GEICO 500 Preview: Superspeedway Battle

GEICO 500 Preview: Superspeedway Battle

This article is part of our Weekly Preview series.

Talladega Superspeedway is up next in the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The enormous tri-oval in Talladega, Alabama is the largest oval on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, measuring an amazing 2.66 miles in length, and stunning 33 degree banking in the turns. The track's size and banking make it a wide-open, four-wide, heart-pounding racing experience where speeds are high and margin for error is small. This will be a big departure from the recent short track stint in the schedule, and with it a change of faces at the top of our driver recommendations.    

This weekends, action will be similar to what we witnessed in the season-opening Daytona 500 were heavy packs that would eventually spread out into double lines or multiple packs over long green-flag runs. With the ability to race to the back or the front very quickly, moving through traffic presented little problem. The new generation stock car also seemed to generate a little more competition for the lead. The 52 lead changes during the Great American Race were way up over the last five-season average for the Daytona 500, but somewhat on par with what we've seen the last two seasons at the track. The Daytona 500 also saw the return of the multi-car crashes. There were four caution periods due to accidents involving multiple cars, with two of the incidents being particularly large with many cars involved. With the return of the "big one" or "big ones" we may see some form of return

Talladega Superspeedway is up next in the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. The enormous tri-oval in Talladega, Alabama is the largest oval on the NASCAR Cup Series circuit, measuring an amazing 2.66 miles in length, and stunning 33 degree banking in the turns. The track's size and banking make it a wide-open, four-wide, heart-pounding racing experience where speeds are high and margin for error is small. This will be a big departure from the recent short track stint in the schedule, and with it a change of faces at the top of our driver recommendations.    

This weekends, action will be similar to what we witnessed in the season-opening Daytona 500 were heavy packs that would eventually spread out into double lines or multiple packs over long green-flag runs. With the ability to race to the back or the front very quickly, moving through traffic presented little problem. The new generation stock car also seemed to generate a little more competition for the lead. The 52 lead changes during the Great American Race were way up over the last five-season average for the Daytona 500, but somewhat on par with what we've seen the last two seasons at the track. The Daytona 500 also saw the return of the multi-car crashes. There were four caution periods due to accidents involving multiple cars, with two of the incidents being particularly large with many cars involved. With the return of the "big one" or "big ones" we may see some form of return to the sandbagging at the back. Despite the stage racing point system, some drivers might feel better about staying out of the wrecks and being around at the end to contend for the win. The 17 cars that DNF'd in the season-opener will make some drivers think twice about spending too much time in the eye of the storm.

The art of superspeedway racing hasn't changed despite all the rules and car changes over the past few seasons. Once again, winning on these superspeedways has been reduced to the lowest common denominator, which is when to make your move and who to do it with. As we saw in February, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s late charge to the front and holding off several competitors during the overtime finish, it's all about timing often times in these superspeedway races. We expect to see a similar racing style prevail at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend, but hopefully without some of the nasty crashes we witnessed in the season-opening Daytona 500. 

Speaking of the race earlier this season at Daytona, we can rely on those results to some extent in looking at the GEICO 500 this weekend. The cars that were strong at Daytona in February will likely be the same to run up front on Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. You can only put so much faith in historical stats and strong cars. At the end of the day, the driver that keeps all the doors and tires on his car and finishes the race is as good as gold. As far as historical data is concerned, we have every race since 2005 of Talladega electronic scoring to rely on for our fantasy racing picks this week. The loop stats in the table below cover the last 36 races at Talladega Superspeedway.

DriverAvg. FinishQuality Passes# of Fastest LapsLaps LedLaps in Top 15Driver Rating
Ryan Blaney16.03,886492282,22591.7
Chase Elliott15.43,408481821,87891.3
Brad Keselowski15.76,0561093133,21589.5
Joey Logano17.96,3311034173,29089.2
William Byron18.31,97543951,20086.2
Denny Hamlin16.66,3401354243,22083.6
Kevin Harvick16.16,6581472563,57481.5
Kyle Busch20.47,2701562663,66481.5
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.15.43,745871041,72579.8
Erik Jones18.72,06438731,13178.9
Aric Almirola16.04,338801072,11578.8
Ryan Preece15.3865321238476.9
Kyle Larson22.83,05542531,47076.8
Martin Truex Jr.21.26,661103763,16976.3
Bubba Wallace18.91,347555373674.7
Alex Bowman24.42,18152471,15474.2
Ty Dillon15.21,254491062673.0
Christopher Bell21.51,063102558673.0
Austin Dillon17.73,3358621,38072.8
Todd Gilliland17.02173113770.9

What used to be a solidly Chevrolet track has been tilted in another direction in recent seasons. The bowtie brand swept both of last season's Talladega events, however, the last four Talladega victories have gone the way of all three manufacturers. In this event one year ago, it would be Ross Chastain's last-lap pass of Erik Jones that would set him up with his first-ever Talladega victory. That was one of two victories last season for Melon Man, but surely not the last we'll see the No. 1 Chevrolet in victory lane. NASCAR would return to Talladega in October of last year and it would be Chase Elliott who would prevail for Chevrolet in a last-lap shootout with Ryan Blaney after a late caution and restart. It was Elliott's second-career Cup Series victory at Talladega, and it underscored just how capable and impressive Elliott has become in this form of racing. With Chevrolet having swept both of last season's Talladega victories, a lot of eyes will be on Elliott and his Chevrolet companions over at Hendrick Motorsports this weekend.

Given what we saw in the Daytona 500 earlier this season, Ford dominance was on full display. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would get the upset win for JTG Daugherty Racing and Chevrolet, however, it would also see Ford drivers capture two of the Top-4 finishing spots in the Daytona 500. Ford drivers would combine to lead 122 of the 212 laps with Brad Keselowski grabbing a race-high 42 laps led for that brand. Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and Kyle Busch will likely be Chevy's strongest contenders. However, it's pretty clear that the bowtie camp is at a bit of a disadvantage on superspeedway ovals. For Toyota, the burden will largely rest with the drivers of Joe Gibbs Racing and 23XI Racing based on what we witnessed in Daytona. They are the best-positioned to challenge the Ford drivers for dominance in the GEICO 500. Talladega races always hold plenty of thrills as well as surprises. We'll take an in-depth look at past history at Talladega and recent trends on superspeedway ovals and give you the drivers you need to dominate your fantasy racing leagues this Sunday afternoon.

The Contenders – Drivers in the hunt for the win

Ryan Blaney – The two-time Talladega winner will likely be the driver to beat this weekend. Blaney won at this oval back-to-back in the fall of 2019 and spring of 2020. He's now led well over 200 laps in his career at this huge facility and has cracked the Top 10 in four of his last seven starts at Talladega Superspeedway. Blaney finished 11th-place in this event one year ago and would return last October to Alabama to collect an even more impressive runner-up finish. It was his fourth-career Top 5 at the oval. The driver of the No. 12 Ford Mustang collected a strong eighth-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona. That just further underscores Blaney's ability in superspeedway racing. He'll be one of the top contenders in Sunday's 500-mile Talladega battle.

Joey Logano – Logano is a three-time winner at Talladega Superspeedway, with all three victories coming since the 2015 season. He's led over 400 combined laps at this speedway for his career, making Talladega his favorite of the two superspeedway tracks.  Logano's last start on a superspeedway oval was his 12 laps led and runner-up finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. It marked a return to dominance in this style of racing after a subpar 2022 season on the big tracks. The Penske Racing star cracks the Top 5 at Talladega at an impressive 32-percent rate, so he's almost always racing among the leaders at crunch time in this 500-mile race. Logano will be a strong contender to take home a fourth Talladega trophy this Sunday afternoon.

Brad Keselowski – The six-time Talladega winner has a real expertise at superspeedway racing. Keselowski's victory and runner-up finish at this facility in 2021 illustrate his capability of pack racing at Talladega. The veteran driver had a down season of racing on this oval in 2022. However, the driver of the No. 6 Ford made it very clear in the season-opening Daytona 500 with his 42 laps led and stage victory that he and the No. 6 team are getting their superspeedway program back up to speed. Keselowski's 300+ career laps led at Talladega Superspeedway and his 46-percent Top-10 rate at this oval speak for themselves. He loves this Alabama track and is always a threat to win here.

Chase Elliott – The driver of the No. 9 Chevrolet made his return from a broken leg with a pedestrian Top-10 finish at Martinsville this past Sunday. Now he's knocked the rust off and ready for a bigger performance. Elliott is a two-time Talladega winner, including last October's YellaWood 500. As he's demonstrated over the past 10 superspeedway events (30-percent Top-5 and 60-percent Top-10 rates, including one win) that he's always a threat to be racing among the leaders at the end of these high-risk events. Elliott had a fast Chevrolet in the season-opening Daytona 500 but crashed out mid-race in one of the several multi-car crashes. He'll hope for better luck this weekend, and with his history in this style of racing, don't count him out of visiting victory lane.    

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

Denny Hamlin – Hamlin is one of the better Toyota drivers when it comes to superspeedway racing, and he certainly has the resume to back that up. The Joe Gibbs Racing star is a two-time winner at this facility and he's sat on the pole here in three of the last five Talladega races. The last of his two Talladega victories was very recent as it came in the fall of 2020 in the Yellawood 500. Hamlin has led well over 400 career laps at this facility and is quite used to racing up front here. While the veteran driver hasn't enjoyed as much success at this oval as the similar oval in Daytona, Hamlin still races at a very high level here. His 44-percent Talladega Top-10 rate underscores this fact. His last start at the track netted a brilliant fifth-place finish last October.    

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – This season's Daytona 500 winner is also a one-time Talladega winner. While times have been lean on superspeedways of late, Stenhouse revived his stock in a major way with his convincing victory at Daytona in February. In addition to his win at Talladega Superspeedway, the veteran driver owns one runner-up finish (2020) and six total Top-5 finishes (32-percent) at the central Alabama track. Stenhouse also sports a respectable 47-percent Top-10 rate at Talladega, which makes him a fantasy-worthy candidate this weekend. Given how fast the No. 47 Chevrolet was at Daytona earlier this season and how experienced Stenhouse is in pack-drafting racing, we believe he'll be a strong performer in the GEICO 500.

Austin Cindric – The 2022 Daytona 500 winner has continued to build on the superspeedway excellence of the No. 2 Ford team that we saw with its previous driver, Brad Keselowski. Cindric led 21 laps in that convincing win at Daytona last year and set the tone for all his superspeedway starts since. His last five starts between Daytona and Talladega have netted 34 laps led, two Top-5 and three Top-10 finishes. Cindric's last start at Talladega in October of this past year netted a steady ninth-place finish in the YellaWood 500. There's little doubt that the 24-year-old driver possesses the gift of superspeedway racing. Penske Racing always brings fast cars to Talladega, don't let Cindric be the driver in this three-car team that you forget about on race day.

Ross Chastain – The winner of this event one year ago has been working on his resume on all styles of tracks, but most especially the big ovals. Since his big GEICO 500 victory of one year ago, Chastain has led 42 laps and grabbed a pair of Top 10's in the three superspeedway events since that win. The driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet has become quite the dangerous performer in this style of racing since the breakout of Trackhouse Racing. Prior to his first Cup Series win on these style tracks, Melon Man showed his skill in this style of racing with his 2019 Xfinity Series victory at Daytona. He also grabbed a pair of Top 10's in his last two Xfinity Series starts at Talladega in 2020. It's taken some time for the 30-year-old veteran to get to the top of his game in this style of racing, but he's undoubtedly there now.    

Sleepers – Drivers with good history at Talladega & solid upside

Aric Almirola – Almirola is fresh off his first Top 10 of the season at Martinsville this past week with his sixth-place effort, and that's a good sign coming to Alabama this week. Historically speaking, this veteran driver has always excelled at this form of racing. Almirola rode an eight-race Talladega Top-10 streak between 2016 and 2020. That hot streak boosted his career Top-10 average at the track to a respectable 35-percent. Almirola has experienced a bit of slump at Talladega the past couple seasons, but he showed tremendous speed here last October when he led a whopping 36 laps before eventually finishing 14th-place. The driver of the No. 10 SHR Ford has the gift of superspeedway racing in his blood, don't be surprised this Sunday at Talladega.

Alex Bowman – The pole winner for the Daytona 500 had a fantastic car in February at the Florida superspeedway and piloted it to 12 laps led and an impressive fifth-place finish. It's a difficult impression to shake as we head to Talladega and the second superspeedway event of the 2023 season. Bowman didn't start in the last Talladega race in October of last year due to a concussion injury that took him out of the No. 48 Chevrolet at the end of last season. However, Bowman's last start at Talladega Superspeedway netted a strong ninth-place finish in this event one year ago. The veteran driver now has four Top-10 finishes at this track in his last nine starts (44-percent). We expect Bowman and his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team to show up with another fantastic car for Sunday's GEICO 500.       

Daniel Suarez – We don't typically think of Suarez when it comes to superspeedway racing, but he's been changing the way we think of him the past year. The driver of the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet qualified fourth in this event one year ago and led an eye-popping 28 laps in last year's GEICO 500 before a mid-race multi-car crash would take him out of the running. The next Talladega start would see him lead a couple laps and earn a well-deserved eighth-place finish in last October's YellaWood 500. Suarez would bring that same speed to the season-opener at Daytona this year and nab a strong seventh-place finish in the Daytona 500 in February. Given what he's accomplished over the last year on these big ovals, we can't wait to see what Suarez does this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Chris Buescher – The Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing veteran grabbed our eye with what he accomplished at Daytona earlier this season. Buescher started ninth on the grid, led 32 laps and got a lot of TV time in the Great American Race. He would eventually finish an impressive fourth-place in the Daytona 500 and remind us all just how good he is at superspeedway racing. Buescher owns a pair of Top 10's in his last six Talladega Superspeedway starts. His performances at this track have steadily improved since moving from JTG Daugherty Racing to his current RFKR team. He is prone to have the occasional disappearing act on these big ovals, but possesses the ability to grab Top-5 finishes when everything works out. That makes Buescher a good deep-tier driver consideration this Sunday.

Michael McDowell – The 2021 Daytona 500 winner has always had a knack for superspeedway racing. McDowell has three Top 10's in his last five superspeedway starts. That includes his strong third-place finish at Talladega last October. The driver of the No. 34 Ford now has Top-10 finishes in three of his last four starts at the central Alabama oval. McDowell has begun to erase years of struggles at this track with the team's current excellence in this form of racing. The veteran driver had a bit of a subpar performance in the season-opening Daytona 500, but he should rebound nicely at Talladega Superspeedway this weekend. McDowell makes a great fantasy racing option in the deeper tiers of weekly lineup and salary cap leagues.   

AJ Allmendinger – We typically think more of Allmendinger when it comes to road course racing, but let's not forget how skilled he is on superspeedways as well. In the season-opening Daytona 500 he raced from 29th-place on the starting grid to an excellent sixth-place finish in the Great American Race. That was his only Cup start on these tracks in recent memory, but it left quite an impression. If we look back in the history books, we see that Allmendinger now rides a five-race Top-10 streak at Daytona dating back to 2017. As for Talladega, he registered a strong sixth-place finish in his last Cup start at this oval in 2018. Those numbers coincide nicely with his recent Xfinity Series experience at Talladega. The driver of the No. 16 Chevrolet has one win and three Top 5's in his last four starts at the track in that division of NASCAR. Allmendinger makes an excellent sleeper pick for Sunday's GEICO 500. 

Slow Down – Drivers to avoid this week

Kyle Larson – The Hendrick Motorsports star has never been a big-time performer at the Talladega oval. With just three Top-10 finishes in 16-career starts the 19-percent Top-10 rate will discourage most players from deploying Larson in the GEICO 500 and for good reason. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet as crashed and DNF'd in four of his last eight Talladega starts. His career average finish now stands at a lofty 22.8 at this oval. Larson's subpar 18th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 is another piece of evidence we suggest reviewing. Despite his big victory at Martinsville this past weekend, we suggest benching Larson this week given his struggles in this style of racing.  

Tyler Reddick – Reddick had been on fire until his subpar 22nd-place finish at Martinsville Speedway this past Sunday. There's likely good reason to fade the 23XI Racing driver again this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway. Reddick's not had much luck finishing these races the past couple years. Four of his last six starts between Daytona and Talladega have ended as DNF's. That includes his crash and 39th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500. Poor and a lack of speed led to him running in the mid-pack when disaster struck in that race. His last Talladega start was no less disappointing. Reddick earned a 28th-place finish at the central Alabama oval last October. With a 33-percent Top-10 rate at Talladega and 23.3 average finish, he's a driver to looks past this weekend.

Kyle Busch – At best Busch has had uneven luck with superspeedway racing over the years. With only one win, and 26-percent Top-10 rate at Talladega, there are much better tier "A" drivers to choose from. Busch's success at this oval has been spotty, and in particular of late it's been leaner than normal. The Richard Childress Racing star has only one Top 10 in his last seven Talladega starts. The average finish is checking in around 20.9 during the span. Daytona has only been marginally better for the No. 18 team. He had a potential Top-5 finish evaporate in the season-opener when Busch was rolled up in an overtime crash. The veteran driver is a bit of a boom-or-bust pick this week, but his 30-percent Top-10 rate on superspeedway ovals the last two-and-a-half seasons is a big caution flag.    

Martin Truex Jr. – While 2023 has been turning more and more positive for Truex the last couple weeks, there are the odd occasions to let the Joe Gibbs Racing star take a seat on the bench. This would be one of those instances. Superspeedway racing is just one of those areas where Truex struggles. The veteran driver has just two Top-10 finishes in his last 10 starts between Daytona and Talladega. Truex has just one Top-10 finish in his last 14 Talladega starts, and that has brought his career Top-10 average at the oval down to just 25-percent. That's compared against a staggering 13 DNF's at the central Alabama oval.  Don't be tempted into deploying Truex in the GEICO 500.

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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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