Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: GEICO 500 at Talladega Preview

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

TALLADEGA, Ala. — From deep in the heart of Texas to Sweet Home Alabama.

Following last weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series is on to the biggest and baddest track on the circuit – the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s running of the GEICO 500.

Since opening its doors in 1969, the track just off Interstate 20 in Eastern Alabama has been a wild card on the schedule with the unpredictable nature of superspeedway racing on full display over the past half-century, leading to some of the most memorable moments in NASCAR history.

Anyone in the field has a chance at the win as long as they can be in the right place at the right time. Sunday’s race 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.

Who will come out on top this go around? 188 laps of white-knuckle racing will tell the tale.

By the Numbers

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

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

TV/Radio: FOX, 3:00 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: 60 laps each (First two stages); 68 laps (Final stage)

April 2023 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 8 Chevrolet (Started 17th, three laps led)

October 2023 Race Winner: Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Ford (Started 10th, eight laps led)

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

Top-10 Highest Driver Rating at Talladega:

  1. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 93.4
  2. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 90.5
  3. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 RFK Racing Ford – 88.2
  4. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 88.2
  5. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 86.5
  6. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 83.1
  7. Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet – 81.4
  8. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. – No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Chevrolet – 79.8
  9. John Hunter Nemechek – No. 42 Legacy Motor Club Toyota – 79.2
  10. Ryan Preece – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 77.4

From the Driver’s Seat

“You can do certain things throughout that race to put yourself in a better position, but it’s one of those tracks you go into knowing that there’s probably a 75 percent chance that you could be in a wreck,” said Austin Dillon. “You have to take that 25 percent and make it yours…

“Talladega Superspeedway is a little bit different real estate than Daytona International Speedway. At Daytona, you’re packed in there and it’s hard to get to someone’s inside or outside, and there is less movement in the draft. At Talladega, there’s a lot of movement in the draft, the packs are big and wide, and with the way this package works, there is more two-lane racing around the bottom.

“It’s going to be interesting to see if we can make that third lane work at some point and move around. You’re kind of holding on at times waiting to see what happens. Everybody is pushing, and you’re hoping you can get through the mess.”

Last Time at Talladega

In typical Talladega fashion, last fall’s Playoff race on the superspeedway would come down to a photo finish to determine who would be banking a crucial win in the march to the championship.

A 13-lap sprint to the finish was all the stood between the leaders and victory, with Ryan Blaney and Kevin Harvick running side-by-side, lap after lap, neither one giving an inch.

Blaney held the high ground and Harvick held strong in the low lane as they took the white flag for the final 2.66 miles around. Harvick took the advantage through Turn 1 and 2, but Blaney was on the charge with help from fellow Ford driver Riley Herbst.

The push from Herbst was enough to force Harvick to move up to try and block Blaney’s momentum, but he turned the tables on the veteran, using the increased speed he had to cross over Harvick and pull alongside him heading down the backstretch.

Blaney was able to pull ahead into Turn 3 with help from William Byron, but they don’t call Harvick “The Closer” for nothing.

Much like Blaney had done on the other end of the track, Harvick got an assist from Herbst through Turn 4 to pull back even with Blaney as they entered the tri-oval for the final time. From there, it was a drag race – whoever makes it back first wins.

With the field getting squirrely behind them, Blaney and Harvick held strong and kept it in the gas, with Blaney inching out ahead at the finish to take the victory – his third at Talladega and second in a photo finish.

“Pretty wild. Pretty wild last restart, but let alone last couple of laps,” Blaney said. “You know, kind of losing momentum, getting it back. Just getting clear to the bottom to kind of get to the front row and drag race it out with Kevin.

“So really proud of the whole 12 group, man. Pennzoil, Menards, BODYARMOR, DEX Imaging, Advance Auto Parts, Worth, Dent Wizard, everybody who makes this possible. Winning three times here at Talladega, that’s super cool.

“I have to give a big thanks to Riley Herbst. He did a really good job there the last couple of restarts. He hasn’t had a lot of Cup starts, but he did a great job of pushing me, so thanks to him. This is so cool.

“Thank you, everybody, for coming out. This is so special, and I can’t wait to have fun tonight.”

Even in defeat, Harvick was all smiles, having put in a valiant effort to try and bank a win in his final season behind the wheel in the Cup Series, but shortly thereafter, inspection issues would see Harvick stripped of his runner-up result.

The issue arose with the fasteners on his windshield, which had violated rule in the NASCAR rule book. The rule reads that the windshield fasteners must remain secure for the duration of the event.

Instead of a runner-up finish, Harvick would be credited with a finish at the bottom of the finishing order, turning a great day into a bittersweet one.

“It was a great day, a great way to end at Talladega. I always want to win, but it is what it is,” Harvick said prior to the disqualification.

“Talladega has been so up-and-down through the years. We’ve had some great moments and some bad moments. The last superspeedway race and we went out with everything rolling, so that’s a good thing.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Saturday, April 20
    • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (10:30 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • Sunday, April 21
    • GEICO 500 at Talladega (3:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.08 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.