Every year, the fall NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway is circled on the calendar. Of the 10 playoff races, it is a wild card.
This year’s Round of 12 cutoff race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was circled, as is next week’s Round of 8 cutoff race on the “roval” at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, and the Nov. 1 Championship Four cutoff race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.
But even though Talladega is not a cutoff race, cue the playoff music anyway because it is simply a wild card race that anyone can win.
The good news for Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Jimmy John’s Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), is that he has 3,104 points with a 61-marker lead over the Round of 8 cutoff position.
The bad news is that if he gets involved in an early accident at Talladega, most of that big lead could disappear.
The truth is, Talladega and its sister track Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway are different animals when it comes to stock car racing because they are races that, literally, anyone can win. Drivers must draft together, side-by-side, at speeds approaching 200 mph, and a lot of the race is spent getting into the best position on the final lap to try and win the race.
Harvick has started 78 races in his career at Talladega and Daytona with three total victories in point-paying races. He will make his 40th Talladega start in the NASCAR Cup Series Sunday, where he has one win, two poles, seven top-five finishes, 16 top-10s and has led 262 laps there.
He scored his lone win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway in April 2010, when he started fourth, led two of 200 laps and beat runner-up Jamie McMurray by .011 of a second.
Harvick earned his first Talladega Cup Series pole in May 2005 with a speed of 189.804 mph. He won his second Cup Series pole there in April 2018, when he recorded a lap of 49.247 seconds at 194.448 mph. Harvick has three career Cup Series runner-up finishes at Talladega, most recently in October 2010, when he started 14th, led 12 laps and was beaten by now-SHR teammate Clint Bowyer.
And while his superspeedway win percentage isn’t his best, Harvick did win the biggest race of them all when he led just four laps to take the 2007 Daytona 500 victory.
Talladega vs. Daytona – what’s the difference for the spotter?
“Talladega is a lot bigger. It’s a lot wider. The track itself is bigger. The shape of Talladega is different than Daytona because of the track being wider and the way the tri-oval is shaped. The start-finish line is almost all the way down into turn one, which seems to change some of the outcomes of the finishes, because you have to go all the way down the front straightaway before you get to the finish line. Talladega’s tri-oval is a little bit different than Daytona’s. That bottom groove has a little less banking than the rest of the racetrack, so it’s almost like you’re dipping down into a hole. Sometimes you see guys get loose down into the tri-oval and spin out, so it ends up being where some of the wrecks are caused. It’s really hard to push through that tri-oval, especially as you are heading down into that bottom lane. It’s tough to know exactly where you need to be at the end of the race but, for me, I’ve only won one of them there. In that particular race, we were tandem racing and I was second coming into the tri-oval and was able to get past Jamie McMurray. But I would still rather be leading and in control. If I’ve made it to the white flag, then I’ve made it a lot farther than I’ve made it lately, so it’s a chess match all day. You have to have a little bit of luck on your side, but you can also put yourself in a good position by making the right moves, having a good day on pit road and not making any mistakes.”
Thoughts on Talladega?
“I have no idea. You just show up and see how it develops. All you can do is show up for a weekend at Talladega and see how it develops and go from there.”