There’s plenty of drivers in the hunt for the Chase, but with only two races remaining it will be a fight to the finish, especially after Kyle Larson‘s surprising win in Michigan. The NASCAR America analysts discuss the hope of Ryan Newman, Ryan Blaney and Chris Buescher heading into the Southern 500.
Chase Elliott had the moves, the power and the drafting help when he needed them.
Elliott shot to the lead in a web of traffic in the final five miles and won Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. Elliott, winning for the fifth time this year, thus earned a spot in the playoffs’ Round of 8. It will mark Elliott’s sixth appearance in that playoff round.
Elliott led the last lap and nine others during the afternoon as 17 drivers owned first place for at least one lap on a typically competitive day at NASCAR’s biggest track. Seven drivers, including Elliott, led laps in double figures.
Blaney led nine of the final 17 laps in search of his first points win of the year but couldn’t hold off Elliott’s charge at the end.
The victory was huge for Elliott, who carries a platter full of playoff points with him and will be in good shape when the next round begins in two weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
MORE: Talladega Cup results
“It was a wild last couple of laps,” Elliott told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I wasn’t super crazy about being on the bottom. Fortunately, I just go clear enough off of two to move up and had a good enough run to get out front.”
Elliott jumped to the point lead. Blaney is second and Chastain third. Below the cutline entering the final race of the second round are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Bowman missed the race with concussion-like symptoms. He was replaced by Noah Gragson, who finished 19th.
Powering through the top five, Elliott moved from the inside line to the outside in front of Erik Jones and benefitted from Jones’ push as he outran Blaney to the finish line.
As has been the case at so many Talladega races over the years, risky though impactful technique in the long drafting lines was a key. Approaching the finish line at the first two stages, Blaney and Elliott made excellent moves in the trioval to win the stages — Blaney the first and Elliott the second.
The last round of pit stops began with 28 laps to go. At the end of the pit cycle, Blaney, Chastain and Jones were at the front.
With 10 laps to go, Blaney led the lead drafting line, with Chastain and Todd Gilliland trailing. Jones led the other line.
The field was slowed by caution with seven laps to go when Daniel Hemric‘s car experienced engine trouble and stalled in the final pit row spot.
Bell took a big position hit on lap 99 when he lost control entering pit road and slid. He lost a lap but rebounded to challenge near the top 10 in the final stage, finishing 17th.
The race hadn’t reached the halfway point of the first stage when a multi-car accident brought out the day’s second caution flag.
The wreck began on lap 25 when rookie Harrison Burton lost control of his car in three-wide traffic entering Turn 1. Burton, looking for drafting help from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. behind him, was bumped by Stenhouse and slid to the left in the middle of a pack of traffic, causing drivers behind and around him to scramble.
The early part of the race included some odd cooperation in Talladega’s famous draft. Racing one-two in tight formation were Hamlin, the leader, and William Byron, both gaining speed from their drafting. Last week at Texas, the two had major issues, resulting in Byron bumping Hamlin into a spin under caution and being nailed by a NASCAR penalty.
Stage 1 winner: Ryan Blaney
Stage 2 winner: Chase Elliott
Who had a good race: Chase Elliott zoomed to the front with bold moves in the final laps and scored his fifth win of the year. … Ryan Blaney does everything but win. Sunday marked his best finish (second) of the year. …Michael McDowell was active in the front-line draft over the final miles and finished a strong third. He has 12 top-10 finishes this year, a personal record. … Todd Gilliland (seventh) scored his second Cup top-10 finish.
Who had a bad race: Joey Logano was involved in an early-race accident, rebounded to race near the front but finished 27th. He fell from the point lead to fifth. … Christopher Bell slid onto pit road attempting a green-flag pit stop. He finished 17th and is 22 points below the playoff cutline. … Kyle Larson was basically a non-factor, finishing 18th
Next: The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC). Four drivers will be eliminated, and eight will advance.
TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.
He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back.
But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.
“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC). “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.
“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”
If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable.
The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal.
“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.
His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut.
That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision.
Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass.
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later.
Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”
Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.
“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”
Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.
That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.
Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.
Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.
Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?
If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:
- The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
- If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
- Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.
Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.
Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.
While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.
And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.
The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.
Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.
In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.
Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.
In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.
Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.
In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.
Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:
- Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
- Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
- Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
- The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.
Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.
In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.
Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.
- 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
- 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
- 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
- 38.2% involved five or more cars.
While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.
Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.
The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.
- Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
- 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
- 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.
Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.
The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.
Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.