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Saturday's motors: Haley earns 3rd superspeedway victory with Talladega win

Jenna Fryer
Associated Press

Talladega, Ala. – Justin Haley stormed into the second round of the Xfinity Series playoffs with a win Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, his third superspeedway victory of the season.

Haley, who in 2019 won the Cup race in July at Daytona, has three career Xfinity Series victories, all this season, all on superspeedways. He won at Talladega in June, Daytona in August and then again Saturday at Talladega.

Justin Haley celebrates in Victory Lane after winning a NASCAR Xfinity Series auto race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Haley joined Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the only drivers in NASCAR to win three consecutive superspeedway races. The Earnhardt’s did it in the Cup Series.

“You look up to those guys your whole career and you aspire to be like them,” the 21-year-old said. “To be in that class is special.”

Haley, in a Chevrolet for Kaulig Racing, joined Chase Briscoe as the only two drivers locked into the second round of the playoffs. Four drivers will be eliminated after next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

The four drivers below the cutline with one race remaining in the opening round of the Xfinity Series are Michael Annett, Harrison Burton, Brandon Brown and Riley Herbst. The Xfinity Series will crown a new champion for the first time in three years because back-to-back title winner Tyler Reddick moved to the Cup Series this season.

Briscoe, winner of two consecutive races before Talladega and a series-best eight this season, led a race-high 73 laps and was cruising from the final restart with 18 laps remaining. Then he had to block to preserve his spot out front in the closing laps and contact with Noah Gragson nearly caused Briscoe to spin.

He recovered and took control of the bottom lane of traffic, then darted back up to the top in front of Gragson to lead that lane. As Haley surged alongside him on the bottom. Gragson and Briscoe had contact that sent Briscoe into the wall.

“You are doing everything you can to protect the run,” said Briscoe, who noted both he and Gragson had asked Earnhardt for Talladega advice.

“It was weird because I knew what he was going to do.”

A crash on the final lap allowed Haley to win under caution. The Talladega race had been decided with a last-lap pass in nine of the last 12 races.

Annett finished second and was followed by Ryan Sieg, Noah Gragson and Brandon Jones. Daniel Hemric, Ross Chastain, Josh Williams, Garrett Smithley and Brown rounded out the top-10.

Briscoe’s goal Saturday had been to help fellow Ford driver Austin Cindric win the race and the two rivals for the championship worked together up until Cindric crashed in the final stage. Cindric was in the middle of a pack of cars when he was caught in some dicey action.

“It looked like the whole pack was going to try to stop there and I felt like that was chaos, especially with how far back in the pack we were. I just got smoked from behind,” Cindric said. “It is part of this type of racing. We were hoping to get ourselves locked into the next round but we will have to go fight for it next week.”

The Talladega race was realigned after the pandemic disrupted NASCAR’s schedule. With next week’s race at Charlotte, the series is at last back on schedule with its original 2020 calendar.

Power wins Indy race

Will Power counted down the laps, struggling to maneuver around the lapped cars in front of him.

At least once, he even pleaded with an old friend to let him by.

Eventually, Power managed to break free and then held off hard-charging Colton Herta by 0.8932 seconds to win the second Harvest GP race at Indianapolis this weekend.

Will Power celebrates after winning the IndyCar auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday in Indianapolis.

“It was pretty intense because you had cars in front of you, that was the biggest problem,” Power said. “As soon as I had a bit of a gap, it made it easier. I think we’re the only series in the world where lapped traffic actually races you. It’s insane.”

Power had no complaints about his car, though.

He claimed his 61st career pole in qualifying, second all-time to Mario Andretti (67). He led all 75 laps, earning his first wire-to-wire win since 2011 at Barber Motorsports Park.

For most of the day, the gap between Power and those chasing him was at least five seconds and he was so strong Herta and third-place finisher Alexander Rossi, teammates with Andretti Autosport, acknowledged they weren’t going to get past the 2014 IndyCar champ and 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner without a mistake.

It’s Power’s fourth victory on the speedway’s 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course and his 39th career win ties Al Unser for fifth in IndyCar history.

“When you talk about the names, it’s amazing. These are people who are legends of the sport,” Power said. “I grew up watching these guys. I never imagined I’d hear my name mentioned with theirs.”

Another story was developing behind Power as defending series champion Josef Newgarden continued trimming Scott Dixon’s points lead.

Newgarden, a two-time series winner, cut a 71-point gap to 40 by winning from the front row on Friday. On Saturday, he closed to 32 points by finishing fourth. Dixon, of New Zealand, finished eighth after damaging the underwing of his car early in the race.

“It was loose the whole race,” said the five-time series champ, who drives for Chip Ganassi Racing. “We made contact with a couple of cars. I tried everything in that race. We were flat out.”

While Dixon’s closing stretch has been a challenge, the last of three trips to Indy this season couldn’t have gone much better for team owner Roger Penske.

His drivers swept both races, producing his first wins since he bought the track from the Hulman-George family in January. They led 109 of 160 total laps and Newgarden still has a chance to keep his title.

Teen takes trucks race

Raphael Lessard, a 19-year-old Canadian rookie, won his first career NASCAR national series race in overtime under caution at Talladega Superspeedway.

Lessard was racing side-by-side with Trevor Bayne on the final lap of the two-lap overtime shootout when a pack of trucks running four wide triggered an accident that froze the field. Lessard won in a Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the first win of the season for the organization from a driver other than Busch.

“I needed that, we had a tough season and this one feels very good,” said Lessard, who did not make the playoffs and had just four top-10 finishes before the Talladega win.

Raphael Lessard, 19, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Truck series auto race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Lessard is the fifth foreign-born winner in the Truck Series. The teenager moved from Quebec to North Carolina in January, two months before the coronavirus pandemic upended his first full-time season in an American national series.

The race was the first elimination race of the Truck Series playoffs and Christian Eckes, one of the contenders to race for the championship, was eliminated in a mixed day for Busch’s race team. Lessard got the race win, but there will be no KBM championship this year.

Todd Gilliland was also eliminated because a mechanical failure ended his race early. Gilliland had been aggressive prior to the the mechanical issue in a bid to extend his playoff run.

Bayne, a former Daytona 500 winner who has returned for four Truck Series races so far this season, finished second to Lessard. Chandler Smith was third, Codie Rohrbaugh fourth, and Ben Rhodes completed the top five.