Talladega 101: Playoff pressures, odds, superspeedway rules and more

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·6 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The chaos of superspeedway racing rears its head in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs this weekend.

With hopes of advancing into the next round on the line, title contenders are set for the second race of the Round of 12 with the YellaWood 500 on Monday afternoon (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Before these drivers go three- and four-wide on the high banks of Talladega, let‘s set the stage for 188 laps of high-tension, close-quarters racing at 200 mph.

RELATED: Talladega weekend schedule | Cup Series standings

LINE ‘EM UP

The Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch will lead the field to the green flag Sunday afternoon in Alabama. Hamlin is the defending winner of this Talladega race as well as the victor last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. In Row 2 will be Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney while Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr. make up Row 3. Check out the entire starting lineup here.

RULES PACKAGE

Teams will utilize the 450-horsepower superspeedway package this weekend, which will be the same package used five races ago at Daytona International Speedway. This setup features taller rear spoilers and longer front splitters to promote drafting in a pack with high downforce.

Joey Logano‘s flip on the Alabama Superstretch in April triggered alterations to the previous superspeedway package, including a reduction in horsepower and the removal of a wicker that created drag atop the spoiler.

RELATED: NASCAR issues rules changes to slow Cup cars at superspeedways

TALLADEGA HISTORY

RacingOne
RacingOne

— Originally named the Alabama International Motor Speedway, Talladega‘s 2.66-mile oval layout was a Bill France idea that came to life on the site of a near-abandoned former Navy training airport in 1969.

— The first Cup race at Talladega was held on Sept. 14, 1969 and was won by Richard Brickhouse as most series regulars sat out due to safety concerns, worried that the tires provided wouldn‘t withstand the high speeds.

— Talladega is the largest oval on the circuit while also hosting the steepest banking (33 degrees), longest backstretch (4,000 feet), most lead changes in a race (88, Spring 2010 and 2011), and closest margin of victory in Cup Series history (.002 seconds, Spring 2011).

— Talladega also hosted the only race in series history that a winner’s first lap led in the series was the final lap (Brad Keselowski, April 2009).

Source: Racing Insights

GOODYEAR TIRES

Despite being repaved way back in 2006, Talladega Superspeedway‘s surface remains smooth and doesn‘t regularly tear up tires. And while tires will still wear throughout a run, strategy will be key as Cup teams utilize the same tire they‘ve used at Talladega since October 2019.

“Since its repave in 2006, Talladega‘s track surface has aged a bit and will wear tires somewhat this weekend,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear‘s director of racing. “Having said that, teams will still have the opportunity to mix in two-tire and no-tire stops in their pit strategy throughout the race. Being able to do that will help teams gain track position and potentially help them line up with teammates so they can work together in the draft.”

STORYLINES ENTERING TALLADEGA

— Team Penske has won five of the last seven playoff races at Talladega.

— Chase Elliott‘s April 2019 victory marks Chevrolet‘s only win in the last 12 Talladega races, while Ford has won 10 of the last 12.

— Matt DiBenedetto was passed for the win in each of the last two races at Talladega.

— Each of the last three Talladega contests have been won via a last-lap pass in overtime, and 17 of the last 20 races there have featured a final green-flag run of two laps or less.

— Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are the only Playoff drivers to finish in the top 10 in each of the first four races in the postseason.

— Kevin Harvick remains the only winless driver of those in the Round of 12.

— The October 2020 race featured 12 additional overtime laps, increasing the final race distance by 32 miles.

— Brad Keselowski leads all active drivers with six Talladega wins. The driver with the next-most wins is teammate Joey Logano with three.

— There were at least 10 DNFs in 10 of the 17 Talladega playoff races.

Source: Racing Insights

FAST MONEY

Despite the usually inevitable calamity at Talladega, some drivers are inherently better on superspeedways than others. There‘s a reason that four of the last seven Talladega races have been won by the driver who led the most laps.

Denny Hamlin is this week‘s favorite at 8-1 odds, according to BetMGM, and the numbers don‘t lie. In the last 11 superspeedway races dating back to the 2019 Daytona 500, Hamlin has three wins and seven top fives.

Behind Hamlin in odds are Joey Logano (9-1), Chase Elliott (10-1), Ryan Blaney (10-1) and Brad Keselowski (10-1). Blaney appears to be an excellent play this weekend as he‘s won two of the last four Talladega races as well as the regular-season finale at Daytona on Aug. 28.

Martin Truex Jr.‘s (25-1) top-10 streak may be in jeopardy this weekend because Talladega has not treated him well. In 33 career Talladega starts, Truex has just two top fives and has finished outside the top 20 in 10 straight races. His 66 starts at the 2.66-mile track are the most among active drivers without a Talladega win.

RELATED: Odds for Sunday’s race at Talladega

FANTASY LIVE

Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out the playoff version of NASCAR Fantasy Live, which is open now and offers a fresh start for those of you who played the regular-season contest. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts, and there is a $10,000 prize for the winner.

The 2021 Fantasy Live points leaders are Denny Hamlin (1,222) Kyle Larson (1,208), and Chase Elliott (998).

This year, NASCAR.com also has the Playoffs Grid Challenge game, presented by Ruoff Mortgage, where you can pick the winners for each round of the playoffs right up through the Championship 4. First prize is $10,000.

How to play: Playoffs Grid Challenge | Playoff Fantasy Live

ALSO ON NASCAR.COM

Get additional camera views by logging on to NASCAR Drive, where each week a select number of in-car cameras will be available — as well as a battle cam and an overhead look.

New for this season, NASCAR has partnered with LiveLike to add fan engagement in the NASCAR Mobile App. Log in to the mobile app during the race for polls, quizzes, the cheer meter and more — and see instant results from NASCAR fans like you.

And finally, head over to the NASCAR Mobile App for AR Racing presented by Mobil 1, where you can design your own car and race the playoff drivers at the playoff tracks in augmented reality.