By David Morgan, Associate Editor
TALLADEGA, Ala. – The second round of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs enters the gauntlet.
Following the opening race of the Round of 12 last weekend at Texas that saw William Byron lock himself into the next round, the remaining 11 contenders head to Talladega Superspeedway for 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, leaving 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, only Byron is truly safe heading into the 188-lap event, which kicks off at 2:00 pm ET Sunday. Denny Hamlin is the driver with the biggest safety net heading into Talladega 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.
Following a crash just 73 laps into last weekend’s race at Texas, two-time series champion Kyle Busch currently brings up the rear in the Playoff standings, but will be looking to rebound with a season sweep at Talladega after winning at the track back in April.
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 2023 Race Winner: Kyle Busch – No. 8 Chevrolet (Started 17th, three laps led)
October 2022 Race Winner: Chase Elliott – No. 9 Chevrolet (Started 16th, 10 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
- Chase Elliott – No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 89.3
- Brad Keselowski – No. 6 RFK Racing Ford – 90.8
- Joey Logano – No. 22 Team Penske Ford – 90.4
- William Byron – No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet – 85.4
- Denny Hamlin – No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota – 83.5
- Kevin Harvick – No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 82.0
- Kyle Busch – No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Toyota – 81.5
- Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet – 79.6
- Aric Almirola – No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford – 79.3
NASCAR Cup Series Playoff Standings
- William Byron (Locked into next round – Texas win)
- Denny Hamlin (+37 over cut-off line)
- Chris Buescher (+22)
- Christopher Bell (+20)
- Martin Truex Jr. (+19)
- Ross Chastain (+12)
- Brad Keselowski (+8)
- Kyle Larson (+2)
- Bubba Wallace (-2 below cut-off)
- Tyler Reddick (-3)
- Ryan Blaney (-11)
- Kyle Busch (-17)
From the Driver’s Seat
“Talladega is just about some good timing and good fortune,” said Chase Elliott. “I mean, you can certainly make better or worse decisions at certain times. I do think there is a bit of a method to the madness.
“You see certain drivers that run really well there. They might not get it right all the time, but they get it right more than others. That being said, there must be a way to better your odds at least. A lot of it is just feel and what you’re seeing, what you’re feeling with what everybody else around you is doing.
“A big thing with plate racing is just staying on offense. You see those that are on offense that are really good pushers. Those guys tend to find themselves at the front of those races more than not. That’s a hard thing to do because you have to have your car driving like you want it to. You’ve got to be able to have the opportunity to push and make pace that way. The people who have the ability to be on offense are going to find themselves in a good spot more times than not.”
Last Time at Talladega
Kyle Busch found himself in the right place at the right time back in the spring at Talladega Superspeedway, scoring his second win of the season after a crash in overtime brought the GEICO 500 to an early end.
The driver of the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was running third in double overtime when Bubba Wallace and Ryan Blaney, who were running first and second, made contact, sending Wallace spinning and allowing Busch to ascend to the lead.
As Wallace’s Toyota spun back through the field, NASCAR threw the yellow flag, which brough the race to its conclusion and delivered Busch the 62nd victory of his NASCAR Cup Series career.
“Sometimes you got to be lucky,” Busch said. “Some of these races come down to that. You got to take ’em when they come your way.
“The seas kind of parted there when they went up the racetrack. They were trying to push draft. These cars are just not stable enough to do that. I seen the 23 just turn a little bit sideways. I was like, ‘Get out of the way, just miss it.’ Tried to see if I was ahead of the 12 by the time it was called.”
Blaney would be scored as the runner-up when the final results were tallied, followed by Chris Buescher in third, Chase Briscoe rebounding from a spin onto pit road early in the event to finish fourth, and Brad Keselowski rounding out the top-five.
Afterwards, Blaney chalked the last lap crash up to the nature of superspeedway racing and the aggressive runs and blocks that drivers have to make with the Next Gen cars on these types of tracks.
“You get big runs, take ’em when you can,” Blaney said. “I’m glad everyone’s okay, but in my mind you kind of triple move like that, triple block, you can’t block three times. I don’t know. Runs are so big.
“As a leader, with Bubba trying to block, which is the right thing to do. But I think a lot of those, I mean, I got to go somewhere.
“I hate that cars got torn up, I hate for us being so close to the win. I’m not blaming anybody. Just hard racing at the end of this thing. Unfortunate cars got tore up and we missed out on another win.”
Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)
- Saturday, September 30
- NASCAR Cup Series Qualifying (4:30 pm – USA Network)
- Sunday, October 1
- Yellawood 500 at Talladega (2:00 pm – 188 laps, 500.08 miles – NBC)