By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – It appears the second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs will be full of wild card races.
Following a chaotic race at Texas last week, the gauntlet continues this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway with Sunday’s running of the Yellawood 500.
Since opening its doors in 1969, the 2.66-mile track just off Interstate 20 in 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.
Given the unpredictability that Talladega brings, even the best laid plans could go awry in a split second, leavings some of the Playoff drivers in dire straits heading into the final race of the round at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
Of the 12 Playoff drivers, none are truly safe heading into the 188-lap event, which kicks off at 1:00 pm ET Sunday. Joey Logano currently leads the standings with a 37-point advantage over the cut-off line, but even that might not be enough of a buffer by the time the checkered flag falls at Talladega.
Alex Bowman, who currently sits 12th in the Playoff standings, will have to miss Sunday’s race while he recovers from concussion-like symptoms. Noah Gragson will replace him in the No. 48 Chevrolet.
By the Numbers
What: Yellawood 500, 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: 60 laps each (First two stages); 68 laps (Final stage)
April 2022 Race Winner: Ross Chastain – No. 1 Chevrolet (Started 19th, 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:
- Ryan Blaney – No. 12 Team Penske Ford – 91.1
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford – 90.8
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 90.4
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.3
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 85.4
- Cole Custer – No. 41 Stewart Haas Racing Ford – 83.8
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 83.5
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 82.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 81.5
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet – 79.6
NASCAR Cup Series Points Standings
- Joey Logano (+37 over cut-off)
- Ross Chastain (+25)
- Kyle Larson (+23)
- Ryan Blaney (+22)
- Denny Hamlin (+15)
- Daniel Suarez (+11)
- Chase Elliott (+11)
- Chase Briscoe (+7)
- Austin Cindric (-7 below cut-off)
- William Byron (-8)
- Christopher Bell (-25)
- Alex Bowman (-26)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Talladega is very unpredictable and a lot of things can happen as we all know,” said Daniel Suarez. “As a driver, you can put yourself in good positions and bad positions. You just have to be smart and keep yourself in good positions all day. Of course, there is a lot of luck in that.
“If we can break even in Talladega we will be in good shape. I know the following week on the ROVAL at Charlotte we will be top-five and I expect to race for the win.”
Last Time at Talladega
As the leaders clicked off the final laps running single file last April, Erik Jones looked to be in the catbird seat as he had his sights set on a return to Victory Lane. With Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain in line behind him, he saw nothing but clear race track and the checkered flag ahead.
Then in true Talladega fashion, chaos broke loose heading through the tri-oval for the final time.
With a push from Chastain, Larson moved high on Jones to try and sweep around him to take the lead and the win, as Jones took a hard right to try and block the move. The move high opened the door low for Chastain to speed past him and steal the win, as Larson powered around him to the outside.
Chastain went on to claim his second win of the season, while Austin Dillon took advantage of the chaos to capture second-place. Kyle Busch finished the race in third, with Larson crossing the line in fourth, and Martin Truex, Jr. rounding out the top-five.
Stuck in the middle, Jones could do nothing but watch as he faded back to sixth at the finish, shattering his dreams of winning and punching his ticket to the Playoffs.
“Holy cow,” Chastain said afterwards. “I’m always the one going to the top too early, making the mistake. There at the end it was like eight to go, I was like, I’m not going up there again. I did that a couple times today. I was like, I’ll just ride on the bottom. If it works, I’m not going to lose the race for us, I’ll just let them.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, October 1
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (10:30 am – Streaming on NBC Sports App)
- Sunday, October 2
- Yellawood 500 at Talladega (2:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.08 miles – NBC)