One of the most unpredictable tracks on the NASCAR circuit, Talladega, is the scene of an elimination race in the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Talladega Superspeedway. Two words that can strike fear into any driver who decides to take on the 2.66 mile oval, not to mention the remaining 10 drivers looking to advance to the Round of 8 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
This Sunday, there will be 40 drivers who will take the track for the Hellman’s 500, where speed and accidents are a twice-a-year ritual. However, those who are still alive in the championship hunt will be looking for the former while trying to avoid the latter.
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Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick have clinched a spot in round three, leaving Matt Kenseth (+29 points above the cutoff), Kyle Busch (+27), Carl Edwards (+24), Kurt Busch (+17), Martin Truex Jr. (+13), Joey Logano and Austin Dillon (0), Denny Hamlin (-6), Brad Keselowski (-7) and Chase Elliott (-25) left to battle for the remaining six slots. Not an easy task when you factor in the unpredictability of the Alabama speedway.
Avoiding ‘The Big One’ takes on a whole new meaning considering what’s at stake. One mistake, or getting caught up in someone else’s, can end a title dream.
Of those who are currently alive in the Chase, Brad Keselowski has more wins at Talladega than anyone, with four, which includes taking the checkers this past May in the Geico 500.
Talladega’s surface is 10 years old, having gone through a fourth repaving on Sept. 19, 2006. There have been 94 Cup races held at the Superspeedway, one event in 1969 and two races per year since 1970. Over that span 442 drivers have started at least one race there while 307 have done two or more. Of the 45 drivers who have won at Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Sr. has the most with 10.
Where you start is equally as important as staying out of a big wreck. The best spot is outside the front row where 20 have gone on to victory lane. 33 of the 94 have won from the front row with 13 coming from the pole. Starting from a top-10 position, 67 of the 94 have notched a victory. Only eight winners have come from outside the top-20 although Jeff Gordon came from 36thto take the spring event in 2000.
Weather has rarely played a factor in the race with only two events being shortened, the spring of 1987 and fall of 1996, and just five qualifying sessions have been called off, the latest coming in 2013.
PREDICTION: For those at the top of the Chase grid, a solid finish is all they need to move on; unfortunately, it isn’t so simple for those at the bottom. Chase Elliott needs a win or the rest of the field to get stuck in the garage for the race. While he has a pole at Talladega, it came last May, and leads all active drivers in average finishing position with a 12.200, but nothing is going to help him on Sunday. For those above him, getting a win is not as dire although one sticks out to take home that jar of mayonnaise. He has led the most laps of all active drivers with 512, is coming off a pole at Kansas and has not finished out of the top 10 in any of the Chase races: Matt Kenseth.
LONGSHOT: Talladega can be as unpredictable as the weather these days so it’s not out of the question that someone from outside the Chase grid could sneak across the finish line first. In his last seven outings, he has just two top-10 finishes, though he did make the Chase despite not having a win. In fact, the last time he did that was at this track back in the fall event of 2013: Jamie McMurray.