Coverage: 1 p.m. ET
Green Flag: 2:03 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN (Local Affiliates here)
Phone: NASCAR App
Race Distance: 188 Laps/500 Miles
Stage Lengths: 60-60-68
Competition Caution: Lap 25
Playoffs: Round 2, Race 2
Track: Talladega Superspeedway
Who Wins Sunday’s YellaWood 500?
After a wet day on Sunday that nearly saw us get the race started, we’ll try again on Monday. This time, an hour earlier at 1 pm ET, with 6+ hours of daylight available to dodge more rain.
It’s another 50-50 endeavor on Monday but we just need to get to Lap 94 for this race to be official.
It’s the second time in Talladega history that the Cup race was postponed until the next day. It happened in both 1997 and again in 2020. Both were the spring races. This is the first in the Fall.
Do we see another first time winner like we did in the Trucks and Xfinity races?
5 times has a non-playoff driver won the NASCAR Cup Series’ playoff race at Talladega. It first occurred in 2005 with Dale Jarrett. It happened again a year later (2006) with Brian Vickers. Then we saw it twice in 2009 and again in 2013 with Jamie McMurray as well as 2011 with Clint Bowyer. None of them are in Cup anymore.
Plus, just twice has a non playoff driver won the fifth race of the playoffs and both of them were in Charlotte, not Talladega. McMurray (2010) and Brad Keselowski in 2013.
Furthermore, since 1995, we’ve really only seen what you could consider six “fluke” winners at the Talladega Superspeedway in general. That’s six in the last 53 races on the 2.66-mile high banked oval. Even out of those six, a few aren’t all that flukish after all.
Bobby Hamilton’s win was. Vickers’ win in ’06 would fall under that category as well. Keselowski’s win in 2009 would too considering the circumstances then, but he’d later become one of the greats on superspeedway’s, so looking back on it, it’s not as much as a fluke now as it was then. David Ragan’s win in 2013 would be one, but that’s about it. You could throw Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s win in 2017 as one but he’d win later in Daytona that season too. Same for Aric Almirola’s in 2018 as both of his wins have come on superspeedway’s.
Just six times since 1995 has a driver earned their first or second career wins at Talladega.
What about Daytona? It’s quite the opposite actually.
They’ve had more fluke winners than Talladega in recent years. Just look at their recent winners in fact.
For the Coke Zero Sugar 400, three of the last five winners have earned their first career Cup victories. The other was just his second.
2020 – William Byron (1st career win in August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400)
2019 -Justin Haley (1st career win)
2018 – Erik Jones (1st career win)
2017 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2nd career win)
2014 – Aric Almirola (1st career win)
2011 – David Ragan (1st career win)
For the Daytona 500, Denny Hamlin has won three of the last six years but the other three winners were Austin Dillon (2nd career win), Kurt Busch (1st career restrictor plate win) and Michael McDowell (1st career Cup win).
The fluke winners come at Daytona for whatever reason, but that hasn’t been the case for Talladega.
Still, in saying that, 8 of the last 16 superspeedway race winners in Cup competition have earned either their first or second career victories in them. But, 4 of the last 9 at Talladega and 7 of the last 11 at Daytona, saw drivers won their first or second superspeedway race on them too.
One of the 12 playoff drivers are likely to win Sunday’s race. Since the win-and-you’re-in format was adopted in 2014, all seven Talladega playoff races were won by a playoff driver. The bad news is, none of the seven drivers to have won this race has gone on to win the championship in that given season either.
Which is why there’s even more reason to roll with a Ford this weekend because the odds on favorites to make up the Championship 4 next month are the Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing camps. Neither are Ford’s.
Plus, Ford’s have won 10 of the last 12 races at Talladega including all three superspeedway races this season.
When looking at the 12 playoff drivers then, four of which drive blue ovals. Keselowski has six ‘Dega wins including his triumph back in the spring, which is tied with both Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second most all time. Dale Earnhardt’s 10 trips to victory lane on the Alabama race track are tops. Coincidentally enough, those are the last three drivers to sweep the two races in the same year on the high banked 2.66-mile oval.
2007 – Jeff Gordon
2002 – Dale Earnhardt Jr.
1999 – Dale Earnhardt
1990 – Dale Earnhardt
1982 – Darrell Waltrip
1975 – Buddy Baker
To only happen four times in the last 37 years doesn’t bode well for Keselowski on Sunday. Neither does the fact that he has one top five finish in the last 11 races on the season or two in the last 19 at that. Five of his last seven at Talladega have resulted in a finish of 18th or worse too.
His teammates may be the way to go with Joey Logano or Ryan Blaney. Logano, has four top fives in his last seven on the track in the playoff race but was 39th in May. He and Keselowski crashed on the final lap while leading at Daytona, he flipped here in April and then had a cut tire in the return trip to Daytona. Logano, like Keselowski, enters cold with two top five finishes in his last 21 starts on the year and four in the last 21 overall.
Blaney may be your way to go. He won this race in 2019, won the spring race in 2020 and is coming off of a win in the last superspeedway race at Daytona in late August. He’s also had eight top six finishes in his No. 12 Ford over the last 10 races on the season.
The only other playoff Ford driver is Kevin Harvick who’s had just two top fives in his last 19 Talladega starts and only two finishes better than fourth all season. The thing is, what route doe he and the Penske’s go in?
Stage points are so crucial at this point of the season with Logano and Keselowski making up the final two spots into the Round of 8 right now and Harvick sitting two spots out. Stage points can really put you into a good spot for the final stage in the event you should get collected in a crash late in the day.
But, to what cost does being aggressive for points get you? What if you get caught up in a crash during one of the two stages and not only score no points for that stage, but your day is done with a bad finish too?
Harvick’s plan has been clear the last couple of years on these tracks – forego stage points and ride in the back to ensure he’s there in the end. He has a pair of top fives in his last two Daytona 500 starts as well as having a top five here in April. But, his plan in the playoffs has been the compete opposite. He knows the speed isn’t likely there to win against the JGR or HMS cars, so why not score as many stage points and hope they take themselves out in the process. Harvick, had 25 stage points in the first round and six already this one. That path could help him get by into the Round of 8. The question is, do they stick with that plan or stick with the superspeedway plan by riding in the back?
Logano is only +6 and Keselowski +4. Do they get points or ride in the back themselves?
The heavy favorites aren’t usually good here and more times than not finish in the back, so that’s why this is a debate. Kyle Larson has finished 40th in each of his last two Talladega starts and has been 39th or worse in 4 of his last 6. Kyle Busch has no top 10’s in his last seven playoff races here. Martin Truex Jr. has one top five since 2007 on this track and eight straight results of 20th or worse. Chase Elliott’s five Fall race finishes are – 12th, 16th, 31st, 8th and 22nd respectively.
Those are the guys battling for points on the good side of the bubble.
Alex Bowman was 33rd, 37th and 14th in the three Fall race starts with HMS and 38th in the spring. Christopher Bell’s three ‘Dega finishes are 29th, 39th and 17th respectively.
That really just leaves William Byron with a fourth in this race last year and runner-up this past spring as sitting pretty.
The only other driver left is last week’s winner Denny Hamlin. He was fourth and first respectively at Talladega last year and was third, sixth, fourth, third and first respectively in his last five Fall race starts here.
Also, this is the sixth time in his NASCAR Cup Series career he has advanced out of the second round of the Playoffs (2014, ’16, ’17, ’19, ’20, ’21). Now the 40-year-old from Chesterfield, Virginia, can focus on racking up more Playoff points and wins with little regard for his postseason status; which doesn’t bode well for the competition as he is also the defending winner of last season’s Talladega Playoff race.
This season, Denny Hamlin has posted two wins (Darlington, Las Vegas), 16 top fives and 21 top 10s. His average starting position this season is 7.1 and his average finish is 8.3. He has led the second-most laps this season at 1,366 laps led; his second consecutive season and fifth season overall in his Cup career he led more than a 1,000 laps in a season. He is also ranked second in season-to-date Driver Rating with a 110.3; just behind series leader Kyle Larson at 111.6.
Hamlin is one of nine active drivers this weekend at Talladega with a previous victory at 2.66-mile facility. He has made 31 series career starts at Talladega posting two wins (2014, 2020 Playoff race), nine top fives and 13 top 10s. He has also led 389 laps at Talladega – second-most among active drivers.
The thing is, just once in this playoff format (2014-present) has someone won the first two races of the Round of 12. Joey Logano did that in 2015 when he swept all three races. That doesn’t bode well for Hamlin then.
|Talladega Superspeedway Playoff Race Winners Since 2014|
|Track||Race Winner||Clinch Status Heading Into ‘Dega||Date|
|Talladega||Denny Hamlin||2nd in Points||Sunday, October 4, 2020|
|Talladega||Ryan Blaney||12th in Points||Sunday, October 13, 2019|
|Talladega||Aric Almirola||9th in Points||Sunday, October 14, 2018|
|Talladega||Brad Keselowski||10th in Points||Sunday, October 15, 2017|
|Talladega||Joey Logano||8th in Points||Sunday, October 23, 2016|
|Talladega||Joey Logano||Clinched On Wins||Sunday, October 25, 2015|
|Talladega||Brad Keselowski||10th in Points||Sunday, October 19, 2014|
The last three winners were outside the top eight entering Talladega, so that would then put this into a Byron, Harvick, Bowman and Bell race to win.
Harvick, fits the mold in being a Ford driver too.
JGR has won 3 of the 4 playoff races. Hamlin has five stage wins, a second place, third place and fourth place finish in the eight stages run this postseason. Larson has three stage wins, two runner-ups, two fourths and a 19th. Between them, they’ve won every stage so far this playoffs. Does that continue on Sunday?
My Top 5:
- 4 Harvick – Ford driver. Check. Playoff driver. Check. Outside the top 8 in the playoff standings. Check. 4 top 10’s, 3 of which in the top 5, in his last 7 superspeedway starts.
- 12 Blaney – His last 7 superspeedway finishes – 2nd, 1st, 31st, 25th, 30th, 9th and 1st respectively.
- 11 Hamlin – 4 straight top fives in the Daytona 500 (3 in the top 3, 2 wins), 3rd in 2020 Coke Zero Sugar 400, 4th in the Talladega spring race in 2020, 5 straight top 6’s in Talladega Fall race (3 in the top 3).
- 24 Byron – 4th last year, 2nd in the spring.
- 21 DiBenedetto – Was leading at thet drop of the green flag in the last 2 final overtime races here.