While most want to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. get back to racing, his decision to step away for the rest of the season due to concussions could impact how other racers deal with the same issue.
The NASCAR Cup Series playoffs will reach a critical point Sunday in a 500-mile chase at treacherous Talladega Superspeedway.
The overriding factor in any race at Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest track, is the unknown. With cars running so fast and so close together, multi-car accidents are not only possible but expected, and it’s easy to become the innocent victim of someone else’s mistake.
The tension is doubled for the 12 playoff drivers. A bad finish at Talladega could open the door for a probable playoff exit at the end of the round Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.
The playoffs to date have seen four wins by non-playoff drivers, an unprecedented result. Tyler Reddick was the most recent to join that list with a win last Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
A look at drivers to watch at Talladega:
- Points position: 6th
- Last three races: 10th at Texas, 9th at Bristol, 2nd at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: 2 career wins
Although he hasn’t won, Hamlin has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. In the past six races at Talladega, he has four finishes of seventh or better. Now if he can just keep people from running into him…
- Points position: 3rd
- Last three races: 7th at Texas, 3rd at Bristol, 6th at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: Best career finish is a second
Byron stands alone as the only playoff driver who has been able to avoid major crashes and trouble in the pits, and he has finished in the top 10 in all four playoff races. After Tuesday’s penalty for his incident with Denny Hamlin at Texas, he sits below the cutline entering Sunday’s race.
- Points position: 24th
- Last three races: 8th at Texas, 13th at Bristol, 25th at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: 6 wins, the active leader
Even in trying times, Keselowski is a threat at Talladega, where he last won in April 2021 (his last Cup victory). He has led 268 laps there in the past 13 races.
QUESTIONS TO ANSWER
- Points position: 15th
- Last three races: 36th at Texas, 34th at Bristol, 26th at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2008
Is Busch going to steadily disappear into the mist as he rides out the final weeks of his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing? His best finish in the past four races is 26th. On the positive side this week, he’s the only driver to finish in the top 10 in this year’s three races at Daytona and Talladega.
- Points position: 8th
- Last three races: 32nd at Texas, 2nd at Bristol, 11th at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: 1 career win, in 2019
Can Elliott rebound from a fiery finish and a 32nd-place run at Texas? Playoff points give him some comfort, but a second career win at Talladega would be greatly appreciated in the Hendrick camp.
- Points position: 17th
- Last three races: 31st at Texas, 36th at Bristol, 5th at Kansas
- Past at Talladega: Best career finish is 5th
Will one of the sport’s most enduring mysteries continue at Talladega? In 70 career starts at Daytona and Talladega, Truex, a former champion and a smooth driver, has zero wins. At Talladega, he has only three top-five finishes in 35 starts.
The final six races in the chase for the NASCAR Cup Series championship will be televised by NBC.
The races remaining on the schedule are at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 2), the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (Oct. 9), Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Oct. 16), Homestead-Miami Speedway (Oct. 23), Martinsville Speedway (Oct. 30) and Phoenix Raceway (Nov. 6).
NBC’s broadcasting team will be on hand Sunday for what is typically a seasonal highlight — a 500-mile race at Talladega Superspeedway. The next week the playoffs move on to Charlotte for a cutoff race. The lowest four drivers in the playoff point standings will be eliminated from championship competition.
The Round of 8 is scheduled at Las Vegas, Homestead and Martinsville, with the tiny Martinsville track serving as the final cutoff race. The four drivers who advance from Martinsville will race for the title at Phoenix Nov. 6.
The high drama of the Phoenix race, in which the championship will go to the highest finisher of the four competing drivers, will be carried by both NBC and Peacock.
Post-race commentary and analysis for all six remaining Cup races will be carried on Peacock.
After a messy Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs move on this weekend to another potentially messy spot — Talladega Superspeedway.
Home to the Big One — an almost certain multi-car crash, Talladega also occasionally produces unexpected winners, including Richard Brickhouse, James Hylton, Lennie Pond, Ron Bouchard and Brad Keselowski.
The mix of tight drafting, the Next Gen car and general playoff tension should make Sunday’s 500-mile run quite the adventure.
Joey Logano enters Talladega with the playoff point lead.
Playoff rookies roll on
The four drivers participating in the Cup playoffs for the first time remain factors approaching the second race in the second round.
Ross Chastain is second in the standings, 18 points above the cutline entering Talladega.
Daniel Suarez, Chastain’s Trackhouse Racing teammate, is seventh. He’s four points above the cutline.
Looking for wins
Only six of the remaining 12 playoff drivers have won races at the two remaining tracks in the second round (Talladega and Charlotte Roval).
Among the six, Joey Logano has the best win record at Talladega, having finished first there in 2015, 2016 and 2018.
The Charlotte Roval is relatively new, of course, but Chase Elliott already owns two wins there. Ryan Blaney and Kyle Larson also have won at the Roval.
An opening for Brad?
Few people who watched it will forget the first Cup Series victory scored by Brad Keselowski.
It occurred at this week’s tour stop — Talladega Superspeedway — in April 2009. Keselowski and Carl Edwards made contact approaching the finish line and notched the win, even as Edwards’ car flew into the frontstretch fence, spraying car parts into the grandstands.
Thirteen years later, Keselowski returns to NASCAR’s biggest track having recorded six Talladega wins. No other active drive has more than three.
RFK Racing has led 309 laps in the past two races, more than the team had led in the prior 105 races combined.
Although he hasn’t won a Cup race since scoring a victory in a Team Penske Ford in April 2021 at Talladega, Keselowski must be considered a threat Sunday.
This week’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Friday, Sept. 30
Forecast: Partly cloudy. High of 77. (Weather note: There is the possibility that Hurricane Ian could impact the race weekend, depending on its path).
- 3:30 – 5 p.m. — Truck Series qualifying
- 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity Series qualifying (USA Network)
Saturday, Oct. 1
Forecast: Overcast with showers at times. Potential for heavy rainfall. High of 73. 60% chance of rain.
- 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
- 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
- 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, Oct. 2
Forecast: Sun in the morning, increasing clouds in the afternoon. Slight chance of a shower. High of 74.
- 2 p.m. — Cup Series race (188 laps, 500 miles; NBC, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.
NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.
— Ty Gibbs (@TyGibbs) September 27, 2022