By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
TALLADEGA, Alabama – For the first time in NASCAR Xfinity Series history, Saturday’s Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway will feature no Cup Series drivers in the field.
Without the interference of Cup drivers, the third Dash4Cash race of the year will be an all-Xfinity regular affair as the drivers battle for a trip to victory lane. In addition to the battle for the win, four drivers in the field, Elliott Sadler, Christopher Bell, Matt Tifft, and Austin Cindric.
Of the four drivers eligible, Sadler has to be the most optimistic as he has won before at Talladega, as well as finishing second in this race last year and in the first restrictor plate race of the season at Daytona. Sadler also has top-five finishes in six of eight races thus far in 2018.
Sadler came away with the $100,000 bonus last weekend at Richmond and will look to double up on Saturday.
“We’ve got a pretty good outlook coming into this weekend,” said Sadler. “We usually run pretty well on restrictor plates. It’s definitely a privilege to be a part of the Dash4Cash and being able to win it last week at my home track was pretty special. We’ve got some momentum on our side. We ran very well at Daytona, so we’re pretty optimistic about how our car will be.
It’s neat to be a part of the program again this weekend and hopefully we’ll have an opportunity to win another $100,000. That’d be a pretty good payday. That’s a lot of money for the Xfinity Series and an Xfinity driver. We were definitely proud of ourselves last week and we want to make it happen again.”
As for the most recent Xfinity Series winner, Bell wasn’t quite as confident in his chances of pulling it off at Talladega, given his recent history on restrictor plate tracks. In the season opener at Daytona, Bell only made it 11 laps before finishing 39th.
“If we were going anywhere else I’d feel really good,” said Bell. “But restrictor plate racing just really hasn’t been my forte. I don’t know. I keep saying we have bad luck when we go restrictor plate racing and I looked up Elliott’s results and he’s got three second place finishes in a row.
“Obviously there’s something there that you can get good at and I’ve just got to figure it out. Hopefully this weekend is the weekend something clicks for me.”
Matt Tifft has had success on the massive 2.66-mile track in his Xfinity Series career, scoring finishes of sixth and eighth in his two previous starts with Joe Gibbs Racing. Making his first start with Richard Childress Racing, Tifft will look to take his car to victory lane to collect his pay day as a result.
“My outlook coming into Talladega has always been a lot better than Daytona,” said Tifft. “For some reason, I’ve always run a little bit better here, so just trying to get our KCMG Camaro up to the front. We’ll try to keep it there and out of trouble. It seems like you can get maybe in a wreck here and keep fighting back and try to get through. The more you can minimize the damage and try to fight through the day is going to be important.
“I think as usual it’s going to be the ones who kind of survive the race there at the end, making the smart calls throughout the day will be there. We’ll try to go win the Dash4Cash and the race.”
Last, but not least is Cindric, who makes his first career start at Talladega while driving for Team Penske. Like some of the others, Cindric’s first foray into restrictor plate racing at Daytona didn’t exactly get off on the right foot, so the rookie will be learning on the fly in Saturday’s race while still trying to best the other three Dash4Cash drivers.
“I thought we were pretty good in practice,” said Cindric. “Felt really comfortable in the car, so looking forward to hopefully keeping it out of trouble in the race. My Daytona was pretty short this year, so I look to try and get a little experience this year. Try to learn what I need to know in plate racing. I’m still pretty green to all this stuff. I’m excited to be racing for $100,000, but at the end of the day, I have to be at the end of the race to do that. Should be a lot of fun.”