ADVANCING through the NASCAR Playoffs: Talladega analysis

The NASCAR Cup Series held its second Round of 12 playoff race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. The 2.66-mile Alabama track known for its high speed and high banks certainly delivered on postseason drama, as expected. Below is a breakdown of how the NASCAR Playoffs picture looks after the 500-mile event.

WINNER

Denny Hamlin. The driver of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota won Sunday’s YellaWood 500 in a multiple overtime finish. Hamlin is a NASCAR Playoffs driver, which means he joins Kurt Busch as a driver who is now locked into the Round of 8. This is win No. 7 for Hamlin in 2020.

RELATED: Official race results

WHO’S HOT

Denny Hamlin. The No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota chilled toward the back of the pack for the first two segments, coming in 26th in Stage 1 and 28th in Stage 2. By the end, though, Hamlin worked his way into the front chunk of the field. Clearly he was in the right place at the right time when the checkered flag waved.

Brad Keselowski. The No. 2 Team Penske Ford avoided all of the chaos and notched top-five finishes in both stages — fourth in Stage 1 and second in Stage 2. Those 16 stage points on top of the 19 points he earned for coming in 18th on the final results sheet will help keep him safe to advance. He had the fourth-best finish among playoff contenders.

WHO’S NOT

Aric Almirola. With three laps to go in Stage 1, a wreck sparked out front. Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was shoved from behind and got into the rear of Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. As the two tangled, other drivers were collected in the inevitable mess. Almirola nursed his car to pit road but ultimately had to retire from the race.

Clint Bowyer. On Lap 108, Clint Bowyer was using his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford to push the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson. Bowyer pushed too hard, though, and turned Johnson, who was in the middle of the park and therefore sparked a large wreck. As soon as Bowyer’s car came to a stop, he got out, ending his day prematurely.

Kyle Busch. The No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota faced adversity throughout the day. Busch was involved in the wreck Bowyer and Johnson sparked, going airborne for a hot second. Busch’s team fixed his car up enough to continue, but during the first overtime attempt on Lap 188, Busch got turned by Tyler Reddick to ultimately crash out before the white flag was thrown.

BUBBLE WATCH

Rank Driver Points to cutoff
5. Brad Keselowski +41
6. Martin Truex Jr. +32
7. Alex Bowman +22
8. Joey Logano +21
——-                               CUTOFF LINE ———————
9. Kyle Busch -21
10. Austin Dillon -21
11. Clint Bowyer -38
12. Aric Almirola -48

NEXT RACE

The NASCAR Cup Series travels to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval for the final race of the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Playoffs on Oct. 11 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC/NBC Sports App, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

WHO IT FAVORS

Chase Elliott. The wheelman of the No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet is a road-course ace. Four of his eight career wins came on road course, including the Charlotte Roval last year and the Daytona International Speedway Road Course this year. Elliott won on Charlotte’s oval earlier this season, too.

WHO IT HURTS

Kyle Busch. The reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion is the midst of a winless season, and odds are the Charlotte Roval isn’t going to change that. Busch placed 32nd and 37th in his two starts there. He has four career road-course wins in 33 races overall.