It’s a good thing that the top five of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoff standings hold commanding leads over the playoff bubble in the Round of 12. See, Kyle Larson knows that he’s going to advance to the Round of 8 by virtue of his win last Sunday in Dover. But, if he didn’t win, then he’d join the group of very nervous race car drivers for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the Talladega Superspeedway.
This weekend is the ultimate wildcard of the playoffs. It’s a race weekend where all 40 drivers have an equal shot at victory.
It’s also why the second through fifth place drivers are enjoying their 40+ points lead on ninth place.
Martin Truex sits second in the standings, but hasn’t had a top 10 finish at Talladega since 2015. He was fifth in the spring race that year (2015) and seventh in the playoff race as well. That fifth place run is still his only top five at Dega since 2007.
His last six Talladega finishes have seen him come home 20th or worse. He was 20th in May and 23rd in this race last year. In fact, his last five playoff races at Talladega have seen him finish – 27th, seventh, 40th, 23rd and 23rd respectively.
Kyle Busch is a past Talladega winner. But, that victory was way back in 2008. In fact, Busch surprisingly hasn’t won this season since June 2. Out of his last 13 starts, he’s scored just four top five finishes in his No. 18 Toyota.
Busch, finished 10th at Talladega back in April but that and two top five finishes in the 2016 and 2017 spring races are the only top 10 finishes he’s had on the 2.66-mile oval since 2014.
His last five playoff races at Talladega have seen him finish – 40th, 11th, 30th, 27th and 26th respectively. With Toyota’s struggling with the tapered spacer package, I don’t expect much out of Busch on Sunday.
That means his teammate Denny Hamlin may be out too. He’s only had three top fives at Talladega since 2010 but one of which was a fourth place run in last year’s race. Six of his last 10 starts on the high speed oval have been ninth or worse.
Toyota had just one car in the top 18 of the Spring race at Talladega back in April. They had just two cars (8th, 14th) in the top 21 of the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona back in July.
Toyota also has just one Dega victory since 2009 and only three overall.
Then there’s Kevin Harvick. He’s +42 on the playoff bubble but has finished 20th or worse in four of his last five Talladega starts. Also, he has one top five finish on the track since the playoff race at Talladega in 2011.
Half of his last 24 Talladega starts have seen him finish 20th or worse.
These are the top five of the points standings.
Brad Keselowski is sixth and should be a favorite, but he’s been involved in a lot of incidents on superspeedway’s lately. Keselowski’s last three superspeedway finishes are 12th, 13th and 39th respectively. He finished 32nd, 33rd, 36th and 27th in the four races last year. Furthermore, eight of his last 12 superspeedway starts have seen him finish 30th or worse.
Alex Bowman is seventh in the standings but has three top six finishes in his last four races on the season and was runner-up in the spring race. His teammate William Byron is eighth in the standings but has shown a ton of speed on superspeedway’s this year. Their other teammate Chase Elliott is 11th in the standings but won the spring race at Talladega.
Joey Logano is last in the Round of 12 standings but has six top five finishes in his last eight tries on superspeedway’s including being very strong at Talladega. He was fourth back in April, fifth in this race last year. He won the spring race in 2018.He has five top five finishes in his last six Talladega starts overall and ha sled at least 10 laps in five of those six races as well.
He’s even been good at Talladega in the XFINITY Series in scoring seven top three finishes in eight tries, two of which being wins and three more being runner-ups.
Also, since 2015, Logano has five wins and four runner-ups on superspeedway’s in NASCAR’s premiere series.
That’s four of the six drivers from seventh through 12th that could shine Sunday instead which would only tighten this playoff field up even further heading to Kansas next weekend.