NASCAR Cup Series: Talladega Preview, Predictions, and How To Watch

Bubba Wallace leads the field during the 2021 Yellawood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

With the playoffs almost halfway over, when can we expect a playoff driver to finally win a race?

Four races in, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs have provided enough drama for an entire season, and now it’s time to see if the chaos continues as the drivers head to Talladega Superspeedway. The unpredictability of Talladega will certainly have the 12 playoff drivers on edge as they look to advance. Let’s take a quick look at how we got here after last week’s action in Texas.

Tyler Reddick continued the trend of championship ineligible drivers winning in the postseason, claiming his third career win just one week after being eliminated from the playoffs. The race just kept throwing obstacles at the drivers, from a lengthy red flag delay, severe tire fall-off, and some heated accidents.

Tires are the main topic of conversation this week, as three drivers (Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Chase Elliott) suffered tire issues while leading the race. Additionally, Christopher Bell encountered tire problems that led to his 34th place finish. Drivers also blamed the track itself for some issues, with some struggling to push especially in the hotter first stint of the race. Notably, Kyle Busch lost control of his No.18 Toyota running the high line while in fourth.

The biggest drama happened under caution, however. After Denny Hamlin collided with William Byron and caused Byron to hit the wall, Byron wanted a bit of revenge. He attempted to give a tap to Hamlin under caution to show his displeasure, but instead ran right through the back of the No.11 and sent him spinning through the infield grass. The incident went unpunished during the race, drawing the ire of Hamlin and many of his peers.

Byron didn’t get off clean though, as NASCAR penalized the No. 24 car 50 driver and owner points and fined him $50,000. Now Byron is below the playoff cutline, whereas he was in third when he saw the checkered flag on Sunday. That points shakeup stirs the playoff pot even more with Talladega on the horizon this weekend.

 

The Track

Talladega Superspeedway is the longest oval on the NASCAR schedule at 2.66 miles in length. The track first hosted a NASCAR race in 1969 and has since become a staple on the schedule, hosting two races per year since 1970.

The track is known for both its speed and chaotic nature. First, Rusty Wallace set NASCAR’s fastest speed ever at Talladega in 2004 at 216.309 miles per hour. As for the chaos, look no further than the Spring races in 2010 and 2011, which had a record 88 lead changes over 188 laps. Dale Earnhardt Sr. mastered the track in his day and has the most all-time wins at the track with 10.

Drivers will be flat out all race long. They’ll fly down the straights that are both over 4,000 feet long, and through the steep, 33-degree banked turns. The track is a tri-oval similar to Daytona, but a unique feature is that the start/finish line is placed after the kink on the frontstretch closer to Turn 1. This gives drivers that extra bit of time to make a move and snag a victory.

Sunday’s race will be 500 miles in distance and run over 188 laps. Stage 1 will be the first 60 laps, and Stage 2 will be the next 60 laps. Stage 3 will consist of the next 68 laps.

Talladega Superspeedway - Wikipedia

 

Playoff Standings

Let’s take a look at the standings before Talladega, including William Byron’s huge fall after his penalty.

IN:

  1. Joey Logano, Team Penske – 3071 points
  2. Ross Chastain, Trackhouse Racing – 3059 points
  3. Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports – 3057 points
  4. Ryan Blaney, Team Penske – 3056 points
  5. Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing – 3049 points
  6. Daniel Suarez, Trackhouse Racing – 3045 points
  7. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports – 3045 points
  8. Chase Briscoe, Stewart-Haas Racing – 3041 points

———-PLAYOFF CUTLINE———-

OUT:

  1. Austin Cindric, Team Penske – 3034 points
  2. William Byron, Hendrick Motorsports – 3033 points
  3. Christopher Bell, Joe Gibbs Racing – 3016 points
  4. Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports – 3015 points

 

Race Predictions – YellaWood 500

Picking winners in this year’s playoffs is akin to grabbing names out of a hat. There doesn’t appear to be much rhyme or reason to explain the chaos thus far, but I am leaning into it this weekend. Talladega is always a wild race with huge crashes and photo finishes, and I think we’ll see more of that this weekend. Let’s make it five-for-five on non-playoff driver victories this postseason.

  1. Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing
  2. Joey Logano, Team Penske
  3. Austin Cindric, Team Penske
  4. Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports
  5. Martin Truex Jr, Joe Gibbs Racing

 

How To Watch – NASCAR at Talladega (All Times EST)

  • Qualifying: Saturday, October 1 – 10:30 a.m. – NBC Sports App
  • YellaWood 500: Sunday, October 2 – 2:00 p.m. – NBC (Green flag at 2:15 p.m.)
Featured Image Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images