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Friday Talladega Notebook

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Joey Logano drives during practice for the Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Adam Hagy-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Kenseth sidesteps questions about his racing future

TALLADEGA, Ala. - Matt Kenseth is a master of deflection-and he's had plenty of practice heading into Sunday's Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

Ever since Kenseth announced at Kentucky Speedway in July that he wouldn't be driving for Joe Gibbs Racing after the 2018 season, the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion has been the subject of rampant rumors and speculation.

For his part, Kenseth has parried questions about his 2018 status like a fencing champion. Asked whether he has had any recent substantive discussions about possible rides for next year, the droll Kenseth dead-panned an answer about a conversation with his wife.

"It probably weighs on me way less today than it did probably a few months ago," Kenseth said of the uncertainty he's facing. "Had some real productive talks with Katie. We're going to run another day. Had a real, long productive talk together. That was enjoyable. It's true, we did. Talked about it a lot."

When talking about possible next steps in his driving career, Kenseth offered an unexpected option.

"I was thinking about maybe driving a school bus," Kenseth said. "I thought it would be fun. I drive the kids to school every morning. I enjoy that. I thought it would be fun to drive them home, too."

As facetious as Kenseth was during his question-and-answer session with reporters on Friday morning at Talladega Superspeedway, there remains the serious possibility that Kenseth could win a second championship without a deal lined up for 2018.

Entering the second race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff's Round of 12, Kenseth is ninth in the series standings, one point behind Jamie McMurray in eighth and one point below the current cut line for the Round of 8. But Kenseth is a previous winner at Talladega, and he has two victories at Kansas Speedway, venue for the Oct. 22 Round of 12 elimination race.

In fact, in his last 14 starts at Kansas, Kenseth has two wins, 10 top 10s and no finish worse than 14th. So it's a distinct possibility Kenseth will drive his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota into the Round of 8-before turning the car over to Erik Jones at the end of the year.

JOEY LOGANO TRYING FOR THREE-PEAT AT TALLADEGA

Spoiler alert!

Joey Logano could have a substantive effect on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff-even though he failed to qualify for the postseason.

Logano has won the past two fall races at Talladega Superspeedway, and a third victory would change the chemistry of the Playoff. As it stands now, with Martin Truex Jr. taking the checkered flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway, at least five drivers will advance to the Playoff's Round of 8 on points.

If Logano or any other non-Playoff driver wins Sunday's Alabama 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC)-or if Truex wins a second straight race-that number increases to six. And in an otherwise troubled year for the No. 22 Team Penske Ford team, Logano believes Talladega provides the best opportunity for a victory in the final six races.

Don't expect Logano to cut the Playoff drivers any slack. He'd love to play spoiler at a track where the nature of restrictor-plate racing amplifies the number of potential winners.

"I'm wired one way," Logano said. "I've got one gear, and it's wide-open. That's all I've got, so, for me, it keeps it pretty simple. When I come to the superspeedways it's go to the front and stay in the front, race hard, and I think that shows in our results. We either win or we crash, and I'm OK with that. I've said this a lot here the last few weeks that fifth, second, 15th, crashing, what's the difference?

"It's all about winning. That's what we're here to do, and that's what we're going to do is just to go out there and race for the win, and that means you've got to battle up front all day long, learn as much as you can about your car, get it as best as you can for the end of the race, know who is racing around you and go out there and try to win it."

CHRISTOPHER BELL TO MOVE UP TO NASCAR XFINITY SERIES IN 2018

Christopher Bell, a five-time winner and championship favorite in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series this season, is ready to take the next step in his career.

Joe Gibbs Racing announced on Friday that Bell will compete for the NASCAR XFINITY Series title in a JGR Toyota next year.

"I'm excited," said the 22-year-old from Norman, Okla., who grew up racing on dirt and this year realized a lifelong dream by winning the Chili Bowl for midget cars during the NASCAR offseason. "One thing that Toyota has done a great job of is preparing me for the next stepping stone.

"Whenever I was running late models at Kyle Busch Motorsports, they were kind of trickling me into some truck races, and I think I got seven truck races that year before I went full time, and it worked out again this year where I'm going to have, I think, eight XFINITY races before I go full time next year. So that's great seat time for me.

"I'm going to be able to be with the organization and kind of learn how they operate, and driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports, you already have somewhat of a feel for how they do things, and I think it's a great fit and the perfect stepping stone."

SHORT STROKES

Jimmie Johnson spun after cutting a tire in Friday's opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at Talladega Superspeedway. "Popped a tire going into (Turn) 3 and, looking at some photos here a second ago, it looked like the tire was already soft down the back straightaway. I guess I ran something over on the apron getting up to speed, and made, oh I don't know, maybe a third of a lap and was spun out which is really bizarre." Johnson kept the car off the wall avoided major damage...

Brad Keselowski led opening practice with a lap at 197.859 mph. Kurt Busch was second fastest at 197.806, as Ford drivers ganged up to take the top nine positions in the first session. Kasey Kahne paced final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice at 191.222 mph. Twenty-three cars started Happy Hour in the "penalty box" under practice holds of 15 to 30 minutes for inspection failures, and only 23 drivers from the 40-car field posted times in the session.

--- NASCAR Wire Service ---