The NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs are set to roll into the wild card of all wild cards — Talladega Superspeedway.
Thirty-seven cars dot the entry list for Sunday’s YellaWood 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), serving as the middle race of the Round of 12.
With no driver locked into the penultimate playoff round yet, the organized chaos of superspeedway racing is sure to provide tense, close-quarters action. Get set for the weekend here:
With no practice scheduled for Sunday’s race, the only pre-race track time teams will have this weekend will be qualifying.
The teams will be broken into Groups A and B for two rounds of single-car, single-lap qualifying set to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET (NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) to set the starting lineup.
With the postseason underway, playoff drivers and teams will be ordered by their previous race metrics and assigned to Group A or B by the usual odd/even metric procedures. Playoff teams will be the final cars to qualify in their respective groups.
The five fastest overall drivers from each group will advance to the final round of qualifying, where those 10 drivers will each set one more timed lap to fight for the Busch Light Pole Award.
— Talladega Superspeedway was completed in 1969, built in a soybean growing area. Today, the facility covers about 3,000 acres, the most of any Cup track (Daytona is 482 acres). It cost $6 million.
— Bill Ward, an Alabama insurance salesman and part-time racer, convinced NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. to build the track in Alabama despite France’s initial ideas to build in South Carolina.
— Richard Brickhouse won the inaugural Cup race on Sept. 14th, 1969 at Talladega, an event run after most of the regulars decided not to compete due to concerns over the tires’ capability of withstanding the high speeds.
— The track was last repaved before the fall race in 2006. Mark Martin won the Truck Series’ inaugural race at Talladega in the first race on the fresh asphalt.
— Talladega is the largest oval on the schedule at 2.66 miles with the steepest banking (33 degrees), longest backstretch (4,000 feet), most lead changes (88, Spring 2010 and 2011), first-time winners (11) and is tied for the closest margin of victory (0.002 seconds, April 2011; top eight separated by 0.145 seconds).
Source: Racing Insights
Teams have plenty of tire data to work with heading into Sunday’s race at Talladega. Goodyear is bringing the same tire setup to the high-banked, 2.66-mile superspeedway that was used here in April as well as the two events at Daytona International Speedway.
“This is the fourth superspeedway race we’ve had on this tire setup this season and we’ve had good results in the first three,” said Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing. “What we see at Talladega, as well as at Daytona, is teams being able to use tire strategy throughout the race to, depending on the situation, limit their time on pit road. With teams employing different strategies, it potentially jumbles up the field and leads to more passing, depending on the length of a run.”
TALLADEGA STORY LINES
— Nineteen different drivers have won this year, tied for the most all-time.
— Tyler Reddick has won three of the last 13 races, with teammate Austin Dillon picking up another victory (Daytona) for Richard Childress Racing in that span.
— The last seven races have each been won by different drivers — Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Austin Dillon, Erik Jones, Bubba Wallace, Chris Buescher and Reddick.
— William Byron was penalized following last week’s race at Texas Motor Speedway for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution, losing 25 driver and owner points and dropping him from third (+17 to the elimination line) to 10th (-8) ahead of Sunday’s race at Talladega. Byron was also fined $50,000. Hendrick Motorsports is appealing the decision.
— The driver leading the most laps won the last two races after winning only one of the prior nine.
— Non-championship-eligible drivers have won the last four playoff races, the longest stretch in series history.
— Kyle Busch ranks third in laps led in 2022 but ranks 30th in laps completed. He is also the only driver to finish inside the top 10 in all three superspeedway races in 2022.
— Chase Elliott has one top-10 finish in the last five races, his worst stretch this season.
Source: Racing Insights
Superspeedways provide plenty of pack racing, with competitors frequently side-by-side and often three-wide for position from green flag to checkered.
That makes picking favorites all the more difficult — evidenced by this week’s DraftKings odds, which list a half-dozen drivers as favorites at 12-1 odds: Ryan Blaney, William Byron, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, and Kyle Larson.
While there are never any truly safe picks at Talladega, the Team Penske duo of Blaney and Logano provides a pair of smart plays. Blaney is a two-time Talladega winner seeking his first triumph of 2022 while Logano enters in search of his fourth Talladega win.
Defending race winner Bubba Wallace enters at 18-1 odds but is worth consideration after finishing inside the top two in three of his last five superspeedway starts. There’s also Austin Dillon (25-1), the most recent superspeedway winner who won his way into the Cup Series Playoffs in August at Daytona.
Want to manage a team and race your way to the top of the leaderboards? Check out NASCAR Fantasy Live, which reset for the playoffs. The free-to-play game lets you choose your drivers each week and show off your crew-chief instincts by garaging a driver by the end of Stage 2, and there is a $10,000 prize for the playoff winner.
The 2022 Fantasy Live points leaders are Chase Elliott (1,018), Joey Logano (923), and Ryan Blaney (916).
In addition to Fantasy Live, NASCAR.com is offering the Playoffs Grid Challenge presented by Ruoff Mortgage during the playoffs.
ALSO ON NASCAR.COM
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