Updated: 5 things I’m watching for Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN)


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.”

Kevin Harvick had some choice words about safety himself.

“The safety cannot be slow,” Harvick stated. “This car is screwed up as far as the way that it crashes. And whether the data says it or not, every driver in this garage will tell you that’s not right, and it hurts — feet hurt, hands hurt, head hurt.”

With safety on the forefront again, we head to one of the more dangerous tracks on the schedule.

So does the situation to where these drivers can get seriously hurt on Sunday force them to second guess their maneuvers? I mean we have a championship on the line for 11 drivers and they can’t get themselves injured.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 24: Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald’s Toyota, spins wall after an on-track incident, followed by William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, after the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Non Playoff Winner vs. Playoff Winner

All 4 of the races in this year’s playoffs though have been won by a non-playoff driver. However, 7 of the 8 Yellawood 500’s (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) have been won by a 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.

10 of the last 17 superspeedway race winners in Cup competition have earned either their first or second career victories at that.

The thing is, it’s not many of the heavy hitters that aren’t in the playoffs either 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.

So that certainly opens the door.

What about those 11 playoff drivers racing?

5 of the 11 have won here in the past.

Joey Logano (3-time winner), Ryan Blaney (2-time winner), Denny Hamlin (2-time winner), Ross Chastain (spring race winner) and Chase Elliott (1-time winner) have all 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.

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. Suarez has never really been a factor on superspeedways.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 24: A general view of racing from the grandstands during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)


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 do you get points early on to at least know you’ve got them in the bank or is it to ride around in the back for much of the day 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. Noah Gragson also scored a top 5 too.

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).

The path is somewhat clear. But stage points in each one but getting caught up in a crash in the final stage softens the blow. You at least can stay afloat. No stage points and a crash in the final stage really puts you back.

There’s a risk to be running for stage points.

There’s a fine line here that no one has seemed to figure it out…

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 24: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, Kurt Busch, driver of the #45 Monster Energy Toyota, and Erik Jones, driver of the #43 U.S. Air Force Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports

It’s been a disaster week for Hendrick Motorsports. William Byron was penalized 25 points and dropped from above the cut line to below it. 48 hours later it was announced that Alex Bowman would be sidelined due to concussion like symptoms. He already was below the cutline.

With Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson not looking at their peak, how will they fare on Sunday. So far, they have 3 of their 4 drivers starting in the top 10 for the race. Can they stay there?

At one point Hendrick Motorsports was the top team on restrictor plate tracks. At Talladega, they had 6 wins in an 8 race span. They’ve won 3 of the 29 Talladega races since with Chase Elliott’s spring race in 2019 being their only trip to victory lane here since this Fall race in 2015.

For Daytona, Hendrick Motorsports is tied with the Wood Brothers for most wins there in the NASCAR Cup Series. Each have 15. Both have also won those 15 races with 7 different drivers. However, HMS’ once dominance prowess has since cooled at the World Center of Racing too. They won 11 races between 1995 and 2015. In fact, 7 of those 11 occurred from July 2004 and July 2015. They’ve won the Coke Zero Sugar 400 race 6 times.

Since 2016 there, they have just 1 win. What’s bizarre is, it’s not like they’ve not shown up down here without speed. They’ve arguably had the fastest cars off the truck. It’s just that they’ve not had race day speed to correlate with race day handling.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott shared the front row at Daytona back in August. It’s was actually the 4th straight HMS pole at Daytona and 12th in the last 16 tries on the high banked 2.5-mile Florida superspeedway. The only 4 poles that they didn’t win was Greg Biffle (July 2016), Joey Logano (July 2019), Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (February 2020) and Kevin Harvick (Aug. 2020). However, 2 of the 4 weren’t won on speed. Logano’s pole in 2019 was on points. Same for Harvick in 2020 as we didn’t qualify that year. However, they failed to win with having just 1 win in the last 13 Daytona races now. Elliott led the most laps (31) but none of them even scored a top 10.

Can they turn this tide around this weekend in Talladega?

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 24: Christopher Bell, driver of the #20 DeWalt Toyota, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet, lead the field to start the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)


Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN) will mark the midway point of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series postseason. However, for most fans, or even casual fans at that, they likely wouldn’t have let that aspect slip into their minds.

That’s a very large problem.

MORE: NASCAR has a massive problem on their hands with this Next Gen

MORE: NASCAR needs to tighten up officiating

There’s been way too much noise around the motorsports world over the last few months which has taken the attention away from the playoffs. I mean just look at how busy this past week alone was.

At some point, the news cycle has to start slowing and allowing the focus to turn on the on track activity. It can’t just happen on weekends only.

NASCAR is severely missing the boat right now.

A lot of this is self-inflicted. We’re talking tires. We’re talking fires. We’re talking safety. We’re talking injuries. We’re talking penalties. We’re talking 2023 schedules and upcoming driver lineups. What we’re not talking about is how we’ve seen 4 non-playoff drivers win all 4 races so far and the championship being as wide open now as ever before.

I mean Sunday is the penultimate race of the Round of 12. Name me the Championship front runner right now, let alone the top drivers who can make the Championship 4.

You can’t. It’s that wide open. It’s also not being discussed either.

FORT WORTH, TEXAS – SEPTEMBER 25: Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, spins into the wall after an on-track incident that Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, avoids during the NASCAR Cup Series Auto Trader EchoPark Automotive 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on September 25, 2022 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

That’s because we head into each week with a fresh slate but by the end of it we’re not even talking about the upcoming race.

This week we started talking about the tire debacle from Texas and what needs to be better. A day later the onus was on officiating and penalties. That debate stayed around for the next 24 hours in the news cycle. Then came Thursday to where Alex Bowman announced he was sitting out this weekend’s race due to concussion like symtoms.

Did anything of this week come out of it to gear us towards Talladega?

What about going into Texas? It was the tires and power steering problems from Bristol. There was more penalty talk about Ryan Blaney. The only thing discussed on Texas was that challenges lied ahead.

What about going into Bristol? It was more geared towards Kyle Busch moving from JGR to RCR and what that means for Tyler Reddick and KBM. It was the 2023 schedules being released and Jeremy Clements’ Daytona win being reinstated. It was Brandon Jones moving from JGR to JRM. More about next season than this actual season itself.

Moral of the story here is the storylines in the most important part of NASCAR’s season aren’t for playoffs. It’s outside of that.

Which is why I feel like the fact that the most commodious season in NASCAR history is being wasted by problems, drama and 2023.

It’s a shame. However, we have 5 weeks left and a chance to rectify this moving forward. Make the news cycles less busy and let the attention go back to the playoffs. That’s why you did this in the first place.

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