Photo: Stephen A. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 500 at Talladega Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Round One of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs had the Charlotte ROVAL as the big wild card and this weekend the wild card race of the second round of the Playoffs looms large as the series rolls into Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s running of the 500.

Racing at Talladega has always been crazy from the time the track opened back in 1969. From the driver boycott of the first race that led to unknown driver Richard Brickhouse scoring his one and only win in the Cup Series to all of the crazy finishes that have happened in the 50 years since.

To name a few, there was Ron Bouchard sneaking by Darrell Waltrip for the win in 1981, Bill Elliott making up two laps on the field in 1985 to win, Bobby Allison taking out a section of fencing but not going into the grandstand in 1987 to start the restrictor plate era, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. winning four Talladega races in a row, Brad Keselowski spinning Carl Edwards to win in 2009, Jimmie Johnson beating Clint Bowyer to the line by .002 seconds in 2011, and David Ragan taking his underdog Front Row Motorsports team to victory lane back in 2013, along with many others.

The point is, racing at Talladega is unpredictable and anyone in the field has a shot at the win as long as they can be in the right place at the right time. This weekend’s 500 should be no different, while there will be favorites, any of the cars still running in the closing laps could pull off the win. There’s a reason fans come from far and wide to witness racing at Talladega and that unpredictability is a big part of it.

By the Numbers

What: 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 31 of 36

Where: Talladega Superspeedway – Talladega, Alabama (Opened: 1969)

TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 pm ET / MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Channel 90

Track Size: 2.66-mile tri-oval (Turns banked 33 degrees, Tri-oval banked 16.5 degrees)

Race Length: 188 laps, 500.08 miles

Stage Lengths: 55 laps each (First two stages); 78 laps (Final stage)

May 2019 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started 11th, 45 laps led)

October 2018 Race Winner: Aric Almirola – No. 10 Ford (Started fourth, One lap led)

Track Qualifying Record: Bill Elliott – 44.998 seconds, 212.809 mph – April 30, 1987

Top-10 Highest Driver Rating at Talladega:

  1. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 93.4
  2. Kurt Busch – No. 1 Chevrolet – 90.5
  3. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 89.8
  4. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.0
  5. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 87.1
  6. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 86.7
  7. Daniel Hemric – No. 8 Chevrolet – 85.5
  8. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 17 Ford – 83.5
  9. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 83.2
  10. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 81.8

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Points Standings

  1. Kyle Larson (Locked into next round – Dover win)
  2. Martin Truex, Jr. (+63 over cut-off)
  3. Denny Hamlin (+48)
  4. Kyle Busch (+48
  5. Kevin Harvick (+42)
  6. Brad Keselowski (+20)
  7. Alex Bowman (+17)
  8. William Byron (Tied)
  9. Joey Logano (Tied)
  10. Clint Bowyer (-4 below cut-off)
  11. Chase Elliott (-7)
  12. Ryan Blaney (-22)

From the Driver’s Seat

“At Talladega, you’re literally freaking out, making knee-jerk-reaction decisions the whole race,” said Clint Bowyer. “You’re reacting to things that you don’t even remember. You’ll get out of the car at the end of the race and somebody’ll be like, ‘Man, that was an awesome move that won you the race!’ And you’re like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ There were at least 4,000 instances of what won that race or didn’t win that race.

“There’s so much going on inside the car, whether you’re listening to the spotter, or you’re looking at – as you’re listening to him, you’re following along to – that story in the mirror, right? You’re living it through the windshield. I mean, there are so many things that are going on, you just – you flat out – don’t take it all in. I mean, your brain is registering so many things that, at the end of the race, you don’t even remember half of it.”

Last Time at Talladega

Not since the days when the Earnhardt family reigned supreme on the restrictor plate tracks has a cheer from the crowd been as a loud as the one that echoed throughout the Talladega Superspeedway grandstands after Chase Elliott scored his first victory on the 2.66-mile superspeedway in the GEICO 500.

While Atlanta Motor Speedway is technically Elliott’s home track, being situated near his home town of Dawsonville, Georgia, the fans at Talladega made it clear their track is just as much a home for him as anywhere else, cheering wildly for their new favorite son each time he took the lead during the course of the 188-lap event, especially when he rocketed to the lead for the final time with four laps to go.

The son of 16-time Most Popular Driver and former Cup Series champion Bill Elliott has been popular in his own right since entering NASCAR, even winning his own Most Popular Driver Award last year, but his Talladega triumph took things to a whole new level, as the driver of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will admit.

“It was awesome,” Elliott said. “Just the post-race was unbelievable. I’ve never had a crowd just felt like in the palm of your hands is how it felt. You get excited, they get excited. You walk, they don’t say anything. You pump your arms up, they get pumped up. That’s just something that I’ve never really experienced. That’s one of the coolest moments I feel like of my racing career.

“It’s days like today, those moments, that you’ll cherish and never forget. Certainly I won’t. These races are too hard to win to not enjoy those moments.

“I’ll forever remember getting out of the car and experiencing that. There’s nobody to thank but the folks watching for that moment, making me feel special. It being close to home had a lot to do with that I think. They made me feel at home today, which was pretty cool.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, October 11

  • MENCS Practice (1:35 pm to 2:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Final Practice (4:35 pm to 5:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, October 12

  • MENCS Qualifying (4:40 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, October 13

  • MENCS 500 at Talladega (2:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.8 miles – NBC)

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.