Photo: Chris Owens/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: GEICO 500 at Talladega Preview

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

While short tracks have been the order of much of the month of April, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series now turns its attention to the biggest and baddest track on the circuit, the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway and Sunday’s running of the GEICO 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 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. In addition, 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 chance at the win as long as they can be in the right place at the right time. This weekend’s GEICO 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 is a reason fans come from far and wide to witness racing at Talladega and that unpredictability is a big part of it.

Ford has dominated Talladega over the last couple of years, with wins in six of the last seven races at the track. Can they continue their reign or will a new contender emerge?

By the Numbers

What: GEICO 500, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race No. 10 of 36

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

When: Sunday, April 29, 2018

TV/Radio: FOX, 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 2017 Race Winner: Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 17 Ford (Started on pole, 14 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 Ratings at Talladega:

  • Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet – 93.4
  • Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford – 89.0
  • Jimmie Johnson – No. 48 Chevrolet – 88.5
  • Kurt Busch – No. 41 Ford – 88.4
  • Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford – 86.3
  • Joey Logano – No. 22 Ford – 85.6
  • Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Toyota – 84.3
  • Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 17 Ford – 81.4
  • Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Ford – 81.0
  • Kyle Busch – No. 18 Toyota – 81.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“It’s so difficult to predict Talladega,” said Kurt Busch. “You can ride around in the back or charge up front all day and, either way, your day can end with your car on the hook. You just hope to have Lady Luck guide you to a good finish. Restrictor-plate races have turned into this pattern that it is hard to have any type of advantage over any other team. It just comes down to being in the right place at the right time.

“You’ve got to be able to know the draft, understand the draft, use the draft, block other guys, find holes, make holes. It’s definitely a chess game because you’re always thinking three or four steps ahead. It’s tough to get caught up when you make a mistake. You’ve got to quickly get rid of that and put together a new plan. At the end of the race, everybody is saving their best for the end. Cars are just going everywhere. The plan you thought you had, you’ve got to make a new one. You’ve got to go on the fly.”

Last Time at Talladega

With Ford having won the first three restrictor plate races of the season, Keselowski and the remainder of the Ford contingent came into Talladega with last October’s Alabama 500 circled as a prime opportunity to complete the season sweep and punch their ticket into the next round of the playoffs.

“We know we have to come to these races and make something happen because this is our opportunity, and we like to find more to be more competitive on the mile‑and‑a‑halfs, but that’s not the opportunity as it stands right now, so we’ll have to make the most of these,” said Keselowski.

And make something happen, he did.

Keselowski, who had scored four Talladega wins in his career prior to the race, was in top form throughout the day, which featured three red flags and pushed the race into overtime. Keselowski was able to keep his nose clean, but it was a push from his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano that propelled him into the lead on the last lap and allowed him to score his fifth win at the track.

Not only did the win give Ford their fifth straight at the track, Keselowski also grabbed an automatic advancement to the playoff semi-finals, keeping him safe from elimination next weekend at Kansas and keeping his hopes of a second title alive.

“This is still sinking in,” Keselowski added. “It is a special place to get to race and a special place when you win here. It was really a collaborative effort with the team and getting a real fast car and making the right moves as a driver and a lot of help from up above with staying out of those wrecks. It really takes all three and we had them all today.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 27

  • MENCS Practice (12:35 pm to 1:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)
  • MENCS Final Practice (2:35 pm to 3:25 pm – FOX Sports 1)

Saturday, April 28

  • MENCS Qualifying (1:05 pm – FOX)

Sunday, April 29

  • MENCS GEICO 500 (2:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.8 miles – FOX)

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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.