Talladega Superspeedway, Talladega, AL — October 2, 2022
The lead-up to the playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway has been a tumultuous week. Could today’s race prove to be even more so? That is what everyone expects. Including the fans who are flocking to North Central Alabama.
Racing journalist Jeff Gluck reported Talladega had sold tickets to people from all 50 states and 22 different countries (on six different continents) for Sunday’s playoff race. The track says more than 70% of those in attendance will be traveling from outside of Alabama.
Why is everyone so excited to witness what happens at NASCAR’s largest track today? Because it is fast, wild, unpredictable, and dangerous. Kind of like the last week.
Events Leading Into Talladega
Texas was fast, so fast that NASCAR missed William Byron retaliating for what he deemed to be inappropriate contact from Denny Hamlin trying to make a late race pass. Under caution, Byron tapped Hamlin’s bumper and sent him spinning. After reviewing the incident, post-race, NASCAR fined Byron $50,000 and deducted 25 points that had a severe impact on the playoff standings.
The penalty moved Byron from 17 points above the cut line to eight points below the line and in danger of being eliminated from the postseason. Ty Gibbs was also penalized for an incident on pit road where he shared his displeasure with Ty Dillon by hitting Dillon’s car in what was deemed a potentially dangerous act. Gibbs fine, $75,000.
Alex Bowman Injured at Texas
Texas was wild. The caution flag waved at Texas Motor Speedway a record 19 times. One incident involved Alex Bowman, who wrecked and suffered a concussion and will not race today at Talladega. Noah Gragson will sub for Bowman.
NASCAR provided Bowman a waiver so he was not eliminated from the playoffs. However, if he returns next week, he will face a must-win situation to advance to the “Round of Eight.” If he misses another week, he will be eliminated from the postseason based on points.
The injury intensified the discussion among drivers that the Next-Gen Car is not as safe as the previous versions of the Cup Series racing machines. Kevin Harvick had been very vocal about the subject until going silent at Bristol.
Bowman said over his in-car radio the impact was “the hardest he had ever wrecked in his life.”
Denny Hamlin spoke up and challenged NASCAR to address the driver’s concerns. This is a subject that is not going to go away until something is done.
Talladega Superspeedway Likely to Stir Up an Already Unpredictable Playoffs
Four NASCAR Cup Series Playoff races into the 2022 championship run, and none of the Playoff drivers have won any of the postseason races this season, leaving all 12 still looking to clinch their spot in the Round of 8 with two races left in the Round of 12 – Talladega Superspeedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL.
This weekend the competitors will have to face one of the biggest hurdles in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as Talladega Superspeedway opens the gates and unleashes its 2.66-miles of asphalt with 33 degrees of banking in the turns for Sunday’s YellaWood 500. Expect the unexpected at Talladega; it is literally anyone’s race to win
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric (3,034 points) is ninth in the Playoff outlook standings – the first position outside the Round of 8 cutoff – seven points back from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe in the eighth position.
Cindric’s lone NASCAR Cup Series career win came in the season-opening Daytona 500, so the rookie has found success on superspeedways. But has a few headwinds to work through as this is his first appearance in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs and just his second career Cup start at Talladega. He made his series track debut at the track earlier this season; he started 18th and finished 21st.
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell (3,016 points) is ranked 11th in the Playoff outlook standings, 29 points back from the Round of 8 cut-off after finishing 34th at Texas Motor Speedway. After a strong start to the Playoffs with three top fives in the first three races, Bell skidded out in Texas and is now trying to advance out of the Round of 12 for the first time in his career. The Oklahoma native has made five starts at Talladega, posting one top-five finish.
Active Talladega Winners
Eleven of the 51 NASCAR Cup Series race winners at Talladega Superspeedway are active this weekend, led by Brad Keselowski with six wins at Talladega Superspeedway (2009, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2021); followed by Joey Logano with three victories (2015, 2016, 2018).
|Active Talladega Race Winners||Wins||Seasons|
|Brad Keselowski||6||2021, ’17, ’16, ’14, ’12, ’09|
|Joey Logano||3||2018, ’16, ’15|
|Denny Hamlin||2||2020, ’14|
|Ryan Blaney||2||2020, ’19|
|Ricky Stenhouse Jr||1||2017|
The YellaWood 500 will run 188 laps around the massive Talladega Superspeedway. Stages are set for 60/60/68 laps. Christopher Bell sits on the pole, with Kyle Larson starting beside him on the front row.
The defending champion of the race is Bubba Wallace. Ross Chastain won at Talladega in the spring race this year.
Aric Almirola(10) quickly moved to the front of the pack on the inside as drivers remained in side-by-side lines from the drop of the green flag. Ross Chastain(1) led the outside groove with a push from Michigan’s Erik Jones(43).
An early caution was displayed on lap seven as the side window of Ty Dillon(42) was blown out of his car and landed on the track. A few drivers opted to pit for fuel as the leaders stayed on the track. Back to green, and Jones led for nine laps.
Just 24 laps in “the big one” occurred mid-pack. As drivers shuffled positions, developing a third line of cars on the top side of the track. Harrison Burton(21) lost control after a tap on the rear bumper from Ricky Stenhouse Jr.(47) and spun, collecting several race cars in the incident.
Austin Cindric(2), Joey Logano(22), Ty Gibbs(23), Justin Haley(31), Noah Gragson(48), and Justin Allgaier(62) were the other drivers involved in the turn-one pileup. Only Burton and Gibbs suffered significant damage. The other drivers were able to continue with minor repairs.
On lap 44, Corey LaJoie(7) had a right front tire go down, hitting the wall in turn two.
As the laps wound down in Stage One, Denny Hamlin(11), Chase Elliott(9), Kyle Busch(18), Ryan Blaney(12), and Logano raced for the green and white checkered flag. Three wide across the start/finish line, it was Blaney, Hamlin, and Elliott finishing one-two-three.
Stage One Results
|1||12||Ryan Blaney* (P)||10|
|2||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||9|
|3||9||Chase Elliott (P)||8|
|4||2||Austin Cindric* (P)||7|
|5||22||Joey Logano* (P)||6|
|6||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||5|
|8||5||Kyle Larson (P)||3|
|9||48||Noah Gragson (P)||2|
*Ford Mustang Drivers (P) Playoff Drivers
Stage-ending pit stops shuffled the running order with teams on different tire strategies. Larson won the race off pit road. Jones, Chastain, Blaney, and Bell followed.
Drivers swapped the lead back and forth between the two groves on the track. At the midway point of the Stage, five drivers lined up and pulled away. Almirola, Kevin Harvick(4), Todd Gilliland(38), Larson, and Jones forced the field to fall into line as they began to separate themselves, running nose-to-tail.
Green flag pit stops began with 22 laps to go in the Stage. Cars mostly entered the pit road as groups by manufacturers and returned the track somewhat spread out. When all stops had been completed, the running order took on a new appearance.
Tyler Reddick(8) led, followed by Daniel Suarez(99), Larson, Elliott, and Haley. However, it did not take long for side-by-side racing to form up, and the battle for positions at the front of the pack resumed.
The parity between the inside and outside lines saw lead changes at the flag stand almost every lap. On the last lap of the Stage, Reddick was running on the high side of the track. He pulled up out of the draft and disrupted the momentum of the cars following him. Reddick’s team had miscalculated, and he ran out of fuel.
Coming to the green and white checkered flag, they again went three wide across the stripe, with Elliott getting the Stage win nosing ahead of Haley and Larson.
Stage Two Results
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||10|
|3||5||Kyle Larson (P)||8|
|4||99||Daniel Suarez (P)||7|
|6||1||Ross Chastain (P)||5|
|10||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||1|
*Ford Mustang Drivers (P)Playoff Drivers
The Final Stage
Elliott was first off pit road, with Jones following. Erik Jones led the pack around to the flag stand when racing resumed after the Stage ending caution period. But, as has been the case all afternoon, the lines continued to swap the lead with multiple drivers taking their turn at the top spot.
Drivers will have to make at least one pit stop during the Final Stage to have enough fuel to finish the race. Whether that stop happens under the green flag or during a caution will likely determine who is in a position to capture the win.
Ross Chastain pulled the top line out to a significant lead. The bottom line, led by Hamlin, stayed in tack, and they were able to cut into the advantage as they approached the halfway point of the Stage.
With 30 laps to go, the Fords of Blaney, Brad Keselowski(6), Gilliland, and Harvick got lined up, and they were able to pull away and collapse the two groves into a single line back to the 11th position.
Green flag pit stops began with 27 laps to go as most of the leaders pitted together. One lap later, the remainder of the field came in for service. Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski were caught speeding on pit road. Both drivers had to return and serve a drive-thru penalty, likely taking them out of contention for the win.
With all stops complete, Blaney was the leader. Followed by Chastain, Jones, and Gilliland, all in the top groove around the track. With the bottom line trying to pull even, Jones dropped down and led them to the front as the side-by-side racing resumed with 20 laps to go.
Jones had Michael McDowell pushing him, with Chastain giving Blaney a shove on the top side. With 12 laps to go, Harvick and Keselowski went a lap down as their speeding penalties cost them dearly.
With nine laps to go, Jones took the lead. Blaney would surge forward, and then Jones would respond. With six laps to go, the yellow flag came out for Daniel Hemric losing an engine and coming to rest at the end of pit road. Keselowski was the lucky dog (the first car a lap down), and he was allowed to return to the lead lap by passing the pace car.
The race resumed with two laps to go and Jones in the lead. The two leaders swapped pushers, with Chastain now behind Jones and McDowell on the bumper of Blaney.
Blaney gained the advantage down the backstretch as the Jones-Chastain combo was separated slightly. Chase Elliott pulled up in front of Jones, and they hooked up to bring the top four cars nose to tail and side-by-side under the white flag.
Jones pushed Elliott to the lead, and as they came into the tri-oval, the leaders spread out, each fighting for the checkered flag. Elliott became the first playoff driver to win in the 2022 postseason, locking him into the Round of Eight. Blaney finished second. Jones came across the line in the sixth position.
|1||Chase Elliott||3103||Advanced Win||46|
|Round of 12 Cut Line|
*Ford Mustang Drivers
Elliott’s win automatically advances him to the next round of the playoffs and adds more bonus points to the total he will start the Round of Eight with.
Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, and Denny Hamlin will likely advance with the cushion they hold, barring a complete disaster at the Charlotte Roval next Sunday. Logano, Larson, and Suarez cannot afford a slip, or they could fall into the clutches of Cindric or William Byron.
Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are in a dead heat on the bubble, with Briscoe holding the tie-breaker currently. Christopher Bell joined Alex Bowman in the must-win category if they hope to continue in this year’s playoffs.
Results of the Yellawood 500 from Talladega Superspeedway
|1||9||Chase Elliott (P)||—||188|
|2||12||Ryan Blaney (P)||0.046||188|
|4||1||Ross Chastain (P)||0.160||188|
|5||11||Denny Hamlin (P)||0.183||188|
|8||99||Daniel Suarez (P)||0.296||188|
|9||2||Austin Cindric (P)||0.312||188|
|10||14||Chase Briscoe (P)||0.322||188|
|12||24||William Byron (P)||0.381||188|
|16||45||Bubba Wallace (P)||0.464||188|
|17||20||Christopher Bell (P)||0.531||188|
|18||5||Kyle Larson (P)||0.534||188|
|19||48||Noah Gragson (P)||0.599||188|
|22||47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||1.376||188|
|26||19||Martin Truex Jr.||2.348||188|
|27||22||Joey Logano (P)||3.062||188|