Photo: Logan T. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: Previewing the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

After a rare Easter race date playing in the dirt at Bristol, the NASCAR Cup Series packs up and heads to Talladega Superspeedway, where Sunday’s running of the GEICO 500 awaits.

The first nine races of the season have embodied unpredictability, with eight different winners in the first quarter of the season. That trend is likely to continue this weekend as superspeedway racing, especially at Talladega, is all about unpredictability.

Since opening its doors in 1969, the 2.66-mile 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.

In addition to the already unpredictable nature of racing at Talladega comes the debut of the Next Gen car at the track.

Having already logged superspeedway laps at Daytona and the newly reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway, teams will have to rely on the data they have already gathered as there will be no practice ahead of Sunday’s race. The only track time prior to the green flag will come during Saturday’s single car qualifying session.

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 2021 Race Winner: Brad Keselowski – No. 2 Ford (Started 10th, one lap led)

October 2021 Race Winner: Bubba Wallace – No. 23 Toyota (Started 19th, five laps led)

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

Top-10 Highest Driver Rating at Talladega:

  1. Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 91.9
  2. Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 91.6
  3. Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 91.4
  4. Kurt Busch – No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota – 89.7
  5. Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 88.2
  6. Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 86.8
  7. Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 84.0
  8. William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 83.0
  9. Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 81.6
  10. Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 81.0

From the Driver’s Seat

“These weeks are always weird for me because I’m thinking the same things you guys are,” said Ty Dillon. “What’s it going to be like – Is it going to be aggressive? Is it going to be calm? Speedweek (at Daytona) seemed calm up until the Daytona 500. And then we started the race and people were bump drafting on lap one.

“I’m a big proponent of feeling the energy of the race. I just got off a meeting with my guys and I said this is the hardest race for me to prepare for. I just go off of what I feel. It may change within a lap, but I feel like if we can get up there and put ourselves in a good spot to get stage points and run up front, that’s obviously where you’d like to be. Or do I feel bad energy in the pack and people are doing things they shouldn’t at a certain time. For me, I won’t know until I’m in the situation.

“I don’t think anyone showed much patience in the Daytona 500. But also, in my opinion, nobody showed any patience in the last three years of superspeedway races. If you look back, there’s maybe 15 cars that were on the lead lap due to crashes and issues every race.

“My strategy sometimes seems conservative, but I also have one of the best average finishes of the last four or five years at some of these speedways. So, until they prove me otherwise, I’m going to play a smart game – feel the energy of the pack; get stage points if it feels right and we have the speed to do it and in the right situation. But if not, I have to make sure our Black Rifle Camaro crosses the line on the lead lap and I can pretty much always guarantee us a top-15 or top-10 in that way.”

Last Time at Talladega

When the Cup Series last visited Talladega back in October, a helping hand from Mother Nature brought about a historic day for Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing.

Already delayed to Monday due to inclement weather, the persistent rain hung around another day, and Wallace found himself in the right place at the right time when the rain made another appearance – this time to bring the race to an early end and deliver Wallace his first Cup win.

After starting 19th, Wallace worked his way toward the front of the field, taking over the lead for the first time on lap 113. Fending off superspeedway ace Brad Keselowski for the next handful of laps, Wallace’s No. 23 Toyota was out front when a four-car crash on the backstretch brought out the caution.

Shortly thereafter, the rains returned to force a stoppage of the race. Then came the waiting game. 45 minutes later, the answer came down from race control that the race would be called, setting off a celebration of epic proportions in the 23XI pit box as Wallace joined the ranks of those who have won a race at NASCAR’s highest level.

“Part of me is sitting there waiting. It’s not over with. Just sit there, bide our time. If we go back racing, that’s fine, put ourselves in position,” Wallace said of his mindset during the weather delay.

“Had so many cool fans behind us at the pit box cheering for it to rain. That amped up the intensity a little bit.

“Just so proud of everybody at 23XI. New team coming in and getting a win late in the season. Reminds me kind of 2013. Waited so long to get that first truck win.

“I know a lot of history was made today I believe, which is really cool. But it’s about my guys, about our team, what we’ve done. Appreciate Michael Jordan, appreciate Denny for believing in me, giving me an opportunity.

“Like we talked, it’s pretty fitting that it comes here at Talladega.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

  • Saturday, April 23
    • NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (11:00 am – FOX Sports 1)
  • Sunday, April 24
    • 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.