In a NASCAR Cup Series season that has seen three first-time winners thus far in just nine races, there’s a good chance that number may increase when the premier series visits the greatest race track in the world – Talladega Superspeedway – on April 24 for the GEICO 500. NASCAR’s Most Competitive, unpredictable 2.66-mile, 33-degree-banked venue has produced 12 first-time winners over the years, and lucky No. 13 may be on the horizon.
Rookie Austin Cindric started off the season by winning his first in grand style, capturing the DAYTONA 500 to claim his initial premier series triumph. Since then, Chase Briscoe and Ross Chastain have pulled the rabbit out of the hat for their first NASCAR Cup Series victory. With parity highly seen thus far (7 winners – only William Byron has two wins) with the incredible competition with NASCAR’s ‘Next Gen’ car, those looking for their first victory are licking their chops, anticipating their visit to Talladega.
Since Talladega Superspeedway opened its doors in 1969, going to Ruoff Mortgage Victory Lane at iconic venue has marked the beginning of several successful careers with the likes of Davey Allison (1987), Ken Schrader (1988), Brian Vickers (2006), Brad Keselowski (2009) and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (2017). Allison’s career tallied 19 career triumphs (three at TSS) and a place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame while Schrader and Vickers finished with four and three total wins, respectively. Keselowski, the 2012 premier series champion, currently has 35 (six of which have come at Talladega) triumphs while Stenhouse, Jr. has two (other coming at Daytona in Coke Zero Sugar 400 in summer of 2017). Bubba Wallace is the latest to pull off the feat, going to the winner’s circle in the 2021 YellaWood 500 last fall.
The first – and lone – victory for others at Talladega have been the benchmark of their career, and they all came in dramatic fashion. They include Richard Brickhouse (1969), Dick Brooks (1973), Lennie Pond (1978), Ron Bouchard (1981), Bobby Hillin, Jr. (1986) and Phil Parsons (1988).
Interestingly enough, 1988 saw back-to-back first-time winners at Talladega – Parsons in the spring and Schrader later that summer. The most first-time victors in a year during the modern era? Five, and it has happened three times – 2001, 2002, 2011.
There are a host of drivers who have shown the ability to run up front and lead this year, but are still looking for that first career Cup win.
This weekend, 12 of the 39 drivers entered in Sunday’s GEICO 500 are still looking for their first NASCAR Cup Series victory. Those drivers are – Corey LaJoie, Tyler Reddick, Daniel Hemric, Harrison Burton, Todd Gilliland, Ty Dillon, Cody Ware, JJ Yeley, Noah Gragson, Landon Cassill, BJ McLeod and Daniel Suarez.
Yeley is 0-for-336, Cassill is 0-for-329, Dillon is 0-for-175, LaJoie is 0-for-173, Suarez is 0-for-188, McLeod 0-for-92, Reddick 0-for-83, Ware 0-for-64, Hemric is 0-for-41, Burton is 0-for-10, Gilliland is 0-for-9 and Gragson is 0-for-2.
Then you have guys with long winless droughts too.
David Ragan (245 starts), Chris Buescher (204 races), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (172 races), Greg Biffle (132 starts), Justin Haley (99 races), Erik Jones (92 races), Cole Custer (64 races), Austin Dillon (63 races), Kevin Harvick (52 races), Michael McDowell (44 races), Christopher Bell (43 races), Joey Logano (38 races) and Brad Keselowski (35 races) are riding streaks of a year long.
Keselowski hasn’t won since this race a year ago. Logano hasn’t won since Bristol Dirt last season. McDowell and Bell won the first two races of 2021 at Daytona. The rest haven’t seen victory lane since 2020 or prior.
Which gives? Do you get a first time winner on the season, a first career winner or a usual suspect?
Out of the drivers who’ve won this season (Austin Cindric, Kyle Larson, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Chase Briscoe), only 2 of them have won at Talladega before. Larson has 0 top 5’s in his career there. Busch’s last eight finishes in the Fall Talladega race have been 11th or worse including his last six being 30th, 27th, 26th, 19th, 27th and 27th respectively. He was 32nd and 18th the last two spring races too as well as being 10th or worse in 4 straight spring races.
Something has to give.
Could Talladega be the place for Tyler Reddick, Daniel Suarez, Ty Dillon, or Corey LaJoie? What about Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates Todd Gilliland or Harrison Burton, who could join the likes of Allison, Bouchard and Keselowski, who were rookies when they were victorious at ’Dega. A win by Burton could also be monumental for his Wood Brothers Racing Team as it would be their 100th triumph in the Cup Series, and sixth at Talladega.
As history has proven, anything can happen at Talladega and we just might see a newcomer etch their name in the Talladega Superspeedway record book and take home the coveted Vulcan Trophy.
More First-Time Winners at Talladega in NASCAR Xfinity Series
The NASCAR Xfinity Series, which will be showcased in the Ag-Pro 300 on April 23, has been competing at Talladega Superspeedway since 1995. It, too, has also had its share of first-time winners, six in fact, who have claimed their initial career triumph at ’Dega. They include Greg Sacks (1996), David Ragan (2009) and Spencer Gallagher (2018), along with three new victors in three of the last four events – Justin Haley (2020), Jeb Burton (2021) and Brandon Brown (2021).
Three of a Kind – Trio of New Faces in Ruoff Mortgage Victory Lane Last Fall at TSS
Last fall, fans witnessed history at Talladega Superspeedway during its NASCAR Playoffs tripleheader weekend when all three races produced first-time winners: Wallace in the Cup Series race, Brown in the NASCAR Xfinity Sparks 300, and Tate Fogleman in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.
Guests who have a Sunday GEICO 500 ticket will also get admission to the traditional Saturday Night Infield Concert featuring country music artist Riley Green. The show kicks off after the running of a racing doubleheader, featuring the General Tire 200 (12:00 p.m. CDT) for the ARCA Menards Series and the Ag-Pro 300 (3:00 p.m. CDT) for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. KLĒNSKIN Pole Qualifying to determine the starting lineup for the GEICO 500 will also be on Saturday, beginning at 10:00 a.m. CDT.