Talladega injects superspeedway chaos into the middle of the NASCAR Playoffs

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - APRIL 24: Kyle Larson, driver of the #5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet, and William Byron, driver of the #24 Liberty University Chevrolet, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 24, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)

Talladega is traditionally a venue for unexpected winners, but no Playoff driver has found victory lane yet in the first four postseason races. There’s no race like Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) to end a streak and change Playoff standings entirely.

After an eventful Texas race filled with blown tires and tempers, Joey Logano leads the Playoff standings by twelve points over Ross Chastain. However, Logano only has 56 points over 12th-place Bowman, a gap that can absolutely be made up in next two races of the Round of 12 at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

More pressingly, Chastain is the defending winner at Talladega. However, he’s not particularly confident about his chances at the track.

“Unfortunately,” Chastain said, “my belief is when you win a superspeedway race, you have to pay it back for a long time so you don’t finish good for a long time. So I’ll be very lucky if I get to finish that race. If I can just stay on the bottom again and they move out of my way and I take the checkered flag in first, that would be great.”

But the story is not at the front of the field but around the transfer bubble. Chase Briscoe occupies the eighth and final transfer position, but there are some big names who will now be battling with him. Chase Elliott, for one, is only four points ahead of Briscoe despite coming into the Round of 12 as points leader. His DNF at Texas is a warning to the entire field about how quickly points can be lost.

And also now below the cutline is Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsport teammate William Byron. The driver was given a $50,000 fine and a 25-point penalty for spinning out Denny Hamlin during caution at Texas. That puts Byron in tenth, eight points behind Briscoe.

Another casualty of the Texas race is Alex Bowman. He’s the Playoff driver with the least points after early contact with the wall left him five laps down, but he will be sitting out of the Talladega race with concussion-like symptoms, and Noah Gragson will fill in for him. He’s the second driver to miss a race for concussion symptoms after Kurt Busch was forced to miss the Playoffs altogether with that.

Also injured in the Texas race was Cody Ware, who suffered a horror crash with the pit wall that left him with an ankle injury. He’s received the all-clear to race on Sunday.

Still, Elliott can be confident. He’s one of only four drivers in the Round of 12 who’ve ever won at Talladega. That list also Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano. Brad Keselowski has the most wins of all active drivers at the track.

Qualifying (one-lap and two rounds) is set for Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m. ET and will be aired on the NBC Sports App, MRN Radio and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Gragson looks for five at Talladega

Noah Gragson tied an Xfinity Series record last week at Texas. Now he has an eye on making it his own Saturday’s Sparks 300 (4 p.m. ET on USA Network, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). The JR Motorsports driver has won the last four races in a row: no Xfinity Series driver has ever made it five. And he’s the defending Talladega winner for added momentum.

“This season has just been incredible,” Gragson said. “It was a pretty wild finish last time at Talladega and it will probably be that way again this weekend. We’re already in the Round of 8 and that takes some of the pressure off this weekend.”

But it’s also the Playoffs, and other drivers are hungry for their own win. Gragson punched his ticket into the Round of 8 with his win at Texas. Riley Herbst, Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, and Jeremy Clements all sit below the cutline and are looking for a win.

Herbst, for one, believes he has a shot.

“It’s all about survival,” he said. “Talladega is a wild card and you never know what’s going to happen. I think if we can stay out of trouble and get a little luck, we can be contenders at the end. The key part is getting to the end of the race.”

At the other end of the points, AJ Allmendinger has just one point on Ty Gibbs for second coming into Talladega. But the winner of last year’s Talladega Playoff race wasn’t even a Playoff driver, as Brandon Brown broke through to score his first win.

Qualifying for the race begins at 5:30 p.m. ET on Friday and will be aired on USA Network.

Truck Series Playoffs are back

The Camping World Truck Series are back in action for the first race in Bristol, and back with a show. The Chevy Silverado 250 (12:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be a Saturday doubleheader with the Xfinity Series.

Ty Majeski is the only driver locked into the Championship 4 at Phoenix with his breakthrough first win at Bristol two weeks ago. Zane Smith sits third in the standings, three points behind Chandler Smith. And he doesn’t plan on holding back.

“I’ve been gung ho on just racing the whole time,” Zane Smith said of his approach to Talladega. “I’ve been involved in a wreck everywhere at Talladega.  I feel like I’ve been wrecked riding and I’ve been wrecked leading, so I wanted to race but a few guys on my team are saying that they think we should ride, but I don’t know.  I feel like it’s one of those deals where I want to race.”

Grant Enfinger, who sits 15 points below the cutline heading in, is the only driver in the Round of 8 to have ever won at Talladega. Also below the cutline with him is John Hunter Nemechek, Christian Eckes, and Ben Rhodes.

A one-lap, two-round qualifying session for the race will be held Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. ET.

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – APRIL 23: Anthony Alfredo, driver of the #23 Dude Wipes Chevrolet, AJ Allmendinger, driver of the #16 Nutrien Ag Solutions Chevrolet, and Noah Gragson, driver of the #9 Bass Pro Shops/TrueTimber/BRCC Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Xfinity Series Ag-Pro 300 at Talladega Superspeedway on April 23, 2022 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: YellaWood 500
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, October 2
The Time: 2 p.m. ET
The Purse: $8,338,881
TV: NBC, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 500 miles (188 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 60),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 120), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 188)

NASCAR Xfinity Series
Next Race: Sparks 300
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, October 1
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,653,281
TV: USA, 3:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 300.58 miles (113 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 113)

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
Next Race: Chevy Silverado 250
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, October 1
The Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $806,669
TV: FS1, 12 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR (Channel 90)
Distance: 250.04 miles (94 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 20),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 40), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 94)

Owen Johnson