Mash The Gas: NASCAR Talladega Preview

The field races in a tight pack during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

The drama at Talladega Superspeedway will be cranked up this weekend with almost every driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on the “bubble”. [Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images]

It is time for the Talladega “twist” in the playoffs of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

Alabama 500
Talladega Superspeedway
500.8 miles (188 laps)
Sunday, Oct. 15
2 p.m. ET
NBC, 1:30 p.m. ET
MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Stage 1 (Ends on lap 120)
Stage 2 (Ends on lap 240)
Final Stage (Ends on lap 400)
The Alabama 500 is the middle race of the “Round of 12” and will have at least eleven drivers with their championship hopes on the line as the series races the high banked Talladega Superspeedway on Sunday. Only one driver is safe this weekend and that is Martin Truex Jr., who own last weekend at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, ensuring himself a spot in the “Round of 8” coming up next.

This race last season was the final race before the cutoff to the next round of the Chase, but now it has been moved back to allow next week’s event at Kansas Speedway to be the cutoff race and giving drivers a bit of a shot at redemption if all goes awry this weekend.

Stage points will continue to be important as there is only a ten point gap between 12th place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 8th place Jamie McMurray.

Expect the standings to look quite a bit different after the Alabama 500.

Safe Drivers?

The only safe driver is Truex. Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick are doing ok with an over 25 point gap above the cutoff, but a below 30th place finish will erase that gap pretty quickly. As with every driver, running at the front as stage one and two end will be hugely important and you will see the top ten filled with playoff drivers. Those that don’t get points in the stages will be sorry.

A Bit of a Cushion

The next group contains Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch. These drivers are between 16 and 12 points above the cutoff. These guys normally run well at Talladega and will need to be up in the top ten all race long to protect their standing positions. Busch had his issues last week at Charlotte which erased most of his banked points advantage. That was a one time deal for Busch, if he has problems at Talladega, next week will be a must win.

The Bubble

Drivers are piled up on the bubble and this is where you will see the most action and change in standings. Champion Jimmie Johnson is in danger of repeating as he currently sits eight points ahead of the cutoff in seventh and bubble driver Jamie McMurray is just one point ahead of Matt Kenseth who is currently out of the top eight. All three of those drivers have and can win at Talladega with McMurray and Kenseth both showing speed lately.

The driver I am picking to win this weekend, Brad Keselowski, is two points below the cutoff. Keselowski had a bad Charlotte race, which is why he is in this position, and hasn’t really been the Keselowski of previous seasons. But four wins at Talladega and a fourth best average finish at the track should give him solid confidence this weekend. Now is the time for him to go, and I believe he will.

Ryan Blaney (-5 points to cutoff) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr (-10) are next in the standings. While Blaney hasn’t been running up front much lately, Stenhouse has been improving and now returns to his favorite type of track this season, a super speedway. With wins in the last two of the three restrictor plate races this season so far, Stenhouse is a favorite coming to Talladega. But this race is so dependent on luck, can Stenhouse really sweep the Talladega races? He has the speed and luck seems to be on his side. A Stenhouse win would flip the standings upside down, and that would be fun.

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