The Next Gen returns to a superspeedway this week as NASCAR rolls into Talladega Superspeedway.
Austin Cindric won the last true superspeedway race in the Daytona 500 back in February and Fords dominated the week.
But everybody feels like they have a chance to fight for the victory Sunday (3 p.m. ET, Fox) around the 2.66-mile oval in Alabama. Get set for the weekend with story lines, entry lists, forecasts and more here:
Team Penske’s turn again?
For a track as unpredictable as Talladega can be, Team Penske has an astounding record in Alabama as winners of eight of the track’s last 13 races. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano hold three wins apiece in that stretch. Ryan Blaney has two victories.
This year, of course, marks Keselowski’s first to Talladega without Team Penske since 2009, when he scored his first career win with Phoenix Racing before an eighth-place finish in the fall. Keselowski, who won this race a year ago and leads all active drivers with six Talladega wins, now drives and co-owns the No. 6 Ford for RFK Racing.
In his place is Cindric, who brought the No. 2 Ford its first Daytona 500 victory in February. The Penske brigade has been masterful in superspeedway races, but Blaney has been the team’s superspeedway leader of late, winning two of the last five at Talladega and three of the last 10 superspeedways overall.
Logano, on the other hand, has led laps in each of the last 13 superspeedway races but hasn’t won in the past 15 such events. He is also on a 38-race winless streak in points events, his last such win coming on the dirt at Bristol in 2021 – with an exhibition win in February’s Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in between.
Bubba eyeing more history?
Bubba Wallace made history the last time NASCAR came to Talladega. He won the rain-shortened October event and became the first Black driver to win a Cup Series race since Wendell Scott in December 1963.
More could be ahead for Wallace. The fifth-year driver is eyeing his fourth consecutive top-two finish on a superspeedway. In the last three on such tracks, Wallace finished second at Daytona in August 2021, won Talladega in October and finished second in this year’s Daytona 500.
A top-two finish Sunday at Talladega would make him only the fifth driver to accomplish the feat, joining Hall of Famers Cale Yarborough (who did it twice), Dale Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett along with Ernie Irvan. Jarrett was the last to score that streak between April 1999 and February 2000, culminating with a win in that year’s Daytona 500.
Wallace has struggled this season since finishing runner-up in the Daytona 500, with no finishes better than 13th (Atlanta) in the past eight races. But the 28-year-old has shown consistent talent on superspeedways despite these races’ occasional crapshoot appearances.
When will Reddick break through?
After missing the victory by 0.33 seconds a week ago at Bristol, Tyler Reddick now has four career runner-up finishes in the Cup Series, the most of any active driver without a win.
Talladega is Reddick’s better of the two true superspeedways on the schedule with two seventh-place finishes in his four starts there. Performance on the superspeedways, though, remains a question mark for Reddick and his Richard Childress Racing team.
On Monday, Reddick joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track” program and lamented Chevrolet’s gap to the Fords to hosts Danielle Trotta and Larry McReynolds.
“We figured out pretty quickly at Daytona that we had some work to do to catch up to the Fords,” Reddick said. “They just were able to draft just extremely efficient with one another. The amount of work that us and the Chevrolets have to do to just keep up or just get within half a second of the Fords is a lot of work. … So we had to really go to work and we’re hoping that the work that we put in is gonna pay off. And we’re not really gonna know until we’re in the race.”
To his point, there will be no practice at Talladega — just a solo qualifying lap in the two-round format that will set the starting grid before Sunday’s race. Reddick also noted that handling tends to matter less at Talladega than at Daytona, which could play further into the hands of Ford.
“If we want to win on Sunday, we’re really gonna have to fight for it and just try and stay in the hunt all day long, stay in position and see what happens,” he said. “It’s gonna be a challenge, but if anyone’s up for a challenge, it’s our group.”
Ford has won four of the last five superspeedway races with four different drivers (Cindric, Blaney, Keselowski and Michael McDowell). Chevrolet has won once in the last 10, courtesy of William Byron at Daytona in August 2020.
Thirty-nine cars are on this week’s Cup Series entry list, meaning none will miss Sunday’s race.
One week after competing for Kaulig Racing, Xfinity Series points leader Noah Gragson returns to the Beard Motorsports No. 62 Chevrolet with sponsorship from Wendy’s. Other open, non-chartered cars on the entry list include the No. 55 Ford from MBM Motorsports driven by JJ Yeley and the NY Racing Team No. 44 Chevrolet driven by Greg Biffle.
In the Xfinity Series, 41 cars are on the entry list. Three cars will fail to qualify.
Jeffrey Earnhardt will join Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by his grandfather, Dale Earnhardt. Larry McReynolds, who was Earnhardt Sr.’s crew chief when the Hall of Famer won the 1998 Daytona 500, will return to the pit box to crew chief Saturday.
Camping World Truck Series regular Chandler Smith makes his Xfinity debut with Sam Hunt Racing’s No. 26 team this weekend. Ryan Sieg, who sits ninth in the points standings, will switch from the No. 39 Ford into the No. 38 Ford, allowing brother Kyle Sieg a seat in the No. 39 car due to the qualifying scenario.
Ryan Sieg will be driving the No. 38 Ford this week; Kyle Sieg in the No. 39.
From RSS Racing: "Talladega is going to be a unique qualifying situation with no practice and only one lap. This point swap gives us the best chance to get all three RSS Ford Mustangs in the field."
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) April 19, 2022
This weekend’s schedule and forecast
(All times Eastern)
Friday, April 22
Forecast: Sunny, high of 83 degrees, low of 57 degrees
- 4 – 5 p.m. — ARCA practice (groups)
- 5:30 – 7 p.m. — Xfinity qualifying (single-vehicle, single-lap, two rounds, FS1)
Saturday, April 23
Forecast: Sunny, high of 84 degrees, low of 60 degrees
- 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup qualifying (single-vehicle, single-lap, two rounds, FS1)
- 1 p.m. — ARCA race (76 laps, 202.16 miles; FS1)
- 4 p.m. — Xfinity race (113 laps, 300.58 miles; FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
Sunday, April 24
Forecast: Mostly sunny, high of 85 degrees, low of 62 degrees
- 3 p.m. — Cup race (188 laps, 500 miles; FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)