Another Non Playoff Winner?
On the surface, if there was any race in the postseason that a non playoff driver was going to win, it’s this one at Talladega. It just happened last year in fact. However, that’s the only instance in the 8-year history of this race being in the postseason that a non playoff driver reached victory lane also.
All 4 of the races in this year’s playoffs though have been won by a non-playoff driver. So which occurs on Sunday?
Erik Jones was leading across the white flag here in the spring race. He won the Southern 500 in Round 1. Austin Dillon finished 2nd here in April and won August’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. Brad Keselowski has 7 Talladega wins to his credit. Michael McDowell won last year’s Daytona 500, was 7th this past year and was 8th here in the spring race.
Bubba Wallace was runner-up in the 2021 Coke Zero Sugar 400, was 2nd in this past year’s Daytona 500 and won this very race last season.
All are legitimate options.
Yes, we’ve seen Bubba Wallace (Talladega last year), Austin Cindric (Daytona 500), Ross Chastain (Talladega this year) and Austin Dillon (Coke Zero Sugar 400) win the last 4 superspeedway races. However, this streak has got to end at some point as we’re running out of fluke drivers.
10 of the last 17 superspeedway race winners in Cup competition have earned either their first or second career victories at that.
That’s why I’m watching on who wins on Sunday or not and if they’re a playoff driver to advance to the Round of 8.
Among the playoff drivers, 5 of the 12 have won here in the past. Logano (3-time winner), Blaney (2-time winner), Hamlin (2-time winner), Chastain (spring race winner), Elliott (1-time winner) all have reached victory lane during some point of their careers here.
However, most of these 12 have struggled on superspeedway’s with the Next Gen though too.
Denny Hamlin was 37th and 25th at Daytona and 18th here in the spring.
Christopher Bell was 34th and 19th at Daytona and 22nd here in April.
Joey Logano was 21st and 12th at Daytona and 32nd in the spring race.
Ryan Blaney was 4th and 15th at Daytona and 11th in April.
Austin Cindric was 1st and 3rd at Daytona and 21st here in April.
Chase Briscoe was 3rd and 31st in Daytona and 37th in the spring.
Daniel Suarez was 18th and 24th at Daytona and 31st here.
Ross Chastain was 40th and 33rd at Daytona and won here in the spring race.
William Byron was 38th and 34th at Daytona and 15th in the spring.
Alex Bowman was 24th and 14th at Daytona and 9th in the spring.
Chase Elliott was 10th and 29th at Daytona and 7th in the spring.
Kyle Larson was 32nd and 37th at Daytona and 4th here in the spring.
The best shots out of them all reside with Team Penske. Logano (5 top 5’s last 10 here), Blaney who’s won 2 of his last 6 on the Alabama racetrack and Cindric (Daytona 500 winner) have to be the favorites. Byron has 3 top 11’s in his last 5 Talladega starts is a sleeper.
Elliott is a former winner in the spring race but has not had a top 5 in any of his 6 fall starts. Hamlin hasn’t had a top 10 in his last 5 superspeedway starts. Larson is 1-for-34 in terms of top 5’s in his career on superspeedways. Bowman’s Fall race finishes are 33rd, 37th, 14th and 38th respectively and Suarez has never really been a factor on superspeedways.
The thing is, it’s not many of the heavy hitters that aren’t in the playoffs are particularity strong at Talladega either.
Kyle 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, 18th and 3rd in the last three spring races too.
Martin Truex Jr. has had just 2 top 5 finishes on this track since 2007. His last 10 finishes there are 40th, 35th, 23rd, 26th, 23rd, 20th, 24th, 23rd, 31st, 12th and 5th respectively.
Kevin Harvick’s only had two top five finishes in his last 21 Talladega starts himself. While he was fourth and eighth at Talladega last year, he’s had finishes of 30th, 21st, 10th, 12th and 20th on these types of tracks this year.
I think this is why we’re seeing so many different winners on these tracks lately and that’s because of how most of the top drivers in this sport have just struggled on them.
Racing on superspeedway’s is always tricky. Does the risk of stage points outweigh the gain for a win later on? I mean by running in the lead group for an extended period of time, you risk crashing. Most drivers say that you have a better chance of ending up in a crash at the annual trips to Daytona and Talladega than you do of seeing the checkered flag.
So is it get points early to at least know you’ve got them or is it ride around in the back to make sure that you’re there in the end?
That’s the million dollar decision.
The smaller budget teams use the play it safe strategy and is why they’re the ones taking up spots in the top 10 at the end of these races now-a-days. They ride so far off the pack that even if they fall a lap down, they’ll get the laps back in all the chaos at the end.
Just look at the top finishers that night in Daytona. Jeremy Clements Racing, MBM Motorsports, Brandonbuilt Motorsports, Alpine Prime Racing and JD Motorsports were each found in the top 6 of the finishing order in the Wawa 250.
The 2nd place finish by Timmy Hill was his 2nd ever. Brandon Brown was 4th for just his 6th career top 5. Sage Karam was 5th in scoring his 1st ever top 5.
6th place was Ryan Vargas. That’s his 2nd career top 10. They were joined in the top 11 by names like Alex Labbe, JJ Yeley and Jesse Iwuji.
That was a preview for the rain delayed Coke Zero Sugar 400. Landon Cassill finished 4th in his No. 77 Chevrolet. That ties his best career finish and just his 2nd career NASCAR Cup Series top 5.
So wouldn’t it be wiser for the playoff drivers to just do the same? Why make the risk? At least you have a fast car in the end and can get a top 10 that way.
I mean a bigger team with a non damaged race car on a final restart at the end can make a lot of damage to the field. The drawback is, what happens if you get caught up in the end of race melee’s still?
When is go time? I mean a late caution you’d think you have to go but what if there’s another and you’re in it? By getting no stage points you’re actually worse off than those that already crashed out but did.
“Do we need more superspeedways?” Joey Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back.
“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”
In all 3 combined Stage 1s of Daytona/Talladega this year, the race winner didn’t score stage points in either of them.
In all 3 Stage 2’s of Daytona/Talladega this year, the race winner was 6th (500), 9th (Talladega), 10th (Coke Zero Sugar 400).
There’s a fine line here that no one has seemed to figure it out…
The major flaw from this new car is that the driver is absorbing more impact in crashes. While the data isn’t necessarily saying so, the drivers beg to differ. Kurt Busch had a rather routine rear end first impact with the Turn 3 SAFER barrier in Pocono but hasn’t raced since. Alex Bowman backed into the wall last Sunday and is not out this week due to concussion-like symptoms. Cody Ware had a massive hit in that same Texas race and just got cleared to return on Thursday.
Denny Hamlin was collected in that Lap 137 melee at Daytona and noted that it was as hard of a hit that he’s taken in a while.
“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”
This is Daytona and being sore after a crash here is par for the course. But how much did this new car make Hamlin feel like he did after the crash in comparison to a crash last year or years prior?
We also saw the car do what it’s supposed to do in keeping Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr’s cars not lifting as much as they could have. They each got in the air but luckily came back down before it could have been worse.
So does the more than likely crashes that will occur on Sunday force drivers to second guess their maneuvers? I mean we have a championship on the line for 12 drivers and they can’t get themselves injured.
Ford dominated Daytona. They have won 3 of the last 5 at Talladega too including 10 of the last 13 in general entering the spring race weekend and 6 of the last 8 in the Fall. Chevrolet however took over the winning from there in winning each of the last 4 superspeedway races by 4 different drivers.
Does Chevy now have an advantage again?
Chase Elliott has a top 10 in 4 of the 5 races on these tracks this season. Ross Chastain has 3 top 2’s in 5 tries. Erik Jones has 2 top 6’s in his last 3 tries including leading the white flag lap here. Austin Dillon was 2nd back in Talladega in April and won the ‘400 at Daytona in August.
Toyota’s have won the last 2 Fall races at Talladega though. With this Next Gen however, it looks like the ones who needs the most work. They went 2-6-13-19-34-37 in the Daytona 500, 3-8-13-23-29-33 in Atlanta 1, 3-5-16-17-22-29 in Talladega, 11-14-19-20-22-25 in Atlanta 2 and 8-10-11-13-25-36 in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.
This week sets up nicely for the organization. With so many drivers struggling on these types of tracks, Penske arguably has the best team from top to bottom on them.
Ryan Blaney has 4 superspeedway wins (2 at each track) with 1 of his 2 at Daytona being the 2018 Duels. He also won here in 2019 (Fall race) and 2020 (Spring race) to go along with a summer race win at Daytona last August. Can he pick up a superspeedway win for the 5th straight year? He has a pair of top 10’s in the last 3 races.
Joey Logano is a 6-time superspeedway winner with like Blaney, half being at each (3-3). He has a top 5 in half of his last 10 Talladega starts too.
Then there’s Austin Cindric who won the Daytona 500 this past February as well as being 3rd at Daytona in August.
Penske has to be a favorite on Sunday.