Kyle Larson picked the right time to end a long drought. The first spot in the Round of 8 is his as the drivers prepare for what could be a crazy and chaotic race at Talladega Superspeedway in the 1000Bulbs.com 500. This is the second race in the Round of 12 and the fact that this is a plate race has to have a lot of drivers on edge given that the last chance to advance is a 1.5-mile race. The best in the sport usually dominate those.
We’ll break this one down with odds on the right-hand side for desktop viewers and down below the comment box for mobile viewers as we head to Alabama.
For another perspective on this week’s race, check out Brian Blessing’s video preview above.
The Big One
Watch out for this. Speeds exceed 150 miles per hour on average at Talladega around the 2.66-mile Superspeedway track. The restrictor plate bunches up the cars at high speeds and we’ve seen some pretty epic crashes in this race. For those operating without much margin for error in the playoffs, that could be a significant problem. For those with a lot of margin for error, they wouldn’t mind seeing something that takes out some competitors, as long as everybody walks away healthy, of course.
Larson isn’t the only driver that is safe. Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, and likely Alex Bowman all appear to be safely on to the next round. The dynamics at Talladega are fascinating because fortune sometimes favors the bold. These guys have really nothing to lose and can go for it. Other drivers have to play it safe and hope they don’t get caught up in the mess. Drivers that aren’t in the playoffs can also be very aggressive.
The guys to watch closely this week are William Byron, Joey Logano, Clint Bowyer, Chase Elliott, and Ryan Blaney. They are all potentially on the chopping block. Next week’s race at Kansas is on a traditional 1.5-mile track and that should provide a boost for some, but not all, as the 1.5-milers are good for guys that are already safely in the next round, too.
This is the second race at Talladega of the season. It is a twice-a-year stop on the NASCAR calendar, though it still surprises me that it is part of the playoff races when a crash or two can really dictate how playoff drivers finish in the Round of 12. It seems unfair, given that a lot of what happens at Talladega is collateral damage.
Anyway, when you look at how the most notable drivers fared earlier this season, it lends itself well to price hunting. Truex was 20th. Hamlin was 36th. Busch was 10th. Harvick was 38th. Larson was 24th. Keselowski was 13th. Elliott actually won the race. He’s had some Daytona 500 pole positions, but that was the first time that he really broke through in a plate race.
Here’s how you know it’s Talladega week. The favorite is +800. It is Joey Logano, who won this race in 2015 and 2016. Ford actually has five straight wins and six of the last seven in this race. Logano won the spring race at Talladega in 2018. He also needs to be aggressive here after last week’s 34th-place finish at Dover.
Most of the drivers are bunched between 10/1 and 33/1, with a plethora of guys between 11/1 and 22/1. Aric Almirola won this race last year, just to give you an idea of what can happen. The strategy here is largely to throw darts around the board, but to try and do so with guys that have shown a propensity for doing well in these types of races.
If they stay out of the crashes, they know how to handle these cars. If they don’t, well, that’s the chance you take with Talladega.
The Playoff Impact
Like I mentioned, next week’s race at Kansas. In fact, four of the last five races are 1.5-mile tracks. To this point, the winners on the 1.5-mile tracks at Atlanta, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Texas, Kansas, first Charlotte, Chicagoland, and Kentucky are Keselowski, Logano, Busch, Hamlin, Truex, Bowman, Kurt Busch, and Truex again. So, we have seen a variety, but most of the top drivers in the points standings have those wins.
This is a risk-reward type of race track and you hope that the risk pays off. Those in the bottom five are on or below the cut line and they need to make some moves. Bowman is actually in a weird spot. He was second in the first race at Talladega and has back-to-back top-five finishes. The problem is that it might be in his best interest to protect his 17-point lead over Byron and Logano. With Logano the favorite, it seems likely that he finishes well. You just want to try and avoid disaster. Survive and advance.
On the other hand, Bowman accumulated only five bonus points during the season. Five extra bonus points could go a long way in the Round of 8. Logano could go from 29 to 34 when the points reset if he gets a win here and that would be huge given that it would put him third in bonus points.
While Talladega’s inherent uncertainty makes it a hard handicap and has to make it frustrating for the drivers, NASCAR officials get exactly what they want in terms of strategy for this race.
So, who do we take? Bowman at +1760 isn’t a bad grab. He’s raced aggressively in the playoffs and did have a fine run at Talladega last time. Kurt Busch has nothing to lose this week, so his +1760 price isn’t a bad look either. Even though guys like Keselowski (+1100) have wins (3) here, it’s hard to take a +1100 given the likelihood of wrecks in this race.
I’ll throw a price out. Martin Truex Jr. at +3300. No, he doesn’t run well in these and maybe he wants to protect his car, but as the points leader, why not run aggressively and try to add some more bonus points? He’s a world-class driver at a balloon number.
Take some chances here in this race. That’s what it was made for.