NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Secures Fifth Victory of Season at Talladega

NASCAR Barometer: Elliott Secures Fifth Victory of Season at Talladega

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

When the schedule comes out every season, there is no race that scares teams more than the playoff race at Talladega. There are so many things that go out of your control at NASCAR's largest oval track. One minor mistake can turn into wiping 20-plus cars out of the race and potentially knocking a few out of the playoffs. Coming off the most recent restrictor plate race at Daytona in late August, which was a wreckfest and ended with just 10 cars on the lead lap, there was plenty who thought Talladega would be the same story. In the end it turned out to be one of the cleanest plate races in the last decade, with only four cars not running at the finish. 

Track position became very important because the third lane never came in. It was two long lines for most of the race in the bottom and middle lanes that would surge back in forth throughout the event. The only real moves to be made were at the front of the pack if you could clear one of the two lanes of traffic. After a long green flag stint in the final stage that was dominated mostly by Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric stalled on pit road, which would set up a classic Talladega Green-White-Checkered finish. The move of the race came when the bottom lane got shoved forward out of turn two and Chase Elliott, who

When the schedule comes out every season, there is no race that scares teams more than the playoff race at Talladega. There are so many things that go out of your control at NASCAR's largest oval track. One minor mistake can turn into wiping 20-plus cars out of the race and potentially knocking a few out of the playoffs. Coming off the most recent restrictor plate race at Daytona in late August, which was a wreckfest and ended with just 10 cars on the lead lap, there was plenty who thought Talladega would be the same story. In the end it turned out to be one of the cleanest plate races in the last decade, with only four cars not running at the finish. 

Track position became very important because the third lane never came in. It was two long lines for most of the race in the bottom and middle lanes that would surge back in forth throughout the event. The only real moves to be made were at the front of the pack if you could clear one of the two lanes of traffic. After a long green flag stint in the final stage that was dominated mostly by Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Erik Jones and Denny Hamlin, Daniel Hemric stalled on pit road, which would set up a classic Talladega Green-White-Checkered finish. The move of the race came when the bottom lane got shoved forward out of turn two and Chase Elliott, who was the third car on the inside, had just enough room to jump to the outside and get a huge push from Jones that ultimately got him the lead and his fifth victory of the season over good friend Blaney. Believe it or not, this was the first playoff race this season that has been won by a playoff eligible driver. 

It was a relatively drama-free day for most of the playoff drivers who all finished in the top-18 with the exception of Joey Logano in 27th. That left the Round of 8 cutoff in a pretty similar position heading to another wildcard race in the Charlotte Roval. Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric are currently tied in points for the final transfer spot with William Byron 11 markers back, pending his appeal hearing regarding his 25-point penalty after wrecking Hamlin under caution at Texas. Christopher Bell looked to be a clear favorite after the opening round of the playoffs, but now finds himself in likely a must-win situation to move on. Questions still surround Alex Bowman, who missed Talladega after suffering a concussion at Texas. If Bowman is able to race at Charlotte, he would need a victory to advance to the Round of 8. 

UPGRADE

Chase Elliott - Elliott and his No. 9 team had some uncharacteristic performances through the first four races of the playoffs, but luckily had enough playoff points from winning four races in the regular season and the extra 15 playoff points that come with winning the regular season title to feel pretty secure. Elliott drove a very smart race on Sunday at Talladega and was pretty much hovering around the top-10 all day. He was able to make a couple of impressive moves that resulted in his sixth stage win and fifth victory of the season. Now we head to the Charlotte Roval where Elliott has been dominant, winning two of the four races there and leading 64 laps. 

Ryan Blaney - It's been somewhat incredible that Blaney has not won a race yet this season. After another great run at Talladega, he has a series-high seven stage wins. He also ranks top-seven in the series in terms of top-fives (10) and laps led (488). The No. 12 team is now +32 to the cutline, which is the best of all the nonwinners. Blaney should be a great option Sunday at the Charlotte Roval considering he has finished inside the top-10 in all four races there, including a victory at the inaugural race in 2018. Blaney's 5.8 average finish at the Roval is second to only Elliott (5.0). 

Ross Chastain - Throughout much of the season, there has been a lot of negative attention towards Chastain for his overly aggressive driving that led to incidents week after week. While there are some drivers who still probably owe Chastain something, the No. 1 team has been the model of consistency throughout the playoffs. He's score a ton of stage points in every race and has done well to avoid any conflicts on track. Chastain led a race-high 36 laps at Talladega, and he should feel confident going to the Roval 28 points above the cutline. Trackhouse has two victories on road courses this season, including Chastain at Circuit of the Americas. 

Michael McDowell - It was another impressive run at a restrictor plate track for McDowell, who continues to show why he is one of the best drivers at that style of racing. The No. 34 car has shown speed at a lot of different types of tracks this year, however. He now owns an impressive 12 top-10 finishes this season, which is as many as he had in the previous four seasons combined. Now we go to a road course where McDowell is at his best. 

DOWNGRADE

Christopher Bell - Bell became a trendy pick for the title after his dominant Round of 16 where he scored points in every stage and finished each race in the top-five. Things have not gone to plan in the Round of 12 where he ran into tire issues early at Texas, and then spun coming to pit road and went a lap down at Talladega. There is a lot of potential with this team, but they could find themselves with another early exit to the playoffs as they go into the final race of this round 33 points below the cutline. The Toyota drivers have been clear that they have lacked speed at the road courses in the Next Gen car, so the Roval isn't necessarily the track the No. 20 team would want to go to likely needing a victory to make the next round. 

Bubba Wallace - Wallace was one of the betting favorites for Talladega thanks to his impressive record at restrictor plate tracks over the last few years. It ended up being a very quiet and disappointing day for the No. 45 team, who failed to score any stage points and ended in 16th place. The team is still in the fight for the Owners Championship but really needed to run up front all day at Talladega to have a chance after a poor result at Texas. There's not a whole lot of optimism going into the weekend, as Wallace has struggled at road courses throughout his career and has a 23.8 average finish in four starts at the Charlotte Roval. 

Kyle Busch - It's just been one of those years for Busch. He's had a lot of fast cars this season and not enough good finishes to show for. The two-time Cup Series champ has led the third most laps in the series with 627, but he has just six top-five finishes in 31 races. Busch is on track for a career-low in that department if he does not have a flying finish to the season. It's not overly likely that he ends up matching his previous career-low of nine top-fives, with a lot of focus having to shift to 2023 and his move to Richard Childress Racing. Busch is a good road course racer, but a 25.8 average finish at the Roval combined with the afore mentioned lack of speed on road courses by the Toyota's and there's not a lot to be confident about going into next week. 

Kevin Harvick - Harvick appeared to be coming into the playoffs as hot as anyone with back-to-back wins at Michigan and Richmond. It was a nightmare Round of 16 for the veteran No. 4 team, who's car suddenly caught fired at Darlington, was involved in an accident early at Kansas and then had a terrible final pit stop at Bristol. Harvick was leading at Texas when he then was one of the many drivers who fell victim to a tire failure. At Talladega he failed to score any stage points and then once he finally got up front got an uncharacteristic speeding penalty of the final stop. This team just needs to have a good clean run somewhere without any crazy issues to stop the bleeding and try to close 2022 out strong. The Charlotte Roval is not the first place this No. 4 team would choose to accomplish that. 

BIGGEST SURPRISE

There was not one individual driver who would qualify as the biggest surprise from Talladega. The biggest surprise was honestly that it was a very clean race that didn't result in any huge wrecks even as the laps winded down. In the fourth superspeedway race of the year in the Next Gen cars, drivers appear to have found the limits. They know how and when to push the car in front of you. Maybe part of it was the ongoing discussions about how hard the hits are in these cars and the playoff drivers just trying to make it through this race, but the whole field appeared very under control. There's a lot of people who watch plate races just for the huge wrecks, but it was nice to see some quality racing that didn't have to end with 10 cars running. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan  Andrade
Ryan has covered golf, college basketball, and motorsports for RotoWire since 2016. He was nominated for "DFS Writer of the Year" in 2021 and 2023 by the FSWA.
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