Whenever NASCAR visits a superspeedway, typically, Hendrick Motorsports is the favorite for the pole. Not this time around at Talladega, as Joe Gibbs Racing — and Toyota as a whole — showed up, with Christopher Bell earning his second pole of the season. But how much does qualifying matter at Talladega? Not one iota, except for pit stall selection.
Dustin Albino’s race-day lineup:
Starter 1: Brad Keselowski
Starter 2: Ryan Blaney
Starter 3: Bubba Wallace
Starter 4: Kurt Busch
Starter 5: Justin Haley
Garage pick: Austin Dillon
NEXT IN LINE: William Byron, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher, Austin Cindric.
RISING: You won’t see Martin Truex Jr. on my list this weekend, but surely, he helped his case in many fantasy players’ eyes on Saturday with a second-place qualifying run. It’s hard to neglect the 2017 champion’s past on superspeedways, going winless in 68 starts. But hey, he was 0-for-80 on short tracks before winning in 2019 at Richmond and hasn’t yet stopped.
There’s no sugarcoating it, Kurt Busch has had a tough start to the 2022 season. It’s been feast or famine, scoring four top-10 finishes in nine events, but three results of 32nd or worse in the past four races. Although Busch has just one win on a superspeedway (2017 Daytona 500), he typically gets to the front and is competitive. Plus, Toyota looks to have brought some additional horsepower this weekend.
In his three-year Xfinity Series stint for Kaulig Racing, Justin Haley proved to be elite on superspeedways. After winning his first race in June 2020 at Talladega, he went on to win three straight (only the third driver to ever do that and first not named Earnhardt). Want an underdog this weekend? Here you go.
FALLING: As noted earlier, qualifying doesn’t matter at Talladega, so a 26th-place starting position for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shouldn’t be concerning. However, it’s on par with the start he’s gotten off to this season, sitting 29th in points. Still, don’t be surprised to see the No. 47 car up front on Sunday.
The absolute biggest surprise in qualifying was Hendrick Motorsports not winning the pole. More shocking was Alex Bowman ranked 27th and Chase Elliott 28th. But after not being awfully competitive in the Daytona 500 earlier this year (led just two laps), maybe HMS is honing in more on race setup.
Tyler Reddick vs. Chase Briscoe: Given the last lap of the Bristol Dirt Race last week, it’s fitting these two are matched up against one another. When it comes to superspeedway racing, the nod goes to Reddick, having won an Xfinity race in 2019 at Talladega. However, Briscoe did earn his first top-five finish in the Cup Series earlier this year in the Daytona 500.
Bubba Wallace vs. Denny Hamlin: Ah, driver against boss. In the modern era, one could argue Hamlin is the best superspeedway driver in the field. But it’s hard to bet against Wallace’s three straight top-two finishes on superspeedways and being the most recent winner at Talladega.
Brad Keselowski vs. Joey Logano: Speaking of being elite on superspeedways, both Keselowski and Logano fit that mold. Man, these two drivers are fun to watch at Daytona and Talladega due to their aggressive nature. That bit Keselowski in February, but he needs a good finish — or win — this weekend. We’ve seen him have walk-off wins at the 2.66-mile layout before.
Ryan Blaney vs. Chase Elliott: Blaney, too, is aggressive on superspeedways. His recent track record at Talladega is better than Elliott’s, so go with the No. 12 car.