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."
Behind the scenes in TV booth with Dale Jr.
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- An NBC assistant in the broadcast booth had an urgent message to deliver, one of huge importance. As 40 drivers barreled around Talladega Superspeedway at 200 mph a few hundred feet below him, he grabbed a marker and started writing on a dry erase board. "17-13," he wrote. "Final 5th straight win." He showed this to Dale Earnhardt Jr ., a guest analyst for NBC's coverage of the race. Upon reading it, Earnhardt Jr. turned around, away from the track, and smiled broadly at Tyler Overstreet, his road manager, and pumped his fist. The handwritten note purported to report the score of the Washington Redskins, of whom Earnhardt Jr. is a big fan. Alas, that news was premature. A few minutes later, the same assistant showed him another dry erase board, this one apologizing for the first and reporting that the Lions had come back to win the game. Junior half smiled, half grimaced and turned his attention back to the race track, where he wished he could be on this sun-kissed fall day. Earnhardt Jr. has missed the last 14 races, and he will miss the rest of the season, with concussion-related symptoms. But talking about the race was the next best thing, and the hour-plus he spent in the booth was vintage Earnhardt -- funny, insightful and candid. Wearing dark-framed glasses, sneakers, jeans and a blue and gray plaid shirt, he sat atop a stool between NBC analysts Steve Letarte, his former crew chief, and Jeff Burton , against whom he raced hundreds of times. They lapsed into a conversation like old friends. His eyes darted from the track to the TV screen in front of him to Letarte to Burton. His body language was almost exuberant. He smiled often and at one point raised his hand excitedly when he wanted to interject a point. He seemed relaxed and at ease with Letarte, Burton, play- by -play announcer Rick Allen and the race's producers. "Has he got in the top 10 yet?" Earnhardt Jr. joked off camera about his replacement, Alex Bowman . "Damn, I told him everything I know." As his appearance wound down, NBC announced Junior would return to the booth at next week's race at Martinsville Speedway . Producer Matt Marvin, who was just outside the track in the production truck, keyed the microphone that allows him to talk with the broadcasters off air and told Junior what a great job he had done. He paused for just a second and said, "Next time, if you're not as good, we'll kick you out early." Junior laughed at that. This was the Earnhardt Jr. that fans have loved for more than a decade -- living and dying with the Redskins, offering transparent insight into his life and breaking down racing like few others. Consider this exchange with Burton at Lap 68, when Earnhardt Jr. discussed his drafting philosophy: "I look at the air coming off of the front of the car as a boat wake. And it's very dense coming off of around the headlights of that car that you're trying to side draft. So you don't want to continue to be beside that guy as you get toward the front, or pretty much dead even, because you run into that dense air coming off of the lead car. So you have to 'jump' that wake, much like if you were water skiing. You also have to get away from him so that he cannot side-draft you, because then you're both sort of bouncing back and forth. That's why it's so much easier to side-draft on the outside, because you can pin the guy on the bottom, side-draft him, drive up the race track and take the lead." Burton: "Now, you know all the drivers are going to play this race back and listen to all of this, right?" Earnhardt Jr.: "From what I've seen, these guys have got it all figured out." After months of his public appearances being focused almost exclusively on his health, it was refreshing to see him confident and comfortable. At least for this hour, the pensiveness that saturated so much of what he has said lately was gone. And on the topic of his health, he sounded upbeat. The simple fact he was able to make the appearance was a sign of improvement. In previous comments he has said large crowds sometimes trigger his symptoms, and it's hard to imagine a larger crowd than Talladega. His doctors have encouraged him to challenge himself, and certainly being on live TV would accomplish that. "I'm feeling great and all of the progress that we've made over the last several months has been really good," he said. "Obviously, I'm able to get out and do things. I'm having so much fun at the race track, and to be able to come up to the booth has been a lot of fun for me." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Keselowski gets by with help from spotter
Go inside the headsets as Brad Keselowski works his way to the front with help from spotter Joey Meier.
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.
Junior breaks down the art of drafting
From the broadcast booth at Talladega Sueprspeedway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. breaks down the art of drafting.
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.