5 burning questions for Sunday’s GEICO 500 (3 p.m ET, FOX, MRN)

Should Condensed Weekend Remain?

Like we saw in Atlanta, this weekend’s GEICO 500 (3 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN) is another shortened race weekend. No practice will occur as the drivers will just qualify on Saturday (10:30 a.m. ET, FS1, MRN) then race on Sunday. While I get the notion that a lot of fans don’t favor less track time, it’s nearly unanimous in the garage that these type of race weekends on superspeedway’s need to stay.

These guys don’t know how to control themselves in the draft in practice. More times than not, there’d always end up being a practice crash. Instead, crew chiefs had their drivers focus on single car runs or run a few laps with teammates in a tow. Others never even came out of the garage.

So, what’s the point of wasting everyone’s time with practice on these tracks? The only reason that they do so in Daytona back in February is because it’s the season opener and also the biggest race. Still, they qualified and ran the Duels without any practice prior.

Friday and Saturday’s sessions were more of a formality than anything. Over half of the field elected to skip them.

Which is why I’m okay with just showing up to qualify and race at Talladega. In fact, I think you could even make it a little simpler and just qualify an hour or two before the race on Sunday and make this a one-day show. Fans can still come Friday night to camp and stay Saturday for the Xfinity Series show and already be in the campgrounds for the Cup race on Sunday.

The teams can save tons of money and just fly in on race day.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 02: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Fluke Winner?

In an era now that’s been full of fluke winners, you’d think we’d see another one Sunday at the Talladega Superspeedway. 10 of the last 20 superspeedway race winners in Cup competition having earned either their first or second career victories.

Will Sunday’s GEICO 500 produce another longer shot?

It seems like every time we go to a superspeedway that we have to talk about the potential for fluke winners too. In reality though, the wiser bets for Talladega are on the usual suspects that normally run up front instead of the hot longshot.

Since 1995, we’ve really only seen what you could consider seven “fluke” winners at the Talladega Superspeedway. That’s seven in the last 56 races on the 2.66-mile high banked oval. Even out of those seven, a few aren’t all that flukish after all.

Bobby Hamilton’s win was. Brian Vickers’ win in 2006 would fall under that category as well. Brad Keselowski’s win in 2009 would too 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 and most recently the Daytona 500. Same for Aric Almirola’s in 2018 as both of his wins have come on superspeedway’s as well.

Bubba Wallace won the 2021 Fall race but it’s not like he’s been terrible on these tracks either. He was running second on the final lap at Atlanta, finished second in 2 of the last 4 Daytona races and won at Talladega. Ross Chastain’s win last year could be seen as one, but he made the Championship 4 last year so I struggle to say his wins are flukes.

That’s it.

Also, just 8 times since 1995 has a driver earned their first or second career wins at Talladega, including 2 of which coming in the last 3 tries.

Bubba Wallace in the Fall of 2021 was just the 12th driver to pick up his 1st career win at Talladega joining Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2017), Brad Keselowski (2009), Brian Vickers (2006), Ken Schrader (1988), Phil Parsons (1988), Davey Allison (1987), Bobby Hillin Jr. (1986), Ron Bouchard (1981), Lennie Pond (1978), Dick Brooks (1973) and Richard Brickhouse (1969).

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. The last three Daytona 500 victors have combined to win 5 career Cup races with 2 of the last 3 having their Daytona win as their only current win in general.

For the Coke Zero Sugar 400, three of the last six 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)

The fluke winners come at Daytona for whatever reason, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case for Talladega.

I mean even under this win and advance playoff format that first debuted in 2014, 8 of the 9 playoff winners were playoff drivers.

So, if you’re looking for a wise wager on Sunday’s race, I’d throw money the way of the favorites. They’re favorites for a reason and it’s paid off here.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 02: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Will Trend Of Different Winner Hold True?

We’ve seen a lot of parity at Daytona/Talladega lately. In the last 13 races on them, we’ve seen 11 different winners including 10 straight. Denny Hamlin and William Byron won at Daytona in 2020. Ryan Blaney and Hamlin won that year at Talladega. In 2021, it was Michael McDowell and Blaney in Daytona with Brad Keselowski and Bubba Wallace in Talladega.

Last year, we saw Austin Cindric (2021 Daytona 500), Ross Chastain (Talladega last year), Austin Dillon (Coke Zero Sugar 400 last year), Chase Elliott (Talladega Last Fall) with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Daytona 500) win the last 7 Daytona and Talladega races.

However, this streak has got to end at some point as we’re running out of fluke drivers to reach victory lane.

In 2020, that was Byron’s first win. For 2021, McDowell and Wallace each scored first career wins. Last year, Cindric was a first time winner. Stenhouse now has three career wins. Chastain has two.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 02: Ryan Blaney, driver of the #12 MenardsDutch Boy Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 02, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Is There Still An Art To Superspeedway Racing?

One thing that’s been a noticeable trend at the annual Daytona and Talladega stops now is that most of the top drivers in the sport struggle on these tracks.

Daytona hasn’t had a NASCAR Cup Series champion win there since the 2017 Daytona 500 (Kurt Busch). In fact, the only driver to have won a championship in this playoff era that we’re in now (since 2014) and a race at Daytona since 2011 even is Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson.

That’s it.

Kevin Harvick won the 2014 Cup Series title but since that season, he’s 0-for-37 at Daytona/Talladega. He does have 3 wins but that came in 88 starts.

Kyle Busch won the 2015 and 2019 Cup titles. Since 2014, he’s also 0-for-37.

Jimmie Johnson took home the championship in 2016. He’s not won in that same time frame with his last Daytona win coming in 2013 and Talladega in 2011.

Martin Truex Jr. (2017 champion) has never won a superspeedway race. He’s 0-for-72 with only 6 career top 5’s in those races.

Joey Logano (2018 champion) probably has the most success with a 2015 Daytona 500 win and 3 Talladega victories. However, his last win came in the spring race of 2018 too.

Chase Elliott (2020 champion) has 2 wins (spring Talladega in 2019, Fall Talladega in 2022) while Kyle Larson (2021 champion) is like Truex in that he’s winless in 34 career starts on them himself with just 1 top 5 finish.

As you can see, the champions of the sport aren’t thriving on these tracks which in turn has opened the door for others to steal wins away.

Which leads to the question, is there an art to superspeedway racing anymore? In the past, you’d see names like Earnhardt, Gordon, Irvan, Jarrett, Marlin and a handful of others win these races. They made it look almost easy on how dominant they were.

Some say Earnhardt could see the air which is why he was so good as maneuvering his way through the draft.

But now-a-days, it’s almost like it’s a lottery to win one of these races. There’s a higher chance of getting caught up in a crash than there is winning, let alone even finishing a race at these places.

Is it a byproduct of all these big named drivers racing up front then all crashing together? That’s part of it. But they know the rules going in and they know that you have to be there in the end to win it.

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Joey Logano has asked before. “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.”

Did stage points on the line affect it?

Could be. It would make a lot of sense because up until that point, it was Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and a few others winning these races. Since really 2016 on, outside of Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney, the names you’re seeing winning these races are Justin Haley, Michael McDowell, Austin Cindric, Austin Dillon, William Byron, Erik Jones, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ross Chastain, Chase Elliott and Bubba Wallace.

Are they just playing the game better than the rest? Are they more skilled even? Or is this just a product now that when we go to these tracks it takes way more luck than it does skill?

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want,” said Daniel Suarez. “You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

In the past, no one would argue that restrictor plate racing was an art. It was like dirt racing. The best always had an advantage. Now, it’s almost like it’s so even that there is no advantage when coming here. It’s the same opportunity for everyone.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 25: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, Alex Bowman, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, and William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, spin into the infield grass during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 25, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

How Much Does Daytona/Atlanta Translate Over To Talladega?

This is something that we’ll have to watch on Sunday. In the past, Daytona and Talladega were the only superspeedway’s on the schedule. Atlanta has now joined the fray. That, plus the Next Gen debuting last year, how much corresponds between the three superspeedways?

Daytona is a smaller Talladega with it being 2.5-miles in length compared to 2.66-miles at Talladega. The track in Talladega is much wider and can fit 3-4 wide where Daytona is a stretch getting much more than 2 lanes.

Atlanta is a mini version of both being a full mile shorter. It leads to action happening a lot faster without much time to react. So, how much can you take away results and speed at those tracks and carry them over to Talladega?

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is a past Talladega winner. All three of his Cup wins have come on superspeedway’s including this past year’s Daytona 500. However, Stenhouse’s last five Talladega finishes overall are 38th, 33rd, 16th, 30th and 22nd respectively.

Joey Logano was second in the Daytona 500 to Stenhouse, won his Duel and won Atlanta from the pole. He’s also a three-time Talladega winner. However, four of his last five Talladega finishes have also seen him finish 26th or worse too with just one Top-10 finish in his last six here.

Christopher Bell was second in his Duel in Daytona, third in the Daytona 500 and had a good car in Atlanta. His spring Talladega finishes are: 29th, 17th and 22nd respectively.

Alex Bowman was fifth in the Daytona 500 but has only one top five in 14 career Talladega starts too. Two of his last three Talladega results have been in 38th place.

How much of those finishes translates over to Talladega?

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