Certainly in recent years, Ford drivers have shown the way to Talladega Superspeedway’s famous Victory Lane — the seven most recent race trophies all belong to the manufacturer and its teams.
Yet NASCAR’s biggest and fastest speedway always remains a place where last-lap maneuvers and daring from-the-gut calls have produced some of the most thrilling and unpredictable finishes of the racing season. Ford has hoisted a string of trophies in recent seasons but the statistical examination of past driver performance keeps this historic venue one of the schedule’s most fickle and NASCAR’s best drivers perpetually on the verge of breakthrough and triumph.
Sunday’s GEICO 500 (2 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) is the next great superspeedway chapter. And for all of Ford’s recent winning patterns, Chevrolet and Toyota drivers are every bit a part of the statistical high expectation.
Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski owns five Talladega trophies — most of anyone competing this weekend. His Ford teammate Joey Logano is the defending winner of this race and has three Talladega trophies of his own.
But it’s Chevrolet driver Chase Elliott who boasts the top driving rating (91.3) and best average running position (10.8) even as he looks for his first win on the track. Fellow Chevrolet driver, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Kurt Busch is hoping his 36th start will result in his first win at the famed track. He leads this weekend’s field in quality passes (7,406) and laps run in the top 15 (66.7%) and more importantly top-five (eight) and top-10 finishes (19) even as he races for his first trophy.
Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson is looking to snap a nearly two-year winless streak — the longest time in his 83-victory career between trophy hoists and champagne toasts. A two-time Talladega winner, he’s led the most laps (322) at this track among his competitors this weekend. This year’s Daytona 500 winner, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin is second with 302 laps led.
“I think superspeedway racing is just something where you have to stay out of trouble,” Hendrick Motorsports driver Alex Bowman said. “Things can change on track quickly and you just have to be able to stay out of harm’s way.
“We were strong in Daytona and our Nationwide Camaro ZL1 is usually pretty good on superspeedways. The new aero package that we tested in Daytona a few months ago should be interesting to run and I am definitely looking forward to how it does on track. I am ready to see how it does and get to the track.”
XFINITY DASH 4 CASH RAISES THE STAKES IN TALLADEGA
The NASCAR Xfinity Series’ next stop on the schedule is at Talladega Superspeedway for the MoneyLion 300 (Saturday, April 27 at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) which presents a new chapter for all the championship contenders. For the first time this season there are no former Talladega winners or pole-winners entered in the race.
Add to that the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus is up for grabs between four of the series’ hottest drivers — Cole Custer, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier and reigning series champ Tyler Reddick — and this weekend’s 300-miler on the series’ fastest track couldn’t be more wide-open. The highest finisher among those drivers earns the $100,000 check from Xfinity and qualifies for next week’s Dash 4 Cash. In addition, the highest top-three championship contending Xfinity finishers this week at Talladega will also qualify to compete for the big check next week at Dover International Speedway.
Among those talented drivers, Allgaier, in particular, is eyeing this race to get back in Victory Lane. The veteran is on a remarkable run of six consecutive top-10 finishes at Talladega — including a runner-up showing in 2016 and a third-place finish last year. His average finish (10.0) is tops among those with more than one start at Talladega and the worst he’s finished since 2011 is eighth (twice). He is currently fifth in the championship — 87 points behind leader Reddick. Only two-time race winners Cole Custer (227 laps) and Christopher Bell (428 laps) have led more than Allgaier’s 224 laps this season.
Not only will the JR Motorsports driver Allgaier be in a car to watch, Jeffrey Earnhardt will be back behind the wheel of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota this week. Earnhardt, the grandson of the late 10-time Talladega Cup Series winner Dale Earnhardt, was a major storyline in the series’ first superspeedway race in Daytona Beach in February. He started on the outside pole at Daytona and led a career-best 29 laps in the perennially contending JGR No. 18. This will be Earnhardt’s first start for JGR since Texas last month and first Talladega start since a career-best 12th-place finish there running a part-time schedule for a different team in 2015.
Championship leader Tyler Reddick is still looking for his first victory as well, and Talladega has traditionally been a positive place for him. He finished eighth last year in the Xfinity race and has two top-five finishes in three starts in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series, winning the pole position in his first ever race (2014) at the superspeedway.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: GEICO 500
Defending race winner: Joey Logano
The Place: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, April 28
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 500 miles (188 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 55),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 110), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 188)
What to Watch For: Among active drivers Kurt Busch holds the top mark for top-five (eight) and top-10 (19) finishes. The late Dale Earnhardt holds the all-time record with 23 top-fives — including a record 10 wins — and 27 top-10s at the track. … Eight drivers currently ranked among the top-16 in the championship standings have never won at Talladega. … Four drivers have multiple series wins including Brad Keselowski (5), defending race winner Joey Logano (3), Clint Bowyer (2) and Jimmie Johnson (2). … Dave Marcis and NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte share the record for most Talladega starts (61). Kurt Busch and Kevin Harvick hold the mark among active drivers at 36 races. Busch has the most starts without a win. … Chase Elliott leads active drivers in best average starting position (4.167) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leads all active drivers in average finishing position (10.6). Ty Dillon is second to Stenhouse with an average finish of 13.5. Stenhouse has 11 starts and Dillon has four. … Seven drivers have won back-to-back series races at Talladega, but no current driver has. …. Jimmie Johnson has led the most laps (470) at Talladega in this week’s field. … The outside front row starting position (2nd) has produced the most winners (20). … The deepest on the grid a winner has started is 36th (Jeff Gordon in spring, 2000). The deepest on the grid an active driver has started and won is 34th (Denny Hamlin, spring, 2014). …Richard Childress Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are tied for most wins (12) at Talladega. … Ford has won the last seven races but Chevrolet (40 wins) leads the overall victory tally. Ford has 28 wins and Toyota has three. … The late Buddy Baker and three-time series champion Tony Stewart are tied for most runner-up finishes at Talladega with six each. Johnson and Harvick have the most (three) among active drivers. … In seven of the last nine races the margin of victory was .129-seconds or less. … Two-time Talladega winner Clint Bowyer has been involved in two of the closest four race finishes. He lost to Johnson by .002-seconds in April, 2011 in the closest race in Talladega history. Bowyer beat Jeff Burton by .018-seconds that Fall in the track’s fourth closest Cup race. … Bill Elliott holds the qualifying record of 212.809 mph (set in April, 1987). His eight poles is a record, too. Only Harvick has won multiple poles (2) among this week’s field. … No active driver won his first pole position at Talladega. Only David Ragan (spring, 2013) scored his first career Cup win here among active drivers. … Justin Haley will be making his Cup debut this week in the No. 77 Chevrolet. He won the ARCA Menards Series race at Talladega last year.
NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: MoneyLion 300
Defending race winner: Spencer Gallagher
The Place: Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, April 27
The Time: 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300 miles (113 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 50), and Final Stage (Ends on lap 113)
What to Watch For: There are no former race or pole winners entered in Saturday’s race so a guaranteed first-timer will celebrate both those achievements. … Two of the last three winners of this race led only the final lap — Spencer Gallagher last year and Elliott Sadler in 2016. … Only one driver — Martin Truex Jr. — has won consecutive Xfinity Series races at Talladega. Truex won three straight from 2004-06. … The last time a manufacturer won consecutive races was 2011-12 when Kyle Busch then Joey Logano hoisted trophies. … Five active drivers have won both Cup and Xfinity races at Talladega — David Ragan, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Aric Almirola. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the last driver to sweep both Cup and Xfinity races in a single weekend, doing so in April, 2003. … In 15 of the last 17 years this race has had at least 20 lead changes. The most ever was 56 in 2011 when Kyle Busch won the race. … Only twice in 27 races has the polesitter won — Joe Nemechek in 1998 and Tony Stewart in 2008. … The farthest back a winner has started on the grid is 35th — Nemechek won from there in 2000. … Third place has been the winningest starting position producing three race winners. … Justin Allgaier holds a series-best six consecutive top-10 finishes at Talladega, but has never won at the big track. …. Cole Custer, Austin Cindric, Justin Allgaier and Tyler Reddick are eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus this weekend. The highest finisher among them gets to cash the check. … Chevrolet has twice as many victories (15) at Talladega as any manufacturer. Ford has six and Toyota has four. … Reigning NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt will be making his season debut Saturday in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.
–By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media