Sweet dreams & nightmares: Cup playoff outlook for Talladega


The Monster Mile is in the rearview mirror of Cup playoffs teams, but the real beast of the second round of the playoffs is in Talladega, Alabama.

The second race of the Round of 12 takes the Cup Series and the remaining playoff drivers to the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway.

Here’s a look at the playoff grid and which drivers can sleep peacefully and those who are probably staring at the ceiling in despair ahead of the 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. Sunday on NBC).

Who could sleep through 40 cars roaring by at Talladega?

Chase Elliott

Though he’s fifth in the point standings, the Hendrick Motorsports driver is in the green, advancing to the third round of the playoffs with his Dover win. He’ll look to improve on his third-place finish at Talladega in April.

Who is getting a full eight hours of sleep Saturday night?

Kevin Harvick (+68 points above cutoff) and Kyle Busch (+63)

Harvick earned himself two extra playoff points at Dover, giving him a total of 52. It would take an early catastrophe at Talladega for a dent to be put in his second-round plans.

The same goes for Busch, who finished eighth in Dover after a day filled with track bar problems. His Richmond win remains his only result better than seventh in the last seven races. In his last eight Talladega starts, his only finishes in the top 10 are second (spring 2016) and third (spring 2017).

Who is probably flinching at each mention of Talladega?

Martin Truex Jr. (+36)

The Furniture Row Racing driver hasn’t won in 11 races and has only three top fives in that span. He’d like a little boost heading into Kansas, but Talladega hasn’t been kind to him. He has DNFs in his last four starts there – three for wrecks – and the last of his two career top fives there came in the spring 2015 race.

Who is likely looking forward to Talladega?

Joey Logano (+31) and Brad Keselowski (+21)

After tying his career-best result at Dover (third), Logano is seeking to add to his career-best win total at Talladega (three). His only win this year came there and was his third in the last six Talladega races. Talladega is also the track Keselowski has won the most at (five times). He’s won three of the last eight races there, but crashed out in the spring.

Who will try to be his consistent self?

Kurt Busch (+21)

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is winless in his 35 Talladega starts, but he came the closest to Victory Lane in the spring, finishing second to Logano. Entering this weekend, Busch has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 12 races.

Who is very, very nervous?

Ryan Blaney (+10)

Blaney stole a win on the Charlotte Roval to secure a spot in the Round of 12, but started the round with an 11th-place finish at Dover after only earning four stage points. He’s shown speed on restrictor-plate tracks, leading 118 laps in the Daytona 500 and 27 laps in this race last year, but he has wrecked out in four of the last six plate races.

Who will be haunted by Dover in their dreams all week?

Aric Almirola (-10), Clint Bowyer (-10), Kyle Larson (-12) and Alex Bowman (-34)

Almirola saw an almost guaranteed win disappear after his teammate, Bowyer, wrecked with less than 10 laps to go. Then Almirola started a multi-car wreck on the ensuing restart that eliminated Bowman.

Almirola and Bowyer have one thing going for them: They’ve won at Talladega before, Bowyer twice in Cup and Almirola once in Xfinity.

Not going for them: Bowyer’s wrecked in three of the last four plate races. Almirola has wrecked in both of this year’s Daytona races.

Larson enters Talladega having not earned any stage or playoff points at Dover and finishing 12th. He’s never finished in the top five in nine Talladega starts or 10 Daytona starts.

Bowman will need to keep his nose clean all day or simply go out and win to keep his playoffs chances alive.

Below is the full playoff grid.