Brandon Brown wins Saturday’s Sparks 300 at Talladega, why this win isn’t necessarily an “upset” with my top 3 takeaways

TALLADEGA, Ala — This may be Talladega and this may be the NASCAR Playoffs but what we saw on Saturday afternoon from the central Alabama race track still shocked us to our cores. A few hours after Tate Fogelman scored his first career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory, another driver was celebrating in victory lane under the Alabama sunset.

The pair to share victory lane on Saturday was almost improbable. Fogleman, spun John Hunter Nemechek coming out of the tri-oval to pull the upset in the Chevrolet Silverado 250. Brandon Brown, passed Brandon Jones on Lap 99 and would lead the final eight laps in being scored the victor in the Sparks 300.

It was Brown’s first triumph in 114 career starts in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He had led 30 career laps entering Saturday’s race and comes out with nearly a third of all laps led in one race.

Fogelman led one career lap entering today’s race and would only lead the final one in Truck Series competition.

But, while Fogelman’s triumph was a steal, I don’t think you can necessarily classify Brown’s as a pure “upset.”

Yes, this was his first win and yes he drives for a smaller family owned team, but it’s not like the 28 year old is a terrible speedway racer. He’s literally improved in all five of his Talladega starts. He was 25th in his lone Truck starts. He went from 15th to 11th to 9th to 7th in Xfinity Series competition entering Saturday. He was also sixth back in February at Daytona.

Now, he’s victorious. Brown, also made the playoffs a year ago on points, so he’s showing his promise. It’s just that he’s never won before. Until now.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 02: Brandon Brown, driver of the #68 The Original Larry’s Hard Lemonade Chevrolet, celebrates in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Sparks 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

The only drawback is, he didn’t make the playoffs this year. If he had, he’d be in the Round of 8 by virtue of a victory. Instead, it’s a moral win and something to build off of in his pursuit of making a name for himself as a NASCAR driver.

Brown, started 2021 off with three top eight finishes in his No. 68 Chevrolet in the first five races run. But, over the next 23, he’d only equal that amount. That’s why he wasn’t playoff bound.

For one driver, he thought he was ahead of Brown at the time of the final caution for a big crash in Turn 4 but NASCAR proved otherwise.

Brandon Jones narrowly escaped by the eight car crash and was on the outside of Brown after. But, did to going back to the loop data to figure out who was first and who was second, it was Brown inches ahead. He’s at least glad it was Brown as the one being scored with the win and not another playoff driver.

Jones, had to settle for a runner-up in his No. 19 Toyota for his second time in doing so in eight career NXS Talladega starts. It was also his third straight top six on the season after having seven of his previous nine races seeing him finish 19th or worse.

So, while he would have liked to have won and stamped his name into the Round of 8, he’ll take second and now sit 21 points to the good heading to the Charlotte ROVAL next Saturday.

Jones, had to sit idle behind Brown while we run behind the caution car for the final few laps before NASCAR elected to end the race early due to darkness. Most would think that when given the choice by NASCAR to go back racing or not, Jones would have given the thumbs up. Instead, he did the opposite.

He felt like it was dark enough already and with all the debris on his windshield with so much speedy dry already put down, it wasn’t going to be safe enough to go back to green.

Justin Allgaier was third in his No. 7 Chevrolet and basically advances to the next round by virtue of that and his 10 stage points scored on Saturday. He’s 55 points up with one race remaining in the first round. Allgaier, has just his third top five in his last 13 Talladega starts with ending a four race drought of being 28th or worse here. He does have seven straight top six results on the season and 10 top seven’s in the last 11.

Daniel Hemric is also likely good in finishing fourth in his No. 18 Toyota. Hemric, is +41 as he made up seven points on the field in the standings. Hemric, only totaled one stage point but his second top five in his last three Talladega starts and fifth top 10 in his last six on the season, including four of which being in the top six, has him in a great spot.

Jordan Anderson rounded out the top five in his No. 31 Chevrolet.

Here are my main takeaways from Saturday’s race.

Not Normal Afternoon For Kaulig Racing Turns Into Luck In The End

Heading into the race, we all felt this was Kaulig Racing’s race to lose. They had won six of the last eight Speedway races including five of the last six. They went 1-2-3 in not only both stages of the last superspeedway race at Daytona back in August, they also went 1-2-4 in the race itself.

Instead, Saturday’s race was anything but. They combined to lead 10 of the 107 laps including scoring a combined zero top fives.

Justin Haley had a large penalty before the race even began which saw him not only have to drop to the back of the field before we went green but also had him have to serve a drive through penalty once the green flag dropped. He’d eventually fall a lap down and have to get the free pass after the stage break. Haley, would rebound to finish eighth in Stage 2 and sixth in the race though for a nice rebound. It was his fifth top 10 in-a-row at Talladega and 11th top 10 in his last 12 starts on the season in his No. 11 Chevrolet. He’s also had five top sixes in his last seven races in general after only having five in the previous 21.

That’s the good news. The bad is, AJ Allmendinger was collected in a scary early crash and would not only finish 39th but score no stage points in the process. He went from +59 to +33 in points.

Jeb Burton earned 14 stage points and finished seventh but he was lucky to have the race end early due to darkness because he had a lot of damage from being collected in that final caution. Luckily, he stayed out just in case and it paid off. He gained 19 points and sits -8 heading to Charlotte.

So, while it wasn’t a win, for Haley to finish sixth, Burton in seventh and gaining 19 points in the process with a damaged car and Allmendinger still sitting +33, it was a day that allows them to remain in the hunt for a championship still.

Burton vs. Burton For Final Transfer Spot To Round of 8

We have a pair of cousins in the Xfinity Series field and now both will race each other for the eighth and final spot to the second round of the playoffs. Harrison Burton leads older cousin Jeb Burton by eight points with one race remaining.

Harrison, is Jeff Burton’s son while Jeb is Ward’s. While there’s a path where both can still march on, it’s going to take someone else falling out and that’s going to be hard to do so.

Noah Gragson is +18 and has seven top seven’s in his last nine starts on the season. Brandon Jones is +21 and has three straight top six results. Justin Haley is +24 and entering the opening round cutoff race with five top sixes in his last six on the season and 11 top 10’s in his last 12 in general. AJ Allmendinger is one spot ahead of him and is +33. He’s a road racing ace. Daniel Hemric (+41) and Justin Allgaier (+55) are the only other two available to be bumped out. Hemric, has five top 10’s in his last six starts including four of which being in the top six. Allgaier, has seven straight top six finishes on the year and 10 top seven’s in the last 11.

Good luck bumping one of them out.

Myatt Snider (-24), Riley Herbst (-32) and Jeremy Clements (-48) likely are facing a win-or-go-home scenario. Snider and Herbst crashed on Saturday with Snider having no top fives since his Homestead win (25 races) in February. Herbst, was 33rd and 27th in the postseason.

For Jeb Burton, he had four top sixes in his first five starts of the season but only four in the last 23.  Harrison Burton saw his nine race streak of top 10’s come to a close.

Safety Applauded After 2 Very Hard JRM Crashes

Sam Mayer was collected in an extremely hard crash on the final lap of the opening stage of Saturday’s race. The contact was so severe with the SAFER barrier that it broke the wall. We’d have to have a red flag for repairs to it.

Then, Noah Gragson was involved in an even harder hit as he took multiple hard licks to his No. 9 Chevrolet. Luckily, both drivers walked away.

Mayer, Gragson and even AJ Allmendinger, Myatt Snider and Harrison Burton all had bad angles with their impacts and everyone still walked away. We have to applaud Dale Earnhardt and NASCAR still for that.

I wrote about this back in February. We saw a lot of hard crashes at Daytona and this was also the 20th anniversary of that tragic day in the 2001 Daytona 500. Since then, no other NASCAR driver in the national series has passed away in a race car.

That’s a credit to the safety this sport has taken since that Earnhardt crash on the final lap of the Feb. 18, 2001 Daytona 500. Just look at the replay from that crash and compare it to these crashes we saw on Saturday. The reason all these drivers are unscathed is due to that 2001 crash.

From SAFER barriers, to HANS devices to many other safety initiatives in this sport, we’re able to safely race these cars without dire consequences that we once had. While anything can happen at any given turn, NASCAR has made these cars as safe as they’ve ever been.

Of Note:

Many people are questioning NASCAR’s decision to end the race early on Saturday. Why it wasn’t fully dark yet, the decision was the right one. When the second place finisher who’s also a playoff driver and needing a win to automatically advance to the next round gives a thumbs down, it makes this call even easier to take.

While I get this wasn’t the flashy ending with a last lap pass and pure chaos, one with a race car that’s supposed to look damaged like Tate Fogleman’s was according to the track president, it’s still a fitting one.

We saw an emotional first time winner form a smaller family run team. One that was going to shutdown by the end of this summer if sponsorship didn’t came their way.

Just because he didn’t pass anyone on the last lap to make it happen doesn’t mean it wasn’t a thrilling ending.

I get that NASCAR’s officiating has been in question a lot lately. From the Loudon debacle to the end of the Indianapolis race to the questionable caution for “rain” in the Daytona road course to the exact opposite situation in COTA, to how they handled the caution in Kansas back in May for the rogue tire, to Saturday, I can see where questions come up. But, in this case, there’s nothing NASCAR could do differently.

Start the race earlier? Sure. Only if you run the Truck race on Friday. That’s not going to work.

The Trucks race could move up an hour, but starting a 3:50 pm CT and the race being nearly 2 1/2 hours in length (2-hours, 27-minutes with counting red flags) for 113 scheduled laps, thats should be plenty of time.

Add lights then? Why would the track take on that expense? That’s a lot of money to go out to light not only 2.66 miles of real estate but the surrounding areas too in order to get people out.

Plus, the two annual stops at both Daytona and Talladega aren’t being threatened to get at least one of them left off the schedule. These are four of the more highly watched races and best voted by the fans.

So, why add lights? I get that if you start a race after 3:30 pm ET and don’t have lights that you really should, but for Talladega’s case, why?

There’s 25 tracks on the current Cup schedule for 2022. 15 of them have lights. Out of those 15, only six of them will be used.

NASCAR is shifting to more day races again.

“I think from a fan perspective our fans, again, are accustomed to tuning in on Sunday afternoon and seeing NASCAR Cup Series racing,” Ben Kennedy said during the schedule unveiling. “For a fan going out there to the track, to have the biggest event of the weekend on that Sunday afternoon I think gives them something to look forward to and builds anticipation around the weekend.

“I would say a lot of our fans, myself included, are accustomed to turning racing on, NASCAR racing in particular, on Sunday afternoon. I think we all have that habit. Certainly helped us kind of drive the decision to move that there.”

In 2009 and 2010 we had 10 scheduled night races on the schedule. They were at Phoenix, Richmond (x2), Darlington, Charlotte (x2), Daytona, Chicago, Bristol and Atlanta. Next year, that number is down to six (Martinsville, Bristol (x2), Charlotte, Darlington and Daytona). Out of those 6, half will take place on a Sunday night at that. That’s down from 8 of 10 in 2010.

Plus, among the past tracks with lights, Phoenix, Richmond and Atlanta doesn’t use theirs anymore for Cup with both visits now being day races. Fontana is a day race. So will be Gateway. Chicago is also gone. The shift is clear. Lights are basically a backup plan now for tracks for the event rain pushes them to night to complete. Why add millions to a backup plan?

Top Stat

In both the Truck Series and Xfinity Series playoffs, both races this round were won by non playoff drivers. Christian Eckes and Tate Fogleman won in Trucks while Josh Berry and now Brandon Brown have won in Xfintiy.


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