1000Bulbs.com 500 Preview: The Wild Card of the Chase

1000Bulbs.com 500 Preview: The Wild Card of the Chase

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

This weekend the luck factor comes into play like no other race in the 10 events that makeup the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup.  NASCAR comes to Talladega Superspeedway for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and for the wild pack racing action that Talladega provides.  This is the perfect event to throw in with the short tracks, flat tracks, and intermediate ovals that make up the final 10 races in the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup championship.  Considering that we've spent the last few weeks racing on intermediate and smaller ovals with few cautions and few crashes, we're in for some major changes as the "big one" comes back into play.  The multi-car, multi-line drafts and side-by-side racing at near 200 mph is nothing short of chaotic.  Five hundred miles of racing in these tight conditions almost always leads to disaster, and that's where the luck factor comes into play this weekend.  Considering that this weekend's race is the second in the Round of 12 of the Chase, the stakes will be even higher than usual. 

If Chase Elliott hopes to engrave his name on the Monster Energy Cup trophy for the first time, a victory here will go a long way to that end.  The Hendrick Motorsports star won here in April of this year in a pretty strong performance.  The No. 9 Chevrolet team has had spotty luck on the superspeedways this season, outside of the Talladega win.  However, coming back to the scene of his April victory

This weekend the luck factor comes into play like no other race in the 10 events that makeup the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup.  NASCAR comes to Talladega Superspeedway for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and for the wild pack racing action that Talladega provides.  This is the perfect event to throw in with the short tracks, flat tracks, and intermediate ovals that make up the final 10 races in the Chase for the Monster Energy Cup championship.  Considering that we've spent the last few weeks racing on intermediate and smaller ovals with few cautions and few crashes, we're in for some major changes as the "big one" comes back into play.  The multi-car, multi-line drafts and side-by-side racing at near 200 mph is nothing short of chaotic.  Five hundred miles of racing in these tight conditions almost always leads to disaster, and that's where the luck factor comes into play this weekend.  Considering that this weekend's race is the second in the Round of 12 of the Chase, the stakes will be even higher than usual. 

If Chase Elliott hopes to engrave his name on the Monster Energy Cup trophy for the first time, a victory here will go a long way to that end.  The Hendrick Motorsports star won here in April of this year in a pretty strong performance.  The No. 9 Chevrolet team has had spotty luck on the superspeedways this season, outside of the Talladega win.  However, coming back to the scene of his April victory has to be very confidence-building.  The two biggest threats to Elliott's hopes for Talladega sweep this weekend would be Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.  Both are past winners at this 2.66-mile oval and both are seeking that Chase-advancing win to make the Round of 8 this Sunday afternoon.  The stakes will be high and so will the nerves.  As we saw with both Logano and Ryan Blaney at Dover last weekend, the consequences of this Chase format is more pressure than ever at this point in the season.  When the green flag drops the mayhem will ensue and championship hopes will be made or dashed after 500 miles of racing at 'Dega.

Talladega Superspeedway is unlike any of the other tracks in the Chase, but history still plays a big part.  The drivers that tend to run up front and win at this large oval are usually the same drivers each and every time we visit Talladega.  As you'll see in the table below, some of the drivers who are vying for the championship are also very proficient at Talladega Superspeedway.  Here are the loop stats for the last 29 races at the famous Alabama oval.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Chase Elliott14.01,6632510698593.4
Kurt Busch15.87,646982123,69190.5
Joey Logano16.45,087793032,52089.8
Brad Keselowski15.64,550832712,33489.0
Jimmie Johnson16.26,123793223,17887.1
Ryan Blaney20.82,52031551,28186.7
Daniel Hemric5.0193509885.5
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.11.82,69558571,21783.5
Denny Hamlin18.35,2741093022,58683.2
Kyle Busch20.35,6681272382,80681.8
Kevin Harvick16.65,2621182242,74481.0
William Byron23.3403141933680.4
Aric Almirola15.93,38858431,60880.2
Kyle Larson20.62,35533101,04479.0
Martin Truex Jr.21.35,86277632,68178.3
Paul Menard18.85,263116502,38376.9
Clint Bowyer16.13,6591511101,92776.2
Ryan Preece3.0101503474.7
David Ragan19.13,785102381,70374.2
Daniel Suarez14.41,000261249573.6

The loop stats from Talladega look a bit odd when compared to other tracks in the series.  Right away we notice a lack of drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Kevin Harvick in the Top 10 of this list.  Luck plays a large part in winning Talladega.  Some times it's all in the timing and when to make your move at this oval.  The second thing we notice is the lower overall driver ratings.  Wrecks play a big part in Talladega racing, and everyone eventually gets caught up in a big one, putting a dent in their average statistical performance.  In this season's earlier race at Talladega in April we saw Chase Elliott run away and lead the final 4 laps en route to the impressive victory.  His shootout with Joey Logano was set up thanks to two major multi-car crashes in the final 6 laps.  This late turn of events robbed Logano and rewarded Elliott, and it underscores the unpredictability of Talladega races.  Yes indeed, anything can happen at Talladega.  The 38 lead changes were up a bit over recent Talladega races, and a good trend NASCAR hopes to continue thanks to the new superspeedway aero package.  Hopefully, we'll see some more of the same passing at the front again this weekend, and the ability for cars to work together to run down a faster leader.

Like most Talladega races, we should see some big multi-car crashes and some late cautions as the urgency gets the best of the drivers in the closing laps.  With the big wrecks and caution flags as a result of the pack racing, we should see some of the familiar "sand-bagging" drivers who hang out in the back of the field.  Although stage racing has gone a long way towards tempering this possibility, the driver who keeps a low profile most of the race may ultimately be the one to push to the front in the closing laps and make for a thrilling victory.  One thing is for certain, a spot in the next round of the Chase is up for grabs and this race helps to equalize the odds for some of the smaller teams.  Some drivers will move on to Kansas with their championship hopes intact, while others will load the wrecked remains of their race cars onto the hauler and start to think about next season.  Here are the drivers who you need to focus on for fantasy racing glory at Talladega Superspeedway.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Chase ElliottDespite his DNF at Dover last week, Elliott's big win two weeks ago at Charlotte locks him into the next round of the Chase.  So a good bit of the pressure is off this weekend, and that may be a prescription for victory at Talladega.  Elliott won't have to press, and he can relax and just have fun racing.  Pressing and pushing a bad position at Dega can get you in trouble in a hurry.  Elliott won earlier this season at the Alabama oval, so the season sweep watch falls on the No. 9 team Sunday.  The young driver had a fast car at Daytona in July, but was rolled up in a late-race crash while racing among the leaders.  Talladega really appeals to Elliott of late.  In addition to his April win, he finished third in the previous season's spring race.

Joey Logano The Penske Racing star has won three of the last eight Talladega races, and rides a four-race Talladega Top-5 streak into this weekend's action.  Logano has really supplanted his teammate, Brad Keselowski, as the driver to beat when we visit the monstrous Alabama oval.  All these victories and Top 5's the last four seasons at this facility have elevated Logano's Talladega Top-5 rate to 38-percent.  That's a pretty high mark considering the high stakes nature of this racing.  Logano led 37 laps and finished fourth in April's GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.  We expect this driver and team to once again be out front when it comes down to the closing laps of the 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Brad Keselowski The five-time Talladega winner comes to central Alabama this weekend looking for a win and automatic berth in the next round of the Chase.   Considering his recent speed on superspeedway ovals, Keselowski will have those odds on his side.  The Penske Racing star won this event two years ago in thrilling fashion for his fifth-career victory at Talladega Superspeedway.  While the two ovals of Daytona and Talladega haven't been too kind to the driver of the No. 2 Ford in 2019, we have to chalk that up to bad luck.  Keselowski had great speed at both Talladega and Daytona this season, but the finishes didn't equal the speed.  This driver and team have had their number pop up quite a bit at Talladega over the years, so Keselowski is always a threat to win. 

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.The Roush Fenway Racing veteran has established himself as a top superspeedway performer in recent seasons.  The last of his two Daytona/Talladega wins came in 2017 at Daytona.  The speed of the No. 17 Ford team at these huge ovals has been undeniable since that season.  Stenhouse has led 137 combined laps between the two tracks in his last 10 starts.  He hasn't picked up the finishes this year in his three prior attempts, but he's had the speed (34 laps led).  It seems that Stenhouse brings home run potential to the table each time we visit Daytona or Talladega.  It's good to keep that in mind while filling out your fantasy racing lineups this weekend.

Solid Plays – Near locks for a Top 10 with an outside shot to win

Denny Hamlin Hamlin got a much needed boost with his Top-5 finish at Dover this past weekend.  Now the Joe Gibbs Racing star will look to turn in a good Talladega effort and take one step closer to Homestead and the championship.  Hamlin is a one-time Talladega winner (2014) and he's posted 10-career Top-10 finishes (37-percent) at this facility.  The driver of the No. 11 Toyota has been particularly steady in his last six Talladega efforts, netting three Top-10 and five Top-15 finishes.  That works out to a strong 12.3 average finish over the span.  Speed has not been a problem this season for the JGR No. 11 team on the superspeedway race tracks.  Hamlin led 30 laps and won this season's Daytona 500.  We see tons of upside and potential with Hamlin in Sunday's 1000Bulbs.com 500.

Kurt BuschWe look forward to the Chip Ganassi Racing veteran's start at Talladega this weekend.  He's been one of the more consistent performers on the Daytona and Talladega ovals the past couple seasons.  Busch's stats on these huge ovals speak for themselves with 20 Top 10's in 37 Talladega starts.  That's a strong 54-percent Top-10 rate on a track that requires as much luck as skill to succeed.  The veteran driver has cracked the Top 10 an extraordinary six times in his last eight starts at the central Alabama facility.  That type of skill and luck doesn't happen by accident.  Busch is a polished superspeedway racer, and knows the ins-and-outs of this game.  He's about as safe a driver as you can pick for your lineups this weekend. 

Aric Almirola The Stewart Haas Racing veteran won this event one year ago, and now rides a six-race Talladega Top-10 streak into this weekend.  He really understands the pack racing style that this oval produces, and knows how to navigate the chaos.  Almirola has just seven-career Top 10's at this Alabama oval, but six of the seven have come since 2016.  As his equipment as improved over the years, so has his driving skill on these large tracks.  Aside from Almirola's six-race Talladega Top-10 streak, he also had a steady 10th-place finish at Daytona this July.  The playoffs may be over for this driver and team, but Almirola brings fantasy racing value every time the series stops in Talladega.

Alex Bowman The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet is on fire right now, and Bowman seems intent on advancing in the Chase and challenging for the championship.  That shouldn't be overlooked coming into this fifth race of the Chase.  Bowman's recent Talladega exploits have yielded a pair of Top-10 finishes in the last three starts.  That includes his seven laps led and impressive runner-up finish here in April.  He and teammate, Chase Elliott, worked very well together in that race.  Bowman also finished a respectable 11th-place in this season's Daytona 500.  It's great to see this young driver carrying on the tradition of Dale Earnhardt Jr. in this same car as it relates to superspeedway racing.  Bowman is a great upset candidate to win Sunday in this 500-mile classic.

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Talladega & solid upside

Ryan Newman He's had a good season, and as it relates to superspeedways, there's been fewer drivers more consistent than Newman.  The veteran has racked up 14th-, seventh- and fifth-place finishes in his starts between Daytona and Talladega in 2019.  That level of performance reflects his recent success on the big ovals since the 2017 season.  The Roush Fenway Racing veteran has a mind-boggling seven Top 10's in his last 10 starts on the big ovals of Daytona and Talladega.  Newman simply knows things about racing in the draft that these younger drivers do not.  That experience makes him a valuable commodity in fantasy racing circles when it comes to this high stakes form of racing. 

William Byron The young Hendrick Motorsports prodigy is taking some serious steps in his racing development this season.  With five pole positions and 11 Top-10 finishes so far, it's been a great season of growth for Byron.  He's still learning on the superspeedways, but showing promise in recent outings.  Byron won the Daytona 500 pole earlier this year and led 44 laps in the Great American Race.  He didn't get the finish he deserved that afternoon, but his return to Daytona in July saw Byron peddle to a very impressive runner-up finish.  The No. 24 Chevrolet team has had the speed on these huge ovals, and Byron has been cultivating the skill necessary to race among the leaders.  He should be a good sleeper pick for Sunday's 1000Bulbs.com 500.   

Jimmie Johnson One of the more unlikely heroes this weekend could be seven-time champion Johnson.  We don't normally think of him when it comes to superspeedway racing, but he's been very consistent this season.  The improvement in the Chevy Camaro is a big reason, but also Johnson's new crew chief Kevin Meendering is partly to credit.  In his years prior to being chief for Johnson, he guided Elliott Sadler to one win and seven Top 5's in the Xfinity Series between Daytona and Talladega.  Meendering knows how to set up cars for these big ovals.  As to Johnson, he's rewarded fantasy owners already this season with ninth- and third-place finishes at Daytona.  He also finished seventh-place in this Talladega event one year ago.

Ty Dillon The sleepers list looks a bit different this week than most weeks of the NASCAR season.  The racing Talladega generates is mostly to blame.  Dillon is another good example of this phenomena.  Knowledge of how to race in the draft typically trumps drivers with faster cars.  Germain Racing will realize that advantage this weekend.  Dillon has guided this team to three Top-10 and seven Top-15 finishes in his last 10 starts on the ovals of Daytona and Talladega.  The average finish across the span is a respectable 14.2, and with only one DNF.  Finishing these races helps that average considerably, staying on the lead lap is gold.  Dillon has only finished outside the Top 15 (17th-place) once in his five-career Talladega starts. 

Matt DiBenedetto The 2019 season has been nothing short of amazing for DiBenedetto and his Leavine Family Racing team.  It all started in the Daytona 500 to kick off the season.  DiBenedetto led a race-high 49 laps and looked like a star in the making.  However, a late-race melee would roll up the No. 95 Toyota and deny him the finish he deserved.  He proved that outing was no fluke in his July return to Daytona.  DiBenedetto showed good speed and cruised to a strong eighth-place finish in the Coke Zero Sugar 400.  Coming off his seventh Top 10 of the season this past week at Dover, this driver and team are rolling like a well-oiled machine coming into Talladega.      

Ryan Preece The JTG Daugherty Racing rookie has shown good speed and has been a good finisher on the superspeedway tracks this season.  Preece navigated the storm and collected an eighth-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500.  Then he would visit Talladega in the spring and nab an even more impressive third-place finish in the GEICO 500.  Preece was one of the drivers fixed at the front over those closing laps, battling it out with the likes of Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Joey Logano.  JTG has given him good Chevy Camaros this season on the big ovals, and the young driver has shown surprising maturity and skill in knowing who to dance with and when to make his move in traffic.  A Top-15 finish Sunday seems like a pretty safe assumption.

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kyle Larson Thanks to his big win at Dover this past week, the pressure is off coming to Talladega.  Larson is locked into the next round of the Chase, and it's a good thing considering his tumultuous history at this oval.  The last time we saw Larson in action at Talladega Superspeedway, he went airborne and tumbling down the back straightaway on the last lap of the race.  That's been emblematic of his experience at Talladega.  Larson's last 10 starts between Talladega and Daytona have netted only one Top-10 finish and only four Top-15 finishes vs. four DNF's.  The average finish stands around a sub-par 20.4.  The Chip Ganassi Racing star's last two starts on superspeedways have resulted in 20th- and 24th-place finishes.  They came at Talladega in April, and Daytona in July. 

Kevin Harvick The Stewart Haas Racing star has had some tough luck finishing these superspeedway races of late, but the speed has been there.  Harvick has led 100 combined laps in his last 10 Daytona/Talladega events.  However, he has only one Top-10 finish during this 10-race span.  This is one of the rare weeks where Harvick takes a back seat to some lesser billed drivers.  He's crashed out of three of his last five superspeedway events.  The driver of the No. 4 Ford has the potential to prove us wrong this weekend as his 41-percent Top-10 rate at this oval shows, but luck hasn't been on his side of late.  From a weekly lineup standpoint, it would be best to reserve a start for Harvick on much safer oval later in the Chase, than to risk it this weekend.   

Kyle Busch The Joe Gibbs Racing star has had some tough luck of late.  Busch has two Top 10's and two finishes outside the Top 30 in his last five races.  Talladega is no place for drivers who are battling bad luck and consistency issues.  The ovals of Daytona and Talladega have been a love/hate affair for this driver for years.  Busch has three Top-10 finishes in his last 10-combined starts between Daytona and Talladega.  That recent 30-percent rate reflects his career performance at this oval as well.  The driver of the No. 18 Toyota has eight Top-10 finishes in 28 starts (29-percent) and 20.3-career average finish at Talladega.  Busch has a high ceiling for this race just based on who he is and the team he races with, but wisdom points to the fantasy racing bench this week.  It's better to save a start for him on one of the upcoming intermediate ovals.   

Martin Truex Jr. This may be the only time this year to give Truex a break in weekly lineup leagues.  Coming off a great performance at Dover this past week, his playoff status is rock solid based on points.  While he'd like to win at Talladega and get the automatic ticket to advance in the Chase, the work ahead is pretty daunting.  The one weakness of the Joe Gibbs Racing star has been the superspeedway ovals.  Truex has only scored one Top-10 finish in his last 10 races between Daytona and Talladega.  In fact, seven of those finishes across the span have been outside the Top 20 with five DNF's.  The speed to succeed has been there for the team, but Truex's luck and skill at this style of racing just don't come together most starts.  It's best to lay off any fantasy racing expectations for Truex this weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Taylor
Taylor is RotoWire's senior NASCAR writer. A nine-time FSWA finalist, Taylor was named the Racing Writer of the Year in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2017. He is also a military historian, focused specifically on World War II and the U.S. Navy's efforts in the Pacific.
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