#21 Wood Brothers Racing
Driver: Ryan Blaney
Started 15th, Finished 11th
In honor of the late Neil Bonnett, who also drove the Wood Brothers’ iconic Purolator Mercury, Blaney brought back his retro driver’s uniform from Darlington to wear at Bonnett’s home track. He also showed the same speed from the spring race, running in or near the Top 5 for much of the afternoon, and led 3 laps - his first since Chicago. On Lap 145, he took the lead from Brad Keselowski, who pulled over to get debris off the nose of his #2 Miller Lite Ford, then slotted between Blaney and Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano. Moments later, Keselowski’s engine let go, leaving him 38th and out of the Chase. Blaney, however, came just one spot short of his ninth Top 10 of the season. Next week, he returns to the Wood Brothers’ home track at Martinsville, where Blaney came home 19th in the spring.
#99 Roush-Fenway Racing
Driver: Ryan Reed
Started 18th, Finished 26th
Ryan Reed came to Talladega looking to make his Sprint Cup debut while also bringing back Roush-Fenway’s #99 team for the first time since Carl Edwards’ final start with the team at Homestead in 2014. On Friday, it was also announced that Reed signed a multi-year extension to drive for Roush-Fenway’s XFINITY team, where he’s currently ranked 6th in points for the second round of the division’s new Chase format. On Saturday, Reed secured a spot in the Cup race, coming just short of the final round of qualifying. He ran as high as 10th in the final laps, then was shaken out in the sprint to the finish. As of this writing, Reed and the 99 team aren’t slated to make any more Cup races in 2016.
#93 BK Racing
Driver: Matt DiBenedetto
Started 35th, Finished 27th
With Bobby Labonte back in Go FAS Racing’s chartered #32 Ford, rookie Jeffrey Earnhardt moved into BK Racing’s #83, carrying his second tribute to his late grandfather Dale Earnhardt. This moved DiBenedetto to the Open #93 team with which he finished last in the season-opening Daytona 500. Without any points to rely on, DiBenedetto made the cut - barely - besting David Gilliland for the final Open spot by less than one-tenth of a second. As with the two Open drivers ahead of him, DiBenedetto also flirted with a strong finish, running just outside the Top 10 in the final laps, then came home one spot behind Reed on the lead lap. Next week at Martinsville, Bobby Labonte is not expected to enter, so DiBenedetto and Earnhardt are expected to return to their respective Open teams. DiBenedetto finished 29th at the short track in the spring.
UPDATE (Oct. 24): Dylan Lupton is entered in the #83 at Martinsville, so DiBenedetto will once again need to get the #93 in on time.
#55 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Reed Sorenson
Started 12th, Finished 37th
Reed Sorenson began the weekend strong in qualifying, leading the first round and starting 12th. It was the first time he’d started better than 36th all season, and the first time he’d started better than 35th since the 2015 Daytona 500. Incidentally, Sorenson’s second round lap of 188.300mph was nearly 1.4 seconds off Martin Truex, Jr.’s pole speed, but by making Round 2, he could fall no further. Unfortunately, the race didn’t end that way. Not knowing if they would make the race, Premium Motorsports used a different kind of oil for qualifying, meaning that the oil would have to be changed for the race. Not wanting to violate NASCAR’s impound rules, they decided to change the oil after taking the green flag, similar to what the Wood Brothers did with driver Jon Wood during Cup plate races in 2008. During the pace laps, Sorenson pulled to the rear of the field along with the Gibbs cars of Busch, Kenseth, and Edwards, and by the end of Lap 1, had pulled into the garage. He returned to the track on Lap 13 and ran the rest of the race. Without a big crash, he only passed three cars. Next week, Sorenson returns to Martinsville, where Premium debuted the #55 team in the spring, and looks to best his 37th-place finish there.
DID NOT QUALIFY
#35 Front Row Motorsports
Driver: David Gilliland
2016 Team Stats: 2 starts, 2 DNQs
After challenging for a Top 5 late in the spring race, Gilliland was handed his first DNQ since the Daytona 500. He ran mid-pack in both practice sessions, then anchored the field in qualifying, one-tenth of a second slower than the next Open team, the #93 of Matt DiBenedetto.
#30 The Motorsports Group
Driver: Josh Wise
2016 Team Stats: 27 starts, 4 DNQs, 1 withdrawal
On Monday, October 17, it was announced that The Motorsports Group would withdraw their #30 from Talladega, following three unsuccessful attempts at the restrictor-plate races this season. Then on October 20, it was announced that Truck Series driver Gray Gaulding will make his first three Cup starts in the #30 during this year’s Chase races at Martinsville, Phoenix, and Homestead. The car will also carry a new look with backing from the Feed The Children foundation. Wise will likely run the remaining event at Texas, but his plans for 2017 are as of yet unclear. Next season, whoever will drive will again look to give TMG its first restrictor-plate start in Cup during their third appearance in the Budweiser Duels. At Martinsville this past spring, TMG finished 38th with Wise.
#98 Premium Motorsports
Driver: Cole Whitt
2016 Team Stats: 28 starts, 3 DNQs, 1 withdrawal
Following Wise’s withdrawal, 42 drivers were still set to compete for the remaining 40 spots, including Whitt, who in May was challenging for his first Top 10 on the final lap. However, on October 21, Premium withdrew Whitt’s entry and kept in Reed Sorenson’s #55. Like The Motorsports Group’s #30, it’s the first time Premium’s #98 has been withdrawn this season. If Whitt returns to Martinsville next Sunday, he will look to improve his 30th-place run in April.
DID NOT ENTER
#26 BK Racing
#40 Hillman Racing
#59 Leavine Family / Circle Sport Racing
None of the other part-time Open teams attempted the race at Talladega. These three in particular, which have not been entered in a race since the Daytona 500, are unlikely to return in the season’s remaining four events.