 55), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 110), Final Stage (Ends on lap 188)

What To Watch For: Dale Earnhardt Jr. makes his last start at Talladega before he retires from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing at the end of the season. The No. 88 Chevrolet pilot leads active drivers with six wins at the 2.66-mile track. … Brad Keselowski goes for his fifth career Talladega win. … If a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs driver wins at Talladega, he automatically advances to the Round of 8. … Chase Elliott enters Sunday’s race coming off two runner-up finishes. … Team Penske has won three of the last four races at Talladega.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series

Race: fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola

Place: Talladega Superspeedway

Date and Time: Saturday, Oct.  14 at 1 p.m. ET

Tune-In: FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 250.04 miles (94 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 20), Stage 2 (Ends on lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on lap 94)

What To Watch For: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Talladega for the Round of 8 cutoff race of its Playoffs. Austin Cindric currently holds the final points transfer spot to the Round of 6. He is eight points ahead of Kaz Grala and 14 points better than John Hunter Nemechek. … Grant Enfinger is the defending race winner. … Entering the race, the Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 4 Toyota leads ThorSport Racing’s No. 88 Toyota by 51 points in the owner standings.

About Greg Engle 7420 Articles
Greg is a published award winning sportswriter who spent 23 years combined active and active reserve military service, much of that in and around the Special Operations community. Greg is the author of "The Nuts and Bolts of NASCAR: The Definitive Viewers' Guide to Big-Time Stock Car Auto Racing" and has been published in major publications across the country including the Los Angeles Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He was also a contributor to Chicken Soup for the NASCAR Soul, published in 2010, and the Christmas edition in 2016. He wrote as the NASCAR, Formula 1, Auto Reviews and National Veterans Affairs Examiner for Examiner.com and has appeared on Fox News. He holds a BS degree in communications, a Masters degree in psychology and is currently a PhD candidate majoring in psychology. He is currently the weekend Motorsports Editor for Autoweek.