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Chase cutoff in Talladega means drivers swinging for the fences
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Put into a position with nothing to lose and everything to gain, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers Daniel Hemric and John Hunter Nemechek have a simple plan for this weekend. Swing for the fences, they both said. Saturday's fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega Superspeedway is the final race of the opening round of the inaugural Camping World Truck Series Chase. Only one Chase participant, William Byron, scored a win in the previous two races, thus earning an automatic berth in the Round of 6 that begins next weekend at Martinsville Speedway . Hemric, driver of the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing, is seventh in points, 15 points outside Johnny Sauter in sixth. Nemechek, driver of the No. 8 Nemco Motorsports Chevrolet, is eighth, tied with Hemric for points and also 15 points outside the cutoff. "Everything here is kind of out of your hands," Nemechek, twice a winner this season, said Friday. "Being at Talladega in the spot that we're in … being 15 points out, I think it's way better for me to be able to come here … where anything can happen. "If we finish top five and someone else got caught up in somebody else's wreck and we didn't, we'd have a shot to make it compared to a mile-and-a-half track or short track where they can ride around all day and kind of salvage a finish where they make sure they make it. "I haven't quite called in any favors or anything like that. If we were able to qualify up front and run up front all day, as long as we put ourselves in a position to be top four in, where you can make a move coming to the start/finish line, I think you'll be all right. But who knows?" Christopher Bell , two-time series champion Matt Crafton , Ben Kennedy and Timothy Peters are second through fifth in points. All have won at least once this year, except for Peters. But he's won here at Talladega the last two times the series visited the 2.66-mile track. "In order to win now, we've just got to keep doing what we're doing and not change anything at this point," Hemric said. "All we can do here is control what we can control , go into it approaching every situation that way, whether it's practice, qualifying or the race. If we execute on all ends, I see no reason why we shouldn't have a shot at it. "At the end of the day … I think I would rather be on the end we're on. Obviously if you've won, that's even better. But the situation where we can go down swinging and not playing defense all day, I think, is going to be a good thing for (Nemechek) and I, both."
Backed by Junior Nation, Alex Bowman sees opportunity at Talladega
RELATED: Ailing Bowman presses on, nabs career-best finish With Dale Earnhardt Jr . slated to miss his first Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway since he broke into the big leagues full time as a rookie in 2000, many wonder which driver will replace the superspeedway ace as the one to beat in Sunday's Hellmann's 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App). How about, you know, the guy actually replacing him? Fresh off a seventh-place showing at Kansas Speedway on Sunday, Alex Bowman is set to drive Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the third consecutive week and the seventh time this season as the driver recovers from concussion-related symptoms. This weekend is perhaps Bowman's most significant start of the year. Because it's at Earnhardt's own Talladega. RELATED: Earnhardt-Talladega streak to continue Sunday "He's got a couple fans out there," Bowman told NASCAR.com at Kansas. "Man, I'm excited about (racing at Talladega). Speedway racing is always stressful, but … ( Hendrick Motorsports ) brings such fast race cars to the race track and their speedway stuff is amazing. Always fast. Especially the 88. So, just really looking forward to having a chance to win. "I'm going to sit Dale down and have a couple-hour conversation with him about speedway racing. If there's a speedway racer left in this garage, it's him, for sure." The man's got a point. From a wins standpoint, Talladega ranks as Junior's best track with six, only closely followed by four wins at Daytona, another Earnhardt cornerstone -- and another superspeedway. Bowman's 'Dega stats don't match Junior's, of course, but he did pilot the No. 7 Tommy Baldwin Racing Chevrolet to a 16th-place finish just last year. And while it's almost jarring to hear a driver say that he is "excited" for Talladega, it's unsurprising coming from Bowman, who'll have the roar of the crowd on his side -- a fanbase that has named the man he's replacing NASCAR's Most Popular Driver for 13 years running. "Junior Nation has been great," said Bowman, 23. "It's been really cool; they've just been really supportive. Every now and then there's one fan that hates me, but for the most part they've been awesome. Casey Mears fans hate me after (Charlotte), because apparently it was my fault that we blew a tire and wrecked him, but Junior Nation has been awesome." RELATED: Dale Jr. to join broadcasts for Talladega, Martinsville Not only does Bowman have full access to Earnhardt's Talladega insight, a wealth of knowledge so deep it likely needs its own Dewey Decimal System , he's sharing substitute driving duties with a four-time Sprint Cup champ and six-time 'Dega winner in Jeff Gordon . "It’s been really cool (to share a ride with Gordon). Jeff was my favorite driver growing up when I was a kid," Bowman said. "It's been really good to learn from him. He's an open book. All five of my teammates are complete open books. It's great to lean on them and learn as much as I can, but Jeff just has so much experience and has a really interesting view on a lot of things. "It's been a great time just listening and observing and learning everything I can from him." The lessons taken at "Gordon Drivers Ed, Inc." appear to be working, too. While the final results might not show the whole picture, Bowman, at times, has looked like the more competitive driver behind the wheel of the No. 88, and owns the car's best finish -- seventh -- since Earnhardt placed second at Pocono way back in June. Bowman says that some people joke with him and say "Oh, I'm glad to see you've finally learned how to drive." He's always known how to drive, it's just been more about opportunities. And if luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity, "Bad Luck Bowman" -- a driver that once learned he'd been fired via Twitter -- knows the magnitude of the opportunity presented to him this weekend and in his remaining races. And you can be sure he'll be prepared. "I hope (this opportunity has put my name out there)," Bowman said. "We've talked to a lot of people and it always comes back to money. It's always 'Well, do you have any sponsorship?' 'Do you have any funding?' I don't, so it's just … the sport's such a business at this point that it really kind of limits what I can and can't get into and that's what's limited what I can and can't get into for the last four years. "I don't have anything lined up (for next year yet). I think my role that I had at Hendrick Motorsports before all this happened is still going to be the same. Still being a part of the team, still doing all the simulator stuff and helping as much as I can. I don't think that will change. Obviously, when Dale comes back and all that, I don't really know what that leaves for me as far as driving anything. "I don't know what the future holds there. I don't have anything going forward, really." In the short-term, at least, he'll have the full support of Junior Nation at Talladega. </p>
Nemechek and Hemric 'control their own destiny' at Talladega
John Hunter Nemecheck and Daniel Hemric talk about the best way to approach Talladega Superspeedway as they prepare for the first elimination race of the Camping World Truck Series Chase.
Dale Jr. backs Bowman, will tackle Talladega on the air
RELATED: Alex Bowman's time to shine TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Talladega's favorite son, Dale Earnhardt Jr ., won't be racing this weekend but much to the pleasure of his massive fandom, he will be trackside helping his Hendrick Motorsports team and even working in the MRN radio and NBCSN television booth during Sunday's Hellmann's 500. Earnhardt, who is sidelined for the remainder of the season while he recovers from concussion-like symptoms, was a popular sight in Talladega's garage Friday afternoon. He shared his thoughts in an impromptu interview outside his team's hauler just before opening Sprint Cup Series practice. Earnhardt seemed eager to return to the announcing booth during the race -- something he'll do on both radio and television. "It gives me an opportunity to see the racing from a different perspective and that's an opportunity to learn something about the sport," Earnhardt said. "It'll be fun. It'll be a neat experience. "I've been in the booth before and had a great time at Michigan this year for the XFINITY race. I won't be doing the whole race [Sunday], but … I'm glad I have the opportunity and to be able to still kinda be around and be a witness to what's happening at the race track. It's better than sitting at home. "I don't really get nervous any more," Earnhardt added with a smile. " The only thing that ever made me nervous was driving race cars. I don't feel nervous. I feel good about going up there. What's the worst thing that could happen, right?" Earnhardt was very complimentary of Alex Bowman , who along with veteran Jeff Gordon , has been filling in for him in the No. 88 Mountain Dew Chevrolet. In six starts for Earnhardt, Bowman has a pair of top-10 finishes. He scored his best showing of seventh place last week at Kansas -- while suffering from a stomach bug that made him so sick, the 23-year-old was on a stretcher getting an IV after the race. " The night before [ the race] was a terrible evening as far as how he felt even getting a good night's sleep," Earnhardt said. "I was very surprised he was as competitive as he was, as bad as he felt. He was very nauseous throughout the race. He was a real trouper. Most of those guys on track have that grit and determination. "But he can do it. And he's capable and belongs out there." This weekend's race at Talladega will be a new challenge for Bowman. However, Earnhardt has high expectations. "I think he's going to do great," Earnhardt said. "He's going to have fun and he's going to really enjoy the car because it's going to be competitive. We'll sit down and talk a lot and give him all the opportunities and understanding he can. He's already had some experience so some of the things we'll talk about will already make sense to him. "I'm looking forward to sharing what I can throughout the weekend to help him. I've told him from the start, now that's he's getting more opportunities and I'm out of the car for the rest of the year, he's able to kind of relax and realize he doesn't have to bottle up lightning for one particular weekend. He'll have a lot of opportunities this year to show what he can do. "He did that last weekend and pretty much every time he's been in the car he's shown he's fast and very capable and I expect that this weekend."
The 'Big One' strikes at Talladega
Ben Rhodes gets loose and makes contact with the wall before collecting multiple drivers at Talladega Superspeedway.
Staff picks for Talladega Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race
RELATED: See all the cars lined up for Sunday's race Denny Hamlin : The Daytona 500 winner has experience in getting to Victory Lane at restrictor-plate tracks. If his tendency for sour luck in the Chase -- see last year's odd roof flap issue in this race -- doesn't bite him, Hamlin has a strong shot at advancing with a Talladega win. -- Zack Albert Brad Keselowski : He was backed against a wall in 2014 and came through with a dramatic win to advance in the Chase, and he'll do it again on the heels of winning at Talladega this spring. -- George Winkler Brad Keselowski : Seems like an obvious pick because of Keselowski's two restrictor-plate wins this season coming into Talladega. But the former Cup champ is so good at this form of racing, particularly at Talladega where he got his first career Cup win and three more including this spring. And most importantly ... he needs a good showing to advance in the Chase. This is his race. -- Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson : The man who doesn't need the win -- thanks to his Charlotte victory -- gets the W to lock some strong competition out of the Round of 8. -- RJ Kraft Joey Logano : The talented Team Penske driver hasn't had exceptional results this season, but he's been lurking. We saw what he can do in this round last year, and I think he turns it on when it counts and takes Talladega for the second year in a row. -- Pat DeCola Matt Kenseth : One year after a Round of 12 he'd rather forget, the Joe Gibbs Racing veteran leaves no doubt and secures his second career win at Talladega. -- Brad Norman Make your picks in Streak to the Finish !
The Climb: Who can leave 'Dega in the dust?
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman and Regan Smith give you the drivers who they believe will be able to climb their way past Talladega Superspeedway and onto the Round of 8 in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Hightower slams the wall after Lupton spin
Brandon Hightower makes hard contact with the wall after trying to avoid Dylan Lupton.
Ready for the long haul, Kennedy set for championship run
Ben Kennedy's fifth-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway advances him into the Round of 6 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chase, leaving him optimistic about his chances to be a part of the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Junior on TV: 'What's the worst that could happen?'
NASCAR.com's Jonathan Merryman talks with Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway about joining the NBC Sports television broadcast Sunday and what he expects helping call a portion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.