Brad Keselowski
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

Analysis: No shortage of drama in ‘Dega playoff races

The 2019 NASCAR Playoffs’ next stop in the Round of 12 is Talladega Superspeedway. The Monster Energy Series’ longest and fastest track has hosted a postseason race since the playoffs were formed for the 2004 season and into the elimination era in 2014. And none of the events lacked drama.

Four out of the last five Talladega playoff races ended in overtime. Three races featured a last-lap pass for the checkered flag. Two times the race winner eventually reached the Championship 4. One time the race ended under yellow.

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Here’s how all that broke down.

In 2014, Brad Keselowski won at Talladega, passing Ryan Newman for the lead on the final lap with a nice push from Matt Kenseth. The final run was two laps of green-flag racing in overtime.

Joey Logano was victorious in both 2015 and 2016. The first showing saw Logano lead the last eight laps (he led 20 on the day) and win under caution in overtime. The latter race had a longer leading run of 45 laps, which included a restart with two laps to go in overtime.

Keselowski then won again in 2017 in a similar fashion to his 2014 win. Once again, he won with a last-lap pass against Newman.

In 2018, Aric Almirola broke through at Talladega. He passed Kurt Busch on the final lap as Busch ran out of gas on the backstretch.

Each year, the winner just so happened to be a playoff driver. Logano in 2016 and Keselowski in 2017 were the only instances, though, where the winner went on to make the Championship 4. None of them won the series championship.

Talladega Winner Eliminated Final standings spot
Oct. 19, 2014 Brad Keselowski*^ Round of 8 5th
Oct. 25, 2015 Joey Logano^ Round of 8 6th
Oct. 23, 2015 Joey Logano^ Championship 4 2nd
Oct. 15, 2017 Brad Keselowski* Championship 4 4th
Oct. 14, 2018 Aric Almirola*^ Round of 8 5th

Key: *last-lap pass to win … ^overtime

The fun doesn’t stop there.

In each of those five races, the driver who actually led the most laps was not the one to ultimately win.

— 2014: Jimmie Johnson led 84 of 194 laps and finished 24th.
— 2015: Dale Earnhardt Jr. was out front for 61 of 196 laps and ended up second.
— 2016: Keselowski was first for 90 of 192 laps and didn’t finish due to an engine issue 144 laps in.
— 2017: Logano held the lead for 59 of 188 laps and crossed in fourth.
— 2018: Busch dominated for 108 of 193 laps and fell back to 14th when his No. 41 ran dry.

No one is safe at ‘Dega. While none of the previous turmoil involved crashes — even though a yellow fell within the last five laps of the last five races. The “Big One” is always looming.

Nevertheless, Sunday is the 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the second of three races in the Round of 12. Kansas Speedway is afterward as the eliminator race. Four drivers will be out from postseason contention, and the only one safe is Kyle Larson since he won the opener last week at Dover International Speedway.

“Everybody in this playoff field is going to be stressing next week at Talladega except for me, so that’s good,” Larson said. “You know, last time I was at Talladega, I was on my lid. And, I mean, I could still end up on my lid next week. But it’s not going to matter after this win.”