TALLADEGA, Ala. — The NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway was rescheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern on Monday after persistent rain backed the event into too tight of a window to run as scheduled on Sunday afternoon.
The 500-mile race was delayed almost two hours before NASCAR made one attempt at starting, but rain began to fall again as the cars circled the 2.66-mile track behind the pace car.
Talladega does not have lights — the second-tier Xfinity Series race on Saturday ended six laps early because of impending darkness — and the lengthy delay meant flirting with sunset even if the race started. Talladega's 500 miles average a run time of 3 hours, 41 minutes, and NASCAR does not like to start a race unless it expects to go to completion.
Compounding the scheduling problem was that the race was the lead-in telecast to NBC showing Sunday night's football game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the host New England Patriots — highlighted by the return of quarterback Tom Brady to face his former team — and the NFL matchup would have taken priority.
NBC Sports Network will televise the rescheduled race, but as of Sunday evening, forecasts called for rain in the area on Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday.
Talladega hosts the middle race of the second round of the playoffs, with the hybrid road course/oval at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, the site of next Sunday's elimination race. The field of 12 playoff drivers will be whittled to eight at Charlotte's Roval, and the only driver who has already earned a spot in the third round is Joe Gibbs Racing's Denny Hamlin. The winner last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hamlin will start in pole position at Talladega.
Drivers have been on edge headed into the race because of the unpredictability of the Alabama track and the risks of pack racing. Both the third-tier Truck Series race and the Xfinity Series race on Saturday were marred by crashes and won by drivers who aren't in the playoff field.
The Cup Series drivers don't want the same aggressive racing because one wrong move can trigger a wreck that ruins someone's season championship hopes.
"I'm going into a superspeedway race below the cutoff line, so it's definitely a stressful weekend," Hendrick Motorsports' Alex Bowman, ranked 11th out of 12 drivers, said Sunday. "We're going to race to win, right? That's our game plan."
Also, NASCAR and NBC were in early discussions on how to mitigate crowd ambiance after spectators at Talladega on Saturday chanted an expletive directed at U.S. President Joe Biden that was picked up on air during winner Brandon Brown's interview.
The race winner typically stops on the front stretch to collect the checkered flag and then do a live interview. The chants Saturday at Talladega, where a convoy of trucks and motorcycles waved Confederate flags as they paraded past the main entrance on Speedway Boulevard, could be heard over Brown's interview.
On idea being discussed was to move the interview away from the grandstand fence.
Former driver from Georgia killed
ATHENS, Ga. — A former NASCAR driver was killed Saturday night in a shooting in Georgia that also wounded a woman, investigators said.
John Wes Townley, 31, died in the shooting in a neighborhood around 9 p.m., Athens-Clarke County Coroner Sonny Wilson told the Athens Banner-Herald newspaper.
A 30-year-old woman was hurt, but police didn't give details about her injuries.
Police have spoken to the shooter, who knew the victims. The shooting appeared to be domestic violence related, Athens-Clarke County Police Lt. Shaun Barnett said.
No charges have been filed and the investigation continues, Barnett said.
Townley raced eight seasons and made 186 starts across the Xfinity Series and Truck Series. His victory in the Truck Series at Las Vegas six years ago Sunday was the only national series win of his career.
Townley drove a car owned by his father, who was a co-founder of the vehicle's primary sponsor, restaurant chain Zaxby's.