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.
Martin Truex Jr.
- 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.