1000Bulbs.com 500 Race Preview

The most feared race of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs is now upon us. The annual fall stop at the Talladega Superspeedway will take place this Sunday for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

It will be the penultimate race of the Round of 12, meaning that Sunday’s race will really separate the drivers who have realistic shots at this year’s championship to the ones that won’t.

How To Tune In

Coverage – 2 p.m. ET

TV – NBC

Radio – MRN

Distance – 188 Laps/500.08 Miles

Stage Lengths – 55/55/78

Track – Talladega Superspeedway

Defending Race Winner – Aric Almirola

Playoffs – RD 2, Race 2

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
TALLADEGA, AL – APRIL 29: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil/Autotrader Ford, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 29, 2018 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Logano Facing Uncertainty

The last time a driver went back-to-back in terms of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championships was Jimmie Johnson during his five year reign from 2006 through 2010. In the eight years since, seven different drivers have all won titles. Johnson, is the only repeat winner (2013, 2016) in that time frame.

Furthermore, since 1995, Jeff Gordon (1997, 1998) and Johnson (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010) are the only ones to earn back-to-back Cup titles.

Joey Logano was hoping to be just the third driver in the last 24 years to do so this season. Unfortunately, following a strong opening half of the year, he doesn’t look like a legitimate championship contender anymore.

Logano, had eight top five finishes and 11 top 10 finishes during the first 15 races of the 2019 season. Out of those eight top fives, two of them were wins. He was a prime candidate to earn another championship in his No. 22 Ford.

But, since his victory on June 10 at the Michigan International Speedway, Logano has been anything but. Out of the last 15 races, he’s scored just two top five finishes overall. He’s also only put his Team Penske Ford in the top 10 in only six races.

Last Sunday, his rear axel broke before the race even began at the Dover International Speedway. They’d spend the first 23 laps of the Drydene 400 behind the wall making repairs. He’d finish 34th for his seventh race outside of the top 10 in the last 10 tries.

He went from +24 in the playoff standings to in a tie for the final spot that advances to the third round. Now, Talladega is looming. It could get even worse. Logano, said from the media center last weekend at Dover that he hoped to get off to a better start in the Round of 12 because he knows there’s only a 50-50 chance of even finishing the race at Talladega.

“We definitely used our mulligan,” Logano said of his finish at Dover. “We used the playoff points we accumulated, we just have to be perfect now. We have two really good race tracks coming up though. Talladega is arguably one of our best race tracks and I would say Kansas is as well. We just have to be perfect from here.”

Luckily for Logano, he’s been a very good superspeedway racer.

Logano, 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.

While that’s all good, there’s still the chance he could get taken out in someone else’s mess. That always weighs on every race car drivers’ mind heading to Daytona or Talladega.

He should have a shot though as Ford has won five straight years in the Talladega Fall race, four of which seeing a Penske driver celebrating in victory lane.

If Logano wants to avoid being the first defending champion to not make it out of the second round under this new playoff format adopted in 2014, he needs to finish in the top five on Sunday to give himself a chance at Kansas. That’s a place he finished 15th at in May and has three finishes of 15th or worse in his last five tries there too.

Elliott Eyeing Talladega Sweep

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
TALLADEGA, AL – APRIL 28: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew/Little Caesar’s Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 28, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The chips were lining up for Chase Elliott to have a dominating Round of 12. Elliott, won the final race of the first round on the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. Then, on the three second round tracks, Elliott was the defending race winner on two of them (Dover, Kansas) and won the spring race (Talladega) on the other one.

But, his engine went sour just seven laps into last Sunday’s race at Dover which cost him his worst finish in eight career starts on the high banked Delaware race track. Now, he’s in a seven point hole heading into the penultimate race of the second round at Talladega.

Luckily for Elliott, he and Chevrolet dominated the spring race on the 2.66-mile superspeedway. Elliott, won while his teammate Alex Bowman finished second. In fact, the bowties crossed the finish line 1-2-3-5-6.

He’ll need that type of performance to avoid being eliminated in this round next Sunday. In fact, Elliott is embracing the pressure over the next two weeks. He thinks it’s a good test for Homestead.

“I assume we’ll have to win one of these next few weeks,” Elliott said of his situation right now. “If you ever make it to Homestead, you’re going to have to win down there. I guess it’s a good opportunity to practice here these next few weeks.”

No one has swept both Cup races at Talladega in the same season though since Jeff Gordon in 2007. Dale Earnhardt Jr. did so in 2002 as well. Only three times has it happened since 1990 too.

The numbers aren’t on Elliott’s side for a repeat in his No. 9 Chevrolet. He’s struggled in his three Fall race starts at Talladega with finishes of 12th, 16th and 31st respectively. That could make Kansas a must win. Luckily for Elliott, he has three top four finishes in his last four Kansas starts.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500
TALLADEGA, AL – OCTOBER 15: Brad Keselowski, driver of the #2 Miller Lite Ford, celebrates after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 15, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Keselowski Once The Superspeedway King, But Will He Back Up July’s Message?

Poll anyone and they’d say that Brad Keselowski is the superspeedway king. While he has arguably the most talent in the field, he has also grown frustrated with how the new racing on these tracks have become which has left him sending messages.

In the 2018 Coke Zero Sugar 400, Keselowski was running up front but was collected in a big crash early on in the race when he tried to avoid a blocking William Byron. That sparked a melee in Turn 3.

In final practice this past July at Daytona, the two came together again, this time it was Keselowski backing up his words at Daytona after his crash a year ago.

With about 15 minutes to go in final practice that day, Keselowski got into the left rear quarter panel of Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet in Turn 3 which sent Byron’s car out of control. Luckily, Byron was able to keep control of his car enough to not come back up the banking and take several other drivers out. But, it was a move that look intentional on Keselowski’s behalf.

Why make a move like he did in practice? Well, go back to last year, remember?

Byron was leading last year’s race but switching lanes from top to bottom. He moved low to block Keselowski, an incident that ended with the No. 2 Ford spinning high and smashing the wall.

“I need to wreck more people so they’ll stop throwing bad blocks,” Keselowski said that night.

On the Fourth of July incident, Keselowski blamed Byron for putting him in that exact same position again, this time, Keselowski didn’t back down.

“Just had a big run,” Keselowski told NBCSN when he brought his car back to the garage. “He put me in a position where I had to lift, and I keep telling these guys I’m not lifting. Just trying to send a message. I’m not lifting.

“I’m tired of getting wrecked at these (superspeedway) tracks,” he added. “They’re all watching. They know. I’ve been put in positions these last few plate races – not just by William (Byron) but a handful of other people too where I’ve had to make a decision to risk myself on being loaded up on the trailer and watching the end of the race or drive through the guy in front of me. I’ve been too conservative and ended up watching too many of these plate races from the back of the trailer and that is not the responsible thing to do for my team. I’m not going to do that anymore. I’ve made that commitment. If you’re going to make that commitment, then you make that commitment today and make that commitment in the race as well.”

Will those words come back this weekend?

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.

Keselowski, heads to Talladega this weekend with some momentum. He’s scored five top five finishes in his No. 2 Ford in the last seven races including eight top 10’s over the last 11 races overall.

He is +20 in the standings right now.

If he wants to avoid being eliminated in the Round of 12, he needs a solid result on Sunday. Luckily for Keselowski, he won at Kansas back in May, the site of next weekend’s elimination race. but, that’s just his second top five on the 1.5-mile race track since 2012 too.

Johnson Looking To Keep Momentum Going

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 - Practice
DOVER, DE – MAY 04: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Ally Chevrolet, drives during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Gander RV 400 at Dover International Speedway on May 4, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

Last Friday, Ally announced that they had reached an agreement to remain as a sponsor with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2023 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. Jimmie Johnson, the one that Ally sponsors, wouldn’t commit though past his current contract ending after 2021.

But, if he keeps running like this, I bet he’ll stay through at least 2023. Johnson, is on the verge of breaking out of his 89 race winless drought as I can see him pulling his No. 48 Chevrolet back into victory lane soon.

“Talladega is kind of its own animal,” Johnson said of this weekend’s race. “I think Kansas we’re really excited for and feel like we can control our own destiny. The high downforce tracks, the Hendrick cars have been more competitive. I know we are all excited to get back to Kansas and build off of what we’ve had the last month or two.”

Last Sunday in Dover, Johnson would finish eighth in the Drydene 400. It was his ninth top 10 in his last 13 starts on the Monster Mile. He also has 11 career wins at Dover and looked like the top non playoff driver for a majority of the race.

Johnson, was second quickest on the 10 lap average chart in both practices on Friday and qualified his car 11th. He finished seventh in the opening stage and fifth in the second one. He only faded to eighth but said that he was bummed because he thought that his car had race winning potential.

“I felt like we had a shot,” said Johnson. “When we were in clean air, our lap times were great. Just as everyone experienced, it was really tough to pass. We had a few things that set us back and lost track position throughout the day. But we had a really fast race car. We were able to pass some, which I don’t think many could pass at all. All in all, it was a good day. We ran better than eighth for most of it, but we just couldn’t finish higher.”

Despite that eighth place run, Johnson was left wanting more.

“No, I mean we’re here to win the race and that’s where my heart and mind is.” said Johnson on if he’s satisfied with his finish. “Throughout the day, I felt like we did have pace at times to run for the lead if we could just cycle through all the pit stops to get there. Unfortunately, we had some things happen on pit road. I had to avoid cars coming out of stalls and it just set me back. Coming in fourth and coming out ninth, I think the way it all worked out with the pit box location, I lost positions during each pit stop. So, just really tough to recover from that. I’m disappointed there, but in my heart, I know we’re going the right way.”

But, this is the Johnson we’re used to seeing. He finished 11th in Las Vegas, 10th in Richmond, ninth in Charlotte on the ROVAL and now eighth at Dover. Trends say a seventh place finish is coming next Sunday in Talladega.

Byron Looking To Capitalize On Talladega Speed

William Byron had a big missed opportunity last Sunday at the Dover International Speedway. The second year driver started the Drydene 400 in sixth and had a top five car for the first half of the race. Byron, was in the top five in the first stage and was running there in Stage 2 before getting hit with a pit road speeding penalty in their lone stop of the second stage.

Instead of being in the top five, he was outside the top 10, one lap down. He’d never rebound and come home 13th. Still, despite that, he made up five points on the playoff bubble and heads to the Talladega Superspeedway this weekend tied with defending series champion Joey Logano for the eighth and final spot that advances to the next round.

“That was a bummer for sure,” Byron said on his Dover penalty. “We had a pretty good car. We couldn’t really make many passes, but we were able to get from the back after having to start pretty close to the tail end. It just really hurt our day. But overall, the guys did a good job and got out of here with a decent points day, I guess. We’ll just have to go on strong next week.”

While Talladega is always a concern for the playoff drivers, Byron is keeping a positive vibe for the 1000Bulbs.com 500. Hendrick cars finished 1-2 on the 2.66-mile superspeedway back in late April and were 2-3 in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway in July.

“Our cars are always fast at Talladega, so we’ll just have to go there, lay it out there and see what happens,” said Byron of this weekend’s race.

Byron, is trending in the right direction and has had fast race cars himself. If he can get a top five on Sunday, he’ll be in good shape.

Bowman Looking To Keep Momentum Going

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
TALLADEGA, AL – APRIL 28: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 Mountain Dew/Little Caesar’s Chevrolet, and Aric Almirola, driver of the #10 Smithfield Ford, lead Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota, and Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 28, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

No one predicted Alex Bowman would advance out of the first round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs. The Hendrick Motorsports driver had one top 10 finish in the last nine races of the regular season. Furthermore, he had one top five result over the final 14 races.

But, once he got into the postseason, his No. 88 Chevrolet team has turned things around. He heads to the Talladega Superspeedway on the heels of three top six finishes in four tries during the playoffs.

Bowman, was sixth in Vegas, second on the Charlotte ROVAL and now runner-up last weekend in Dover. That has him +17 in the playoff standings with just two races remaining in the Round of 12.

With how he’s running right now, it would be shocking to see Bowman left out of the third round of the Cup playoffs.

At Talladega, he finished runner-up to his teammate Chase Elliott back in April and has two top eight finishes in his last three tries.

Talladega Could Be Truex Jr’s Mulligan

It’s no secret, Martin Truex Jr. isn’t a good superspeedway racer. He’s actually never won a race at either Daytona or Talladega before on the Cup level. That’s why he’s proud to be sitting +63 in the playoff standings heading into Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 at the Talladega Superspeedway.

More than likely, Truex will need a mulligan this weekend. Being that many points up, he will more than certainly leave the 2.66-mile Alabama oval on Sunday evening on the good side of the playoff standings with one race to go in the Round of 12. But, just how far up is the question.

Truex hasn’t had a top 10 finish at Talladega since 2015. He was fifth in the spring race that year and seventh in the playoff race. That fifth place run is his only top five at Dega since 2007.

His last six Talladega finishes have all been 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.

Luckily, he’s finished in the top two in three of the four playoff races run this season, so a finish of 20th or worse shouldn’t affect him too much.

mencs_dis_kbusch_jgibbs_100619
Kyle Busch chats with Joe Gibbs before last weekend’s race at Dover

Harvick/Busch May Need Mulligans Too

Kyle Busch is a past Talladega winner. But, that victory was way back in 2008. In fact, Busch surprisingly hasn’t won on the season since June 2. Out of his last 13 starts, he’s scored just four top five finishes in his No. 18 Toyota.

Now, it’s onto Talladega Superspeedway for the penultimate race of the Round of 12. Busch, is still sitting pretty good in the playoff standings as he’s +48 right now. That’s enough margin to have a safety net for this weekend’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.

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.

They 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. Busch, may need a mulligan this weekend.

So could 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.

Good thing both drivers have enough playoff points in the bank to potentially weather the Talladega storm.

Larson Feeling Relieved Going To Talladega – Goal Is Playoff Points Now

12 drivers had one main goal in their minds heading into last Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the Dover International Speedway – finish in the top five. See, you don’t want to go to this weeks race at the Talladega Superspeedway needing to make up points.

Talladega is a place where it can bite you up and spit you out as quickly as anywhere else on the schedule. Everybody is on a level playing field which means anyone can get caught up in someone else’s mess just as easy.

mencs_dis_klarsonflag_100619

Kyle Larson takes the checkered flag in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Dover

It’s the ultimate wildcard race.

That’s why everyone is enviable of Kyle Larson’s position heading into Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN/SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Larson’s win at Dover means he knows he’s already into the Round of 8. It doesn’t matter what he does this week at Dover or next week at Kansas, he’s going to still be competing for this year’s championship in three weeks at Martinsville.

“It’s really critical,” Larson said of his win at Dover. “Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega except for me, so that’s good.”

Larson, notes that the last time he raced at Talladega in April, he ended up flipping on the last lap. In 11 starts, his average finish on the 2.66-mile superspeedway is 20.6. He’s crashed in two of his last three starts.

“You know, last time I was at Talladega I was on my lid, and I mean, I could still end up on my lid next week, but it’s not going to matter after this win,” Larson continued.

The main thing for him now is to just keep the momentum going. He’s earned a top eight finish in eight of his last 10 tries. With the deficit he’s sure to be in at the start of the third round, he also needs to make up as much ground as he can and the only way to do that is to earn more playoff points.

There’s 14 more on the line over the next two weeks, five for each race win (10 total) and one for each stage victory (4 total). If Larson can tap into that allotment, his championship chances only go up.

tss1_mencs_stenhouseprac_042619
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama.

Roush/Fenway Racing Could Be Sleepers

Don’t count out either Roush/Fenway Racing car this weekend at Talladega. Yes, Ryan Newman has been eliminated from championship contention and yes Ricky Stenhouse Jr. still has a bad taste in his mouth with how things ended for him with RFR, but both will be factors in Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Stenhouse, has six more races in his tenure with RFR. If he’s going to win a race going away for them, Talladega is just the spot. The Mississippi native earned his first career Cup win on this very 2.66-mile oval in 2017. He backed that up with another victory at Daytona that year just a few months later.

Stenhouse, has four top five finishes in his last six Talladega starts in his No. 17 Ford. He led 16 laps back in April’s race.

He will have drafting help fro his teammate in Newman too. The Indiana native has three top 10 finishes in his last four Talladega starts including being seventh in his No. 6 Ford in the spring race.

RFR could steal a win and some momentum Sunday in Alabama.

Chevy Superspeedway Strength With Tapered Spacers?

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 - Practice
TALLADEGA, AL – APRIL 26: Kurt Busch, driver of the #1 Monster Energy Chevrolet, leads a pack of cars during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 26, 2019 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Prior to the tapered spacers being used on the Cup cars, the Ford’s had the most power on restrictor plate tracks. Ford drivers had won three straight spring races at Talladega and has also won five consecutive years in the Fall race too.

But, will that streak come to an end on Sunday?

It already came to an end back in April when Chase Elliott won the GEICO 500 on the 2.66-mile Alabama oval. Chevy drivers took five of the top six finishing spots that day. That was the first race with the tapered spacer on a superspeedway.

The return trip to Daytona in July was with the tapered spacer too as the Daytona 500 run back in February was with the old package. Chevy took spots 1-2-3-4 in the rain shortened event.

Now, will they dominate again on Sunday in the third and final superspeedway race of the season with the tapered spacer?

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
TALLADEGA, AL – MAY 07: Cars race during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Toyota’s May Struggle

It’s no secret, Toyota’s haven’t fared well on superspeedway’s with the tapered spacer. They 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.

Now, can they fare better in Sunday’s race on the 2.66-mile high speed Alabama oval?

Trends say, no.

Toyota has just one Dega victory since 2009 and only three overall. That could be shocking to some seeing that they finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500 back in February. But, the ‘500 was run with the old restrictor plate package.

They’ll need to work together but their disadvantage is the lack of numbers. They’ll have five legitimate cars that can vie for the win. Ford and Chevy will have over 30 between them.

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500
TALLADEGA, AL – MAY 07: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Fifth Third Bank Ford, leads the field past the green flag to start the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 7, 2017 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Ford Drivers Feel A Disadvantage On Superspeedway’s Now

Once upon a time, superspeedway racing was dominated by the blue ovals. See, the Ford’s in Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action were the ones to beat whenever we showed up to Daytona and Talladega.

When the Toyota’s hooked up in the Daytona 500, the Ford drivers took notice. They figured that if they all team up, then they have strength in numbers. They already had the raw speed, but lineup and work together, then watch out.

Between 2016 and 2018, Ford drivers had won three straight years in the spring race at Talladega. They’ve also won five straight fall races on the 2.66-mile superspeedway too.

In Daytona, Ford drivers have won the Daytona 500 twice between 2015 and 2018. In the Coke Zero Sugar 400, they won three times in the last five years.

But, 2019 has been different. Teams figured out their plan and made it work against them.

In February, the Hendrick Motorsports drivers decided to team up with Joe Gibbs Racing and have eight combined cars to challenge the Ford’s. It panned out.

JGR and Toyota would finish 1-2-3 for the Daytona 500.

At Talladega in April, HMS would finish 1-2 while Chevy overall came home 1-2-3 and took five of the top six overall.

In July’s rain delayed Coke Zero 400, the Ford drivers teamed up early and appeared to have their groove back. At one point in Stage 1, they were running 1-2-3-4-5-6-7. By Lap 50 (end of Stage 1) they finished 1-2-3-4 and had six of the top seven finishers overall.

But, everything went up in smoke not too long after.

Lap 84 in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 saw six Ford’s involved in a crash on the front stretch. Among those six were Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Suarez. Those are some heavy hitters.

Then, on the Lap 118 “Big One” in Turn 1, we saw four more cars collected including Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Logano again.

Despite the incidents, the Ford drivers still don’t think they have enough to compete for wins on superspeedway’s right now.

“We just don’t right now have the speed that I think the Toyota’s and Chevy’s do on the plate tracks,” said Brad Keselowski that day. “We’ve been on the other side of that too, where we were faster than them and able to dominate these races. It’s just part of the cycle.”

“I’m not sure what we’re missing. I don’t know.”

Also, because they’re all working together, a small mistake can take out several cars within a manufacturer.

“Yeah there’s definitely some truth to that,” Keselowski continued. “But, we have to work together if we’re gonna keep up with those other guys. They can just run like a tenth or two faster than we can. Our only shot, really, is to be a band of brothers and I thought the Ford guys did a pretty good job of trying to do that. It just didn’t work out.”

Keselowski, isn’t the only one who thinks that too.

“It’s a double edged sword,” said David Ragan. “I feel like our Ford Mustangs were all fast and when we can work together, it elevates the whole team and that’s a good thing. But, when someone makes a mistake or someone hits the wall or someone wrecks, you take out three or four cars. So, that sucks.

“This is just a product of Daytona and Talladega. I used to take it personal and get all mad and frustrated but it is what it is. I’ve wrecked in the front. I’ve wrecked in the back. When you’re running in big packs like that, big wrecks happen.”

Ford has won seven of the last eight at Talladega and eight of the last 10. Lets see what happens on Sunday.

Manufacturer Teamwork

Speaking of drivers working together, will Talladega be another superspeedway race to where it’s Toyota vs. Chevrolet vs. Ford? See, the Fords worked together to perfection in the Fall race at Talladega last year. Stewart-Haas Racing executed the draft as perfectly as one could.

That made others take notice.

During Speedweeks, everyone knew that Fords had strength in numbers. If they all teamed up again, which they tried to do so, they’d be tough to stop. In order to slow them down, Chevy and Toyota had to work together and try to separate the Ford’s up front. If you let them all take the high line and line up in a draft together, it would be game over.

So, Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing set up an alliance. Yes, two rival manufacturers in Chevy and Toyota worked together to break up the Ford party. It worked too.

JGR finished 1-2-3 in the Daytona 500.

But, Chevy was somewhat mad at that too though. They prefer their teams to work together and not to help the Toyota’s. So much so, a prerace meeting before the Talladega race in the spring between all Chevy teams and drivers took place.

It paid off.

Hendrick Motorsports finished 1-2 at Talladega in April and saw Chevy take the top three spots and five of the top six overall.

Toyota’s don’t have the numbers to hang. They will have six cars max in the field but five of which with a chance to win. If Chevy and Ford don’t work with them, then it’s an up hill battle for them to win.

Manufacturers and how they work together will be key to watch this weekend.

Spoilers

With this being a playoff race but only 12 drivers still being championship eligible, Sunday could be an event that sees a non playoff driver victorious. If so, a few drivers come to mind.

Aric Almirola is always good on superspeedway tracks. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver hasn’t won since this race last year and hasn’t had a top 10 since Daytona back in July, but his No. 10 Ford should be strong on Sunday. Almirola, has seven top 10 finishes in his last eight superspeedway starts including six consecutive top 10 finishes at Talladega.

Kurt Busch could be a contender too. He should have won the July race at Daytona and has six top 10 finishes in his last eight Talladega starts. He was sixth back in April.

Ty Dillon could be a factor too. He was sixth in the Daytona 500 and fourth in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 too.

Don’t sleep on Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He’s searching for a ride next year and what better audition than earning his third career win, two of which being on this race track. Stenhouse, was fifth and third respectively at Talladega last year and has four top five finishes in his last six Talladega tries.

David Ragan is always a threat too.

haley-hero-625x340
Justin Haley all smiles after getting out of his car for a weather delay at the Daytona International Speedway back in July

Fluke Winner? More Likely At Daytona Than Talladega

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

Since 1995, we’ve really only seen what you could consider six “fluke” winners at the Talladega Superspeedway. That’s six in the last 49 races on the 2.66-mile high banked oval. Even out of those six, a few aren’t all that flukish after all.

Bobby Hamilton’s win back in 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. Same for Aric Almirola’s last year as both of his wins have come on superspeedway’s.

That’s it.

Just six times since 1995 has a driver earned their first or second career wins at Talladega.

What about Daytona? It’s the opposite actually.

They’ve had more fluke winners than Talladega in recent years. Just look at their recent winners in fact.

Justin Haley (1st career win) in July’s Coke Zero Sugar 400. Erik Jones (1st career win) in last year’s Coke Zero Sugar 400. Austin Dillon (2nd career win) in the 2018 Daytona 500. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (2nd career win) earned the 2017 Coke Zero Sugar 400 win. That’s four of the last five points paying Cup Series race winners at Daytona earning either their first or second career victory. Kurt Busch was kind of a fluke for the 2017 Daytona 500 race as that was his first career points paying restrictor plate victory.

Aric Almirola’s 2014 Coke Zero Sugar 400 triumph was his first career Cup win. Trevor Bayne and David Ragan each won their first career Cup races at Daytona in 2011.

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

So, if you’re looking for a wise wager on Sunday’s race, I’d throw money the way of the favorites.

The problem is, the top drivers in the points standings haven’t fared real well at Talladega or superspeedway’s in general recently.

Martin Truex hasn’t had a top 10 finish at Talladega since 2015. He was fifth in the spring race that year and seventh in the playoff race. That fifth place run is his only top five at Dega since 2007.

His last six Talladega finishes have all been 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 on the 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 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 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.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s