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April 21, 2024

Three Up, Three Down: Drivers in focus leaving Talladega

In another thriller of a finish at Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday, Tyler Reddick became the seventh different winner of the 2024 Cup Series season to provisionally lock into the playoffs. Brad Keselowski scored a second consecutive runner-up finish while Noah Gragson earned a career-best result of third.

RELATED: Race results | At-track photos

In front of co-owner Michael Jordan, 23XI Racing was able to nab the checkered flag while a handful of surprises appeared inside the top 10.

Here are six drivers — trending in different directions — who saw big swings Sunday at Talladega.


1. Brad Keselowski, No. 6 RFK Racing Ford

Brad Keselowski looks on
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Started: 22nd

Finished: 2nd

What happened: Leading on two different occasions and finishing eighth in Stage 1, Keselowski hung up front in the final 30 laps, pushing McDowell until the two made contact, sending the No. 34 spinning in the tri-oval on the final lap. The No. 6 Ford stayed straight to the checkered flag but was passed by Reddick for the victory. It’s the second straight runner-up finish for Keselowski as he inches closer to his first win since 2021.

What’s next: Dover awaits next Sunday and could be another chance for a big points day. Last season, Keselowski finished eighth at the Monster Mile and led eight laps.

2. Noah Gragson, No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford

Noah Gragson climbs from his car
Brittney Wilbur |

Started: 36th

Finished: 3rd

What happened: Noah Gragson put up his career-best result in the Cup Series with a third-place finish Sunday. The No. 10 was up front for a good chunk of the race, putting his hot rod in the lead on five different occasions.

What’s next: While once an eight-time victor during the 2022 Xfinity Series season, Gragson has had a quietly decent start to 2024, which includes top-20 results in the last four races. The second-year veteran is slowly but surely working his way back up the standings after the points penalty from Atlanta. SHR has been strong on tracks a mile or smaller, so expect another good run for Gragson next Sunday at Dover.

3. Daniel Hemric, No. 31 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet

Daniel Hemric gives a peace sign
Meg Oliphant | Getty Images

Started: 19th

Finished: 9th

What happened: A much-needed result for Hemric and Kaulig Racing as a whole as Hemric walked away from Talladega with his first top 10 of the season. The No. 31 Chevrolet also showed race-contending speed all day long as he led three different times for eight laps before a multi-car pileup at the finish saw Hemric escape through and score the ninth-place tally.

What’s next: This has been a down year for Kaulig as the No. 16 Chevy has moved to a rotation of drivers while Hemric is stuck 29th in the Cup standings through 10 races on the year. Strong finishes are important for building momentum for later races, so while Hemric’s best shot at the playoffs will come in August at Daytona, there’s hope for high-quality results as the summer portion of the season rapidly approaches.


1. Christopher Bell, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Christopher Bell crash at Talladega
James Gilbert | Getty Images

Started: 10th

Finished: 38th

What happened: Bell started toward the front of Sunday’s race and collected four points after Stage 1, but early in the final stage, a stack-up among the field ended with Justin Haley’s No. 51 Ford careening into the No. 20 Toyota. The wreck ended Bell’s day in last place among the 38-car field.

What’s next: Bell owns a win at Phoenix to provisionally lock himself into the playoffs, but consistency hasn’t been there for the No. 20 team since that victory. The team scored top 10s at Bristol, COTA and Richmond, but Bell has two finishes outside the top 30 in the last three races. Toyota was strong at Dover last year and Bell has consecutive top 10s at the Monster Mile in the Next Gen era. Next weekend would be a great time for the No. 20 crew to get back on track.

2. Chris Buescher, No. 17 RFK Racing Ford

Chris Buescher looks on
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Started: 8th

Finished: 25th

What happened: Buescher led on four different occasions Sunday at Talladega, but it never felt like he was in true contention for the victory, unlike his RFK co-owner. The No. 17 lost connection with Keselowski in the final portion of the race and wasn’t able to make up ground when the checkered flag flew.

What’s next: With Chase Elliott and Daniel Suárez as new faces in the playoffs compared to 2023, Buescher is going to need another strong summer like last year to solidify his position. Currently 16th in driver points, Buescher is the first driver outside the provisional playoff field with Suárez 18th in points but in the postseason field with his Atlanta win. Both RFK cars finished in the top 10 at the Monster Mile last year, so next Sunday should be a strong day for Buescher.

3. Ty Gibbs, No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota

Ty Gibbs climbs in his car
Sean Gardner | Getty Images

Started: 15th

Finished: 22nd

What happened: Gibbs was in line for a great outing at Talladega until jumping up to the third lane going for the win in the closing laps and falling to the back. The effort to take the lead was for naught as the high line deteriorated before the bell lap. Gibbs was then involved in the multi-car pileup as the field crossed the start-finish line to take the checkered flag.

What’s next: After such a hot start to the season with five top 10s in the first six races, Gibbs hasn’t found that same success since his last of that stretch at COTA. His best finish over the last four weeks was a 13th-place showing at Texas. While eighth in Cup points, this is a pivotal moment in Gibbs’ sophomore campaign. The 20-year-old will have to mentally lock in over the next few weeks at tough tracks like Dover, Darlington and Charlotte to stay within the playoff picture.