Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 500 at Talladega Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Talladega may not be the Round of 12 elimination race any longer, but the mammoth 2.66-mile superspeedway is still a huge wild card and will go a long way toward determining which drivers will be in position to move on to the next round of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.

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 since then.

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.

This weekend also marks the start of a couple of different changes for the speedway, as they will commence their $50 million infield renovation project following conclusion of the racing action. This will also be the last race at Talladega to feature restrictor plates due to the new 2019 aero package that will employ a tapered spacer and other aerodynamic devices instead.

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 2018 Race Winner: Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford (Started ninth, 70 laps led)

October 2017 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started sixth, seven laps 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 – 93.7
  2. Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 89.2
  3. Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 89.0
  4. Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 88.9
  5. Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 88.0
  6. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 86.4
  7. William Byron – No. 24 Chevrolet – 85.8
  8. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 84.7
  9. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 17 Ford – 82.3
  10. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 81.9

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Points Standings

  1. Chase Elliott (Locked into next round – Dover win)
  2. Kevin Harvick (+68 over cut-off)
  3. Kyle Busch (+63)
  4. Martin Truex, Jr. (+36)
  5. Joey Logano (+31)
  6. Kurt Busch (+21)
  7. Brad Keselowski (+21)
  8. Ryan Blaney (+10)
  9. Aric Almirola (-10)
  10. Clint Bowyer (-10)
  11. Kyle Larson (-12)
  12. Alex Bowman (-34)

From the Driver’s Seat

“Talladega is one of my favorite places to race at because I enjoy drafting on the speedways,” said Regan Smith. “I’ve had some success at Talladega, so that’s always nice and gives you a little confidence going into the weekend.  A lot of this weekend is purely about the driver and spotter because you’re going to have what you have car-wise.  We always find out if some cars can lead better than others while some cars can push better than others, but you want to figure out which type of car you have in practice.

“Beyond that, you’re basically out there fighting for every spot you can get and putting yourself in the best aero-position that you can for the end of the race based on your car.  It’s all about understanding if you have a car that is going to need to make a last-lap pass or do you have a car that can lead and manipulate the draft so that you know where you want to be when we take the white flag.

“I don’t have a preference when it comes to coming up with a game plan for where to run during a race at Talladega.  I’ve wrecked riding around in the back, I’ve wrecked racing in the front, I’ve made it through races riding in the back, and I’ve made it through races riding in the front.  You really just have to see how the race is playing out honestly.

“If it looks like it’s going to be a calm and tame race, then you could get caught a lap down very easily there in a matter of 15 laps, so you need to play your cards right.  Some of it is a feel thing and we might not even know how things are going to change as the race goes along, so Talladega involves being able to go with the flow and adapting.”

Last Time at Talladega

The Fords have made Talladega their own personal playground over the last few years and the first race from May of this year was no different.

The Blue Oval Brigade swept six of the top-seven finishing positions, with Joey Logano leading the way en route to his first win of the season after leading 70 laps on the day, including the final 42. The win was not only Logano’s first of the season, but the sixth straight for Ford on the 2.66-mile track.

Following Logano was Kurt Busch, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr to round out the top-five. Elliott was the lone Chevrolet to break up the Ford party.

“I guess we got luck,” said Logano. “I have a great spotter. Dale Jr. left me a good one with T.J. Majors who allowed me to make the right decisions. He gives me the picture behind me and tells me where to go. I just hold the steering wheel and make the right moves. It was a great car, very fast. The Fords dominated today.

“I am so proud to be in a Blue Oval with Roush Yates motors under the hood. That is a huge deal. A big part of our victory today. Teamwork was a big part of it as well. At the end you are racing and don’t know what will happen, you just hope to get in the right lanes at the right time with the right moves. It is always exciting to win at a superspeedway, especially Talladega because you never know you’ve got it until you cross the line.

“After waiting a full year since our last win it feels so good to get back in victory lane and get our 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford into the playoffs. It feels really good to get those playoff points and now we will make a run at a championship.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Saturday, October 13

  • MENCS Final Practice (11:05 am to 12:25 pm – NBC Sports Network)
  • MENCS Qualifying (4:35 pm – NBC Sports Network)

Sunday, October 14

  • MENCS 500 at Talladega (2:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.08 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.