Talladega Promises To Shake Up Already-Unpredictable NASCAR Season

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA - OCTOBER 04: Justin Allgaier, driver of the #77 BRANDT Chevrolet, spins after an on-track incident as Chase Briscoe, driver of the #14 Rush Truck Centers/Mobil 1Delvac Ford, drives towards and Corey LaJoie, driver of the #7 Schluter Systems Chevrolet, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #23 McDonald's Toyota, drive away during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It’s always impossible to predict the winner at Talladega, just like it’s been almost impossible to pick the winner of every race so far this year in the NASCAR Cup Series. Sunday’s GEICO 500 (Sunday, April 24 at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) will be just as climactic as the season to date. Eight different drivers have found victory lane in the first nine races, an almost-unprecedented statistic. Similarly, in the last nine races Talladega races have yielded seven different winners.

Still, some drivers are better than others at the restrictor plate skillset. Brad Keselowski especially excels at Talladega, with 6 wins, the most of any drivers. A single Daytona wins gives him a total of 7 restrictor-plate victories, also a series-leading figure. 

“For me,” Keselowski said, “obviously Talladega is a special place in my mind and always will be. It is a place of unknowns in a lot of cases, but fortunately I’ve been able to be very successful there now with six victories, which is a hard feat at any one track. We all know most of Sunday is about survival, but we also know our Superspeedway cars at RFK consistently perform at a high level.”

However, it might not be Keselowski’s new RFK Racing team that dominates, as all but one of his wins came in Team Penske equipment. Roger Penske’s team has nine wins in the last fifteen races at the track along with other two drivers Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney. Keselowski’s replacement Austin Cindric scored his first win in the restrictor-plate Daytona 500 to start the year, bringing more experience for the discipline. 

Cindric said, “I feel like our two most senior drivers, Ryan and Joey, are two of the best at this type of racing. I think six of the twelve wins Penske has at Talladega are from Joey and Ryan, so those guys are really capable of getting that done.” He said he’ll be focused on “learning from them and understanding how I can best do my part” throughout the weekend. 

Bubba Wallace is the defending winner at the track, scoring his first win at Talladega in a rain-shortened race last fall. He said he’s looking to find victory lane again: “We would like to get stage points, but at the end of the day, getting a race win is the most important thing for us.” Wallace added the team has been doing well, and “we just got to continue to do that.”

Other drivers recognize that Bubba is a threat, too. “Most of the time, he’s pretty patient on letting the race come to him,” said rival Joey Logano Joey Logano. “He used to be a lot more aggressive, make moves, and a lot of times, that didn’t work. They weren’t fully calculated and made him fairly easy to beat. It’s not like that anymore… he’s upped his game and kind of found his own niche of speedway racing that works for him.”

With so many winners, the points race has become more important as some star drivers are already worried about earning a playoff spot. None of the top three in points – Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano – have scored a win so far this season, and underperforming drivers like Brad Keselowski, who sits 30th in points, are all searching for a win to guarantee a Playoff berth. 

TALLADEGA, ALABAMA – OCTOBER 04: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M’s Toyota, lead a pack of cars during the NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 04, 2021 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Dash 4 Cash Drama Continues in the XFinity Series

Brandon Brown scored a surprise first win at Talladega in last season’s fall Xfinity Series race. After a week break, he’ll be looking to defend that win for small independent team Brandonbilt Motorsports in the Ag-Pro 300  (4 p.m. ET on Saturday, April 23 on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Brandon will be one of only two drivers in the field who’ve won at Talladega, along with Our Motorsports driver Jeb Burton.

Dash 4 Cash excitement is back at Talladega on Saturday. Two weeks prior, fighting for the $100,000 bonus, Ty Gibbs tangled with Sam Mayer on track and threw punches after the race. He ended up with a $15,000 penalty for his actions. At Talladega, it’s AJ Allmendinger, Landon Cassill, Brandon Jones, and Austin Hill who will contend for the bonus after both Gibbs and Mayer crashed themselves out of contention at Martinsville.

More star power will be headlining the Xfinity race as legendary crew chief and broadcaster Larry McReynolds will once again sit atop the pit box. After a two-decade absence, he’ll be calling the shots for Jeffrey Earnhardt, grandson of Dale Earnhardt. It’ll be McReynolds’ first time in his career calling a race in the Xfinity Series. 

NASCAR Cup Series
Next Race: GEICO 500
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Sunday, April 24
The Time: 3 p.m. ET
The Purse: $7,420,008
TV: FOX, 2:30 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
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: Ag-Pro 300
The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
The Date: Saturday, April 23
The Time: 4 p.m. ET
The Purse: $1,475,583
TV: FOX, 3 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 300.58 miles (113 laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 25),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 50), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 113)

Owen Johnson